John Jamieson: 1759 - 1838. His major work, the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language first appeared in 1808. A meeting with the Danish scholar Grim Thorkelin had suggested this work. It drew on folklore and provincialisms. A revised edition by John Longmuir and David Donaldson was issued in 1879-1887. These volumes remained the standard reference work for the Scots language until the publication of the Scottish National Dictionary in 1931. I wanted to find out what Jamieson had to say about "gowk", hence the entries extracted below. It was interesting to see his enlightened mention of the Swedish terms göklin and gökråg.

John Jamieson

Francesca Greenoak, 1979.

Above is Francesca Greenoak's list of names for the cuckoo. Jamieson is sensitive to the Scandinavian legacy, but Francesca is more widely informed. She even quotes The Seafarer in connection with the gannet, page 31.

She notes: "If you count the number of 'cuckoos' the bird utters, you may discover: how many years will pass before you marry; the number of children you will have --- or, if neither of these is relevant, the number of years before you die."

Besides providing a distinct parallel with Swedish folklore, this offers a telling reason why the aging seafarer might regard the cuckoo's call as ominous, and foreboding.

A Welsh cultural legation in iron age Jämtland, Northern Scandinavia, is terminally improbable.

There is no particular reason for coupling Jamieson with Hotlhausen on this page. It has just happened.

Ferdinand Holthausen: 1860-1956. "Holthausen habilitierte sich 1885 in Heidelberg, war dann in Göttingen (1888) und Gießen (1891) tätig. 1893 wurde er Professor für Altgermanistik an der Universität Göteborg. Von 1900 bis zur Emeritierung 1925 war er Ordinarius für Anglistik an der Universität Kiel. Von 1927 bis 1935 war er Gastprofessor an der Universität Frankfurt". Holthausen's seven years as a professor of Altgermanistik in Gothenburg, Sweden, 1893-1900, seemed promising. His Altenglisches etymologisches Wörterbuch first came out in 1934, and was then revised for a second edition in 1963 by Phil. Cand. Wolfgang Kühlwein. This may explain why it has posed something of a headache. It is possible, though by no means certain, that the first edition might prove more rewarding.

Here follows an attempt to use Holthausen's etymological dictionary to supplement what has already been contended in Swedish Sprachgefühl for Anglo-Saxon. More words need thoroughly investigating, if The Seafarer is to be properly understood, as it has not been, ever since Benjamin Thorpe's highly speculative and erratic translation, in 1842.

Mæg ic [Må jag]; forþon [ändå, ty då, för då]; sorge [omsorg or sörja för];. hyge [håg]; wongas [vång]; sceatas [sköte, skatt). To these six words, there accompanied by their Swedish equivalents, may be added: hweorfeð, hreþerlocan, modsefa, eþel, eft, anfloga, hweteð, wælweg, unwearnum. All these words have been uniformly and consistently mistranslated, so as to comply with the translator's preconceptions. Below is a reminder of the original lines.

We'll start with eft, since Hotlhausen's take on this word has seriously upset me. In 1842 Thorpe translated cymeð eft to me as "come again to me". It is fairly obvious that cymeð should be translated "comes" (sing.), not "come" (plur.). Thorpe seems to be thinking of the modsefa and the hyge as two separate (physical) entities. Both are abstractions, and in any case it is difficult to see how these two could coalesce into one "solitary" flier. Morover, eft, as it is used in The Seafarer, does not mean "again". It means "then", or "after"; "eftsoons" or "later". It could mean "behind", or, to use an unappealing Americanism, "in back of". Hence, possibly, its spurious but specious tendency towards "comes back to me". What it really means is "then comes to me"; but there is, admittedly, a grammatical fudge, or ambiguity, about the sequence of ideas presented.

At left are dictionary definitions for eft, first from Bosworth, 1838, and then from Holthausen, 1933/74, below.

Bosworth has "AFTER, again, behind, afterwards". Holthausen has "wieder, von neuem, später, zurück; gleicherweise, dazu." To which is added "hinten, nach, hinterher, spät" etc. A number of words to eat.

I cannot see how eft can mean either "again" or "wieder", on its own. Perhaps in combination with some other word, and using its sense of "back", although this actually implies "behind". The fundamental significance of eft has to be subsequence, not repetition.

"Again" and "wieder" bear no etymological relationship whatsoever to eft. The Anglo-Saxon word for "again" is ongegn, with ongean meaning "against" or "in return".

The Swedish word for "again" is igen; the Swedish word for "after" is efter. These are remote from the Germanic words, and proof of Oppenheimer's insight that Old Scandinavian is far closer than Germanic to Anglo-Saxon, which he sadly calls Old English.

1. again, another time, once more
2. back, back again
3. at a later time, afterwards
3b. in reference to the future
4. again, as another point of fact (indicating sequence or transition in discourse)
4a. again, further, likewise, moreover
5. in turn, in return

A small taste of Toronto's pursuit of eft in its Anglo-Saxon dictionary is shown at left. The complete entry comes to 7,346 words. The definitions listed are only a representative sample, but they reveal that the dictionary's fiendish and ferocious determination is to show that eft barely means "after" at all, when in fact that, see definition 3, has to be its principal meaning.

Alas. Senility is setting in. The funny farm looms. Now I realise, October 2015, that I already said all this two years ago. Click on this box for elucidation, and humiliating proof. Move on to Shippey, and IQ.

An estimated 80% of the time, where in its entry the DOE translates eft as "again", the word could just as well be translated "then". In principle, the same goes for numerous other words, because, as R.I.Page pointed out, this misconceived dictionary apparently ignores context, etymology and local meaning. It is filling in its crossword by disregarding the clues. Below, in 1877, Leo preferred hernach to wiederum as the primary translation of äft. C19th scholars, with the signal exception of jingo-jangling fourth-class Sweet, 1845-1912, were smarter than those of the C20th.


Robert Browning - Henry Osopovat



what is mind?
doesn't matter
what is matter?
never mind

"There is no art to find the mind's construction in the face."
W.Shakespeare, Macbeth I iv 11

But this is to think there is a source,
a mother-face of meaning. There's none,
only the sense of structure and the sound
of untaken air in empty vaults.

from Teaching the phonemic transcription, in Time Signatures,
by Chris McCully, Carcanet 1993.

"When struggling through it (OE sic) as a student I preferred to call its language Anglo-Saxon, regarding the official description, Old English, as a trick, a means of getting into an English literature course a work in a remote Germanic dialect. My instructors could be thought to have a vested interest in the poem (Beowulf) and the language. They had gone to a lot of trouble to learn about them, and since teaching it was to be their chief means of support they were clearly in favour of making their study compulsory." Frank Kermode, Geat of Geats. In other words, it sure keeps the academic also-rans in bread.


þæt he gewyrce ær he on weg scyle
fremum on foldan wið feonda niþ
deorum dædum deofle togeanes



My fellow man I do not care for
I often ask me what he's there for
The only answer I can find
Is reproduction of his kind
Ogden Nash

an, ân-, eft
essays and papers
commentary       annotation
back to this version: commentary four
back to oppenheimer       back to löddesborg
back to lödöse        on to twenty years on
tower of babel       hollander & gradon
back to language of ancent britain
gothonic or old scandinavian
the seafarer cuckoo
klinck & magennis
try ship four
mail here


© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2015
all rights reserved