Wednesday, August 26, 2015

David Trotter

It is with extreme sadness that we report the death of our chief editor, Professor David Trotter, after a battle with cancer. Not only is the loss to the field of historical lexicography immense., we will also greatly miss our friend and mentor. 

While the editors will continue their work revising the entries for P-, we will be taking a temporary break from the Word of the Month out of respect for him.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Word of the Month: The Anglo-Norman Horse (part 1)

A term that may be familiar to the casual Googler of 'Anglo-Norman' as much as to professional horse-breeders is 'the Anglo-Norman Horse'. Historians may point out that this particular breed was one of the main saddle-horses used by the French cavalry in the second half of the nineteenth century. Sports lovers might know it as a former show jumping horse or a nineteenth-century trotting racer. In the second half of the twentieth century the breed was abandoned and combined with other types in the Selle Français - France's national saddle horse breed. However, in recent decades attempts have been made to re-instate the Anglo-Norman as a separate breed once more.

(The Anglo-Norman horse, Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (1890—1907)

It is perhaps only the Anglo-Norman linguist who might be confused in thinking that this is an ancient breed, dating back to medieval times and the Norman invasion. Was the cavalry of William the Conqueror as we see it on the Bayeux tapestry made up of ‘Anglo-Norman horses’? The answer is a resounding: Absolutely not! Upon closer inspection, it turns out that the ‘Anglo-Norman’ is a hybrid breed that was developed only in the early nineteenth century in Lower Normandy (France), simply by crossing the native Norman horses with the English Thoroughbred.[1] It is a sense of anglo-norman has not been incorporated in the OED entry Anglo-Norman a. and n. (Third edition, 2008 - 7596) but is listed in the TLF entry anglo-normand: ‘Cheval obtenu par le croisement du pur sang anglais et du cheval normand’.

Bayeux tapestry (detail): Norman soldiers on horseback

Leaving this red herring of the nineteenth-century Anglo-Norman horse aside, it is worth having a closer look at the richness of vocabulary that Anglo-Norman, as a medieval language, did have when it came to horses. The horse was an animal that was often essential in many parts of medieval society, with plenty of references found in Romance literature, agricultural instruction books, hunting treatises and many other sources.

As mentioned before, it is now possible to search the Anglo-Norman Dictionary by semantic tags (currently only an in-house option, though set to become available to the wider public at some point in 2016 - for more information on this, see the earlier WoM entry on Anglo-Norman chess terminology), so that it has become more straightforward to retrieve all Anglo-Norman equine terminology.

With over 100 entries tagged as horse-related, this blogpost will just look at a selection. 

To begin with, the main Anglo-Norman word for horse, as in continental French, is cheval, used with sometimes interesting variant spellings such as chivaule, chuval or kaval. For plural forms, aside from the regular chevaux, Anglo-Norman also yielded chevals together with more outrageous spellings such as chewaws, chivex,  cavaus or chivachx. The term is common in romance languages and derives from Latin caballus[2] ('horse').

(BL, Harley 2278, fol. 108r (detail))

In contrast, the common Classical Latin word for horse, equus[3], did not produce a vernacular form in Anglo-Norman (or Middle French, for that matter). It appears only as a rare adjectival form, equin, from Latin equinus[4]:

Monoceros [...] ad pez d’olifant; de corps est equins Rom Chev ANTS 6817
(‘The Monoceros [...] has the feet of an elephant; its body is horse-like’)

The Germanic alternative hors (see OED horse n.) is also absent from Anglo-Norman,[5] but the AND lists a number of compounds, all clearly Middle English in origin but used in an Anglo-Norman context, that retain the Germanic word: horsehouse (‘a horsecloth’), horsehove (the plant ‘coltsfoot’), horsmaunger (‘manger’), horsmete (‘horsemeat (?)’, horssecoller (‘horse-collar’), and fischehors (‘horse used by fishermen’).

Returning to the most common word, cheval, the composite expressions and derivatives illustrate the different uses to which medieval horses were put. Firstly, cheval d’armes or cheval de guerre are two terms for (armored) battle-horses:

avera […] restor por ses chevaux d’armes perduz en les dites guerres Private Indentures 59
(‘he will have compensation for his war-horses lost during the said wars’)

Et serront ses chivaux de guerre prisez Ind Ret 2.15
(‘and his war-horses will be captured’)

Packhorses are called cheval de carriage or cheval maler:

de tous chevaus des gens d’armes horsmis chevaus de kariage Treaty Rolls ii 4.14
(‘of all the horses of the soldiers, except for packhorses’)

facez paier a l’abbé de Feversham pur un chival malere de lui achaté GAUNT2 i 50
(‘make a payment to the abbot of Feversham for a packhorse bought of him’)

The adjective maler derives from the Frankish word *malha[6] (malle in Middle French and male1 in Anglo-Norman), meaning ‘leather bag’. In Anglo-Norman the word is also used as a noun in Gaunt’s records, specifically to refer to a packhorse: ‘facez paier [...] pur un maler de nostre chambre’ (GAUNT2 ii 242).

(St. John the Baptist's Church, Mileham - stained glass window (detail))

A cheval de charette is used with the sense of cart-horse, attested as a vernacular gloss to the Latin word veredarium (TLL ii 73).[7]

In addition to these, the AND entry also includes interesting compounds such as cheval de mer (‘horse of the sea’, meaning ‘hippopotamus’), cheval de fust (an 'instrument of torture', presumably shaped like a wooden horse) and ungle de cheval (the plants ‘coltsfoot’ or ‘water-lily’).

The term cheval also produced a large word-family of derivations: chevalcher, enchevacher and (less frequently) chevaler2 are the verbs for riding a horse, while the person who does so is called a chevalchant, chevalcheur, echivachure (an unetymological and possibly erroneous form), or, most frequently chevaler1. The latter word widened it sense from ‘mounted soldier’ to ‘knight’ in general, and went on to produce a separate group of frequently used words – chevalerie, chevalerus, etc. – related to knighthood[8]. For unhorsing, Anglo-Norman has the prefixed verb deschevalcher, while entrechevaucher is a somewhat peculiar intransitive verb that means ‘to ride on horseback in the middle of a troop’. A troop of horses, which in a military sense became a 'cavalry', was called a chevalchee (also used for a procession, the service of escorting a feudal lord or a perambulation of the borders of one’s land – all on horseback), chevalcherie (a rare word, probably under the influence of the abovementioned chevalerie), and, exceptionally, chevalchement. Chevalchure is a noun used for horse-riding, but also referred to the right to possess a horse, or even the horse itself:

lur beens moebles […] forpris tresor, chivauchure, liz, robes, vessels […] Parl Writs 12
(‘their movable property [...] with the exception of treasure, horses, bedclothes, robes and vessels’)

The only adjectival derivation, chevalin, meaning ‘horse-like’, is rare (‘.iij. bestes chivalaynes’ Charboclois 350). Finally, a diminutive noun, chevalrette, was used for a figurine or statue of a horse:

une pier de marbelle […] pur la sepulture de […] mon pier […] ov chivalrettes de laton desuis ficchez Reg Chich ii 149
(‘a marble stone [...] for the grave [...] of my father [...] with brass horse figurines attached upon it’)

(BL, Harley 5256, fol.22r, late sixteenth-century)

While cheval is by far the most common word for ‘horse’, Anglo-Norman also has a great number of, usually more specific, alternative terms.

The words used for ‘stallion’ are estalon (from Frankish *stallo[9]) or, with the typical loss of the French initial ‘e’, stalun, and the rare gareignun (from Frankish *wrainjo[10]). A stallion kept specifically for breeding (in a haras or stud-farm) was called estot (or sometimes stot), a word – obviously the same as stud n.2 and deriving from Old English stód  not found in Continental French.

In contrast, female horses and the young of the horses are referred to using vocabulary that is Latin in origin: a ‘mare’ is called ive1 (from equa[11], with the ‘qu’ assimilated to a ‘w’ or ‘v’ sound) or jument (from jumentum[12]), whereas the words for ‘foal’ are poutrel (from pulliter[13]) or pulein1 (from pullus, through its derivation pullanus[14]).

(ninth-century equestrian statue of Charlemagne, Paris (Louvre))

Among the names for small riding horses (often for women) Anglo-Norman has hakeney[15] (which the FEW considers English or Germanic in origin[16], but which is well attested in Continental French as well, cf. DMF haquenée and haquenet), palefrei (from Latin paraveredus[17]), and sambuer (from sambue, a saddle specifically for women, which derives from Latin sambuca, originally meaning ‘harp’ but transferred to a variety of harp-shaped objects[18]).

A large war-horse or charger is called a destrer1 (from Latin dexter[19], i.e. ‘right’; according to the FEW from the expression equus dextrarius, i.e. a horse that is led by the squire using his right hand - an unexpected etymology that is repeated by the OED sub destrer n.).

Another word for pack-horse or draught-horse is affre1, with variant spellings such as aver, havere or even vere. The term was also used more generally for all draught-animals or even livestock. It is related to the verb aver2: ‘to have, own, possess’, and as such derives from Latin habere[20], the idea being that the domestic animals are the ‘stock’ or ‘possession’ that belong to a farm.

Finally, a grand and valuable horse is sometimes called a milsoudur in chanson de geste. In other words, the horse was referred to rather boastfully by its hypothetical price-tag of ‘a thousand shillings’.

(Late fifteenth-century German armour for man and horse, Royal Armouries, Leeds)

This is certainly not a complete overview of all Anglo-Norman words for horses. Perhaps in a next blogpost, we hope to return to the subject and discuss horse-names based on their place or origin (e.g. arabi), the colour of their coat (e.g. baiard1), the manner of their breeding (e.g. bastard), etc.


[2] FEW 2i,8b and DMLBS 233a.
[3]  DMLBS equus 2, 791a.
[4]  DMLBS equineus 789b and equinus 789c.
[5] Possibly as a result of the formal overlap with the ubiquitous adverb/preposition/ conjunction hors/fors1 (‘out’) and/or urs/ors (‘bear’).
[6] FEW 16,508b: ‘Mantelsack’.
[7] DMLBS veredarius, 3636b: ‘horse used to draw a cart or other vehicle’.
[8] These are the only words of the caballus family (with the exception of the rare adjective caballin, perhaps chevauchour (although most of the MED attestations are Anglo-Norman), and chevauche) that were readily borrowed into Middle English: chevaler, chevalrie and chevalrous.
[9] FEW 10,17b. See also DMF étalon 3
[10] FEW 17,613b. Absent from DMF.
[11] FEW 3,233a
[12] FEW 5,63b. DMLBS  jumentum 1512a. The primary sense of jumentum is ‘domestic draught animal or beast of burden. The term was used specifically for horses already in Medieval Latin, and in French, probably from the feminine jumenta, always referred to a mare (see DMF jument).
[13]  FEW 9,530a. There is no such form in the DMLBS, but medieval Latin produced pultrella and pultrellus (DMLBS 2573a), possibly under the influence of the Anglo-Norman word.
[14]  FEW 9,541a and DMLBS pullus 2 2569b and pullanus 2 2568a.
[15]  One fourteenth-century Anglo-Norman citation, possibly in an attempt to ‘frenchify’ the word, spells it rather fancifully as hache de nethe; see hache2.
[16]  FEW hackney 16,109a. The MED has hakenei(e n.
[17]  FEW 7,640a; DMLBS palefredus 2085b and paraveredus 2110a.
[18]  FEW 11,136b,
[19]  FEW 3,62a. Re-borrowed in Medieval Latin as dextrarius, DMLBS 646a.
[20]  FEW 4,363a

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Words of the month: Parker, Paliser and Parchementer: Anglo-Norman occupational surnames

One of the other changes in the dictionary entries that users might notice, aside from the new usage tags and the addition of references to cognate words in other dictionaries, involves the content of the entries. The addition that is likely to interest a wide variety of users is that we are beginning to note the use of certain terms as surnames, where we have attestations of such a use.

(Bede roll of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1349-50), Parker Library)

The inclusion of surnames in dictionaries is not without difficulties. As we mentioned earlier this year in our discussion of the words pastry/pie, often the language of surnames is problematic: names frequently occur in lists which may follow a bilingual or trilingual text.
How then to determine the language of the name? In general, we try to err on the side of inclusion, as frequently surnames attest to Anglo-Norman (as well as Middle English and Latin) words far earlier than they appear in literary or administrative use. It is  the use of either the Anglo-Norman definite article ‘le/la’ or the Anglo-Norman spelling of the word that helps us determine whether a given word may be considered Anglo-Norman (though neither element is of itself an indicator of ‘Anglo-Normanness’, cf. Richard Ingham, The Anglo-Norman Language and its Context (2010), p. 136).

As you may be aware, a number of British surnames ultimately derive from medieval occupation names: Fisher, Smith, Potter etc. are all names which originated as occupations and the adopted as monikers to distinguish individuals.[1] It can be a challenge in a medieval context to determine if certain terms are functioning merely as a proper name, or if they still indicate that person’s occupation. There are several entries in the section of P- currently under revision that will include surnames – let’s look at some of our attestations from the occupational entries.

This refers to the person who makes or works with parchment. The word can be found as a gloss to the Latin membranarius (TLL ii 83) [DMLBS 1757b] but also in texts like the York Memorandum Book where the rights of, among others, the parchmenters are listed:

Ceaux sount les ordeignances et constitucions
novelment faitz en l’artificees des tannours gaunters et parchemyners d’Everwyk
par assent de touz les meistres des artificees
(YMB i 81)
('These are the ordinances and the constitutions
newly made in the guilds of the tanners, glovemakers and parchmenters of York
by the agreement of all the masters of these guilds')

(Copenhagen, Royal Library Ms. 4,2o f. 183v)

We also have two examples of the term being used as a surname in John of Gaunt’s registers, circa 1372-1383:

noz amez tenantz Johan Albon, Gamelyn Impheye, et Wauter Parchemyner de Chesthont
(Gaunt1 i 168)

Johan Parchemener de Leycestre
(Gaunt2 i 30)

Gaunt’s register also provides us with our sole attestation of the occupation of paliser, that is, one who makes fences (paleis), in an interesting list of medieval occupations:

touz les forestiers, parkers, guarrenners, palisers, bondgardes de nostre forest
(Gaunt1 ii 330)
('all of the foresters, parkers, warreners, palisers, boundary keepers of our forest')

We have found no attestations of this occupation as a surname in our A-N source material, however, the OED (sub paliser n.; MED paliser n. provides additional examples) notes two uses of the word as surname in 1315 and again in 1414 in the forms Paleser and Palaser. As the word is clearly Anglo-Norman, derived from the Latin paliciarius (DMLBS 2085c), these citations will be incorporated into our entry as further (and earlier) evidence of the existence of the word in Anglo-Norman.

(Codex s.n. 2644 Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria)

As seen above, parker as an occupation, is well attested in Anglo-Norman, perhaps as a reflection of the importance of the position and of the parks to medieval British life. The term is mostly found in various legal and administrative texts, but also turns up in Seintz Medecines, an allegorical text of the mid-fourteenth century, as well as in Walter of Henley’s treatise on farming:

en trois gyses sont acoustomés ceaux veneours et les parkeres ou foresters a destruire cele male court de renars
(Sz Med 104.14)
('These hunters and parker or foresters are accustomed to destroy the fox’s earth in three ways')

si le seygnur  y met parker ou messer ou graunger [...]
(Henley 440.c56)
('if the lord places there a parker or steward or granger [...]')

The earliest use of Parker as a surname is found in 1199 in the Rotuli Curiae Regis (i,282) where the name Willielmus Parker can be found. We have also found a Johan Parker (Gaunt1 i 33), a Robert le Parker (Lett EPW 56) and a Huschon Parker (Port Bks 58).

These surnames once again provide early attestations of the use of the term, although their language remains difficult to ascertain.

A paneter was the official in charge of the pantry, known in English as the ‘pantry-man’ or the ‘panter’. Like parker, we have numerous citations attesting to its use, from the end of the thirteenth century:

qe nule liveree ne face le paneter
(Westm 244)
('that the panter make no deliveries')

(Luttrel psalter, BL Addit. 42130)

The MED (sub paneter(e n.) provides a lengthy list of examples of ‘le Paneter’ in various spellings used as a surname, beginning in the early thirteenth century. We have equally found a use of the name without the definite article in the records of the Goldsmiths:

[...] de Johan Panter pur un defaute en fesaunce d’esquilers - ij s.
(Goldsmiths 226)
('[...] of John Panter, for a fault in the making of spoons, fined 2 shillings')


Finally, we come to poor Mr. Petour, i.e. ‘Mr. Farter’. Two citations from the DMLBS were included in our entry for petour which implied that Roland was so named due to his memorable intestinal distress. However, in rewriting P-, it has been determined that his name was likely a variant of the word pestur, that is, Mr. Baker! We apologize sincerely to any of Roland’s descendants.

(Book of hours, KB 76.F.14, fol. 14r)

While we don’t currently have a semantic tag specifically for surnames, in the future, users should be able to find such information by either using the ‘occupation’ tag (a new semantic tag which we are currently in the process of adding), or for names that do not fall under that category, by searching ‘surname’ in the translation search available from our main page.

Those who are interested in medieval names may also be interested in having a look at the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources: (which concentrates mainly on first names), as well as FaNUK, an ongoing project that gathers 45,000 Family Names of the United Kingdom and investigates their elinguistic origins and geogroaphocal distribution (FaNUK). 


[1] See Gustav Fransson’s Middle English surnames of occupation 1100-1250 (1935).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Words of the Month: giggling, jigg(l)ing gigolos

The starting-point for this investigation is on the one hand the Anglo-Norman gigeler, attested only in one text, William of Waddington’s Manuel des péchez, a didactic and moralising treatise from the last quarter of the fourteenth century. The verb gigeler, “to frolic”, is generally treated in the dictionaries as a derivative of the relatively well-attested giguer, itself apparently based on gigue, “a stringed musical instrument, smaller than a viol”, ultimately from Old High German gîga (modern German Geige; cf. FEW gîga, 16,35b). There is some (literary) evidence that the instrument came to France from Germany. Giguer itself, perhaps surprisingly, does not appear to be attested in Anglo-Norman, but the musical instrument gigue and gigur (the player thereof) both are; both, too, are borrowed into medieval English (MED ğige n.2; ğigŏur n.). (OED’s gigue, the musical composition, is not attested until 1685 and as the pronunciation reveals, is a later French borrowing.)

 (BL, Harley 4951 fol. 297v)

English giggle looks suspiciously as if it could or should be related. Alas, not so. It is described by the OED (giggle v.1) as “echoic”, and parallels are drawn with Germanic forms such as Dutch giggelen, and medieval then modern German gickeln, extensively described in the Grimms’ Deutsches Wörterbuch (DWB) under the entry gickeln. It seems unlikely that there is any link between Anglo-Norman gigeler, and English giggle: the latter is not attested until 1509 (a translation of Sebastian Brant’s 1494 Ship of Fools, or Narrenschiff) and the array of Germanic cognates points firmly towards a native word. OED’s giggle2, an obsolete verb meaning “to turn rapidly; make giddy” derives from gig n.1.

Then there is the matter of Englishjig v.. This may, the OED suggests (in an article largely unrevised since 1901), be related to Anglo-Norman and French giguer, but the case is far from clear. What is apparent is a phonetic similarity (perhaps the result of what the OED describes as “parallel onomatopoeic influence”), and some degree of semantic overlap, though not in the core senses of jig. Going somewhat against the linkage is chronology (the English word is not attested until 1598). The noun jig n.1 is found only a little earlier, in c1560: the same reservations are expressed in the OED etymology about its possible connections to gigue, with which jig, we are told, is “often assumed to be identical” (though by whom, is not made clear). Jiggle v. is later still and probably needs to be discounted without further ado.

(Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 264)
The Trésor de la langue française (TLF), under gigue3, gives the verb giguer (“vieilli et rare”), with the sense “courir, gambader, danser”, with one quotation from 1841. The hypothesis of a derivation from TLF’s gigue1 (the musical instrument) is rejected as “unconfirmable”. (This does raise the uncomfortable question of how often etymologies can ever be definitely “confirmed”.) The option of a connection with gigue2, “cuisse de certains animaux”, on which see below, is not discussed.

To return to gigeler. Gigler is a fairly rare variant form of giguer, with the sense “to play a gigue”, in continental French (FEW 16/i,35b; DEAF G725). The sense found in our Anglo-Norman example is, however, absent on the continent. Gdf 4,278b giguer is given with the same basic sense (“folâtrer”) and a present participle used as an adjective seems to mean “expressing joy, pleasure”. Godefroy helpfully provides a whole series of modern dialectal instances of the verb meaning “to jump, to spring around”; these are confirmed by the FEW (16/i,36b).

What about etymology? The FEW puts in one article the senses of “musical instrument” and “part of a leg”. The etymological explanation of gîga is that it goes back to a verb *gîgan, “to go back and forth” (“hin und her bewegen”), a reference to the movement of the bow across the strings and the core sense of English gig v.2 in the OED. Gigue in the anatomical sense arises because of the visual similarity between instrument and leg, and is a back-formation from Middle French gigot (still in use in modern French in menus, cooking, and butchery, cf. gigot d’agneau). Since giguer antedates gigue “thigh” (the first attestation of which is not until 1655, FEW 16/i,36a), the likely explanation is that it does indeed derive from the musical instrument sense, again based on the to-and-fro movement involved in playing it. Broadly, the DEAF article gigue [Baldinger] which also covers giger, gigler (G724), agrees with the FEW. Tobler-Lommatzsch (4,318) has two articles for the verb(s) giguer, one for playing the gigue, one for dancing and jumping around, which is a semantically reasonable way to represent the situation in Old French, but not an etymological one.

(source unknown)

OED gig n.1, which the OED regards as “perhaps onomatopoeic”, and with a core sense of “something that whirls”, has a whole range of more or less figurative secondary senses including that of (II.4) “a flighty, giddy girl”, now obsolete but attested a1200 to 1780, and her male equivalent from 1777, “a queer-looking figure; an oddity”, described as “chiefly Eton College slang” and perhaps therefore lying somewhat outside our remit. But the MED (whose etymological note sub gigge n.1 suggests “? Cp. Fr. gigue a gawky young woman”) has the latter from a1387 (Trevisa’s translation of Higden’s Polychronicon), together with compounds with ‑laughter and ‑halter. Unfortunately, there is no trace of this sense claimed for French until far too late to be of relevance (cf. FEW 16/i,36a).

OED also has a probably entirely separate gig n.3., most likely to be again “echoic”, meaning “a squeaking noise”, and for which there is only one quotation, from Chaucer. Both the MED (ğīgen) and OED (geig v.) have the corresponding verb, which is phonetically a plausible cognate of gigue as its initial consonant is [dZ]. (MED wrongly refers to OED jig v., in any case not attested until 1598.) DWB’s gicken and the substantive gicks are probably the same word. The OED’s 1899 entry sidesteps the question of how the word is pronounced but the Middle English Dictionary (MED) has the word listed with the same sole quotation under ğigge n.2, i.e. [dZ-], with an erroneous cross-reference to OED guige (which is the equivalent entry to MED’s gīğe n.1, to which the OED correctly refers …), and a verb ğīgen, also with only one supporting attestation.

(BL, Royal 6 E VI   f. 58v)

Where, finally, do gigolos come in? As the FEW laconically observes, “Um gigue gruppiert sich eine grossse zahl von meist depreziativen ablt.” (FEW 16/i,36a), and French gigolette (ibid.) from 1864 is one of these: the TLF under this word offers two senses which a non-expert might easily confuse: “fille des rues”, and “jeune fille délurée, de mœurs faciles, fréquentant les bals populaires”. Gigolo (though found a little earlier, in 1850), is treated by the TLF as a derivative (with the characteristic slang suffix -o(t)) of gigolette. In both entries the TLF alludes to the pejorative senses attaching to English giglet, giglot, attested in Middle English from a1325 in MED’s entry ğigelot n. and in the OED’s giglet | giglot n.. The OED says nothing of this under gigolo n., where its first quotation is from 1922. However, the observation under giglet is surely pertinent: “the 14th cent. form gigelot(te seems to point to a French (or Anglo-Norman) etymon, but nothing satisfactory has been found”. Yet the word was productive in Middle English, yielding also a substantive ğigelotrīe which is equally missing in French, insular and continental. It is hard not to conclude that a medieval form must have existed in French, and that it underlies the forms which only resurface in the popular language of the nineteenth century. But that is to stray into a whole separate debate, about the historical origins of popular French, which would take us far from Anglo-Norman. 

(BL, Royal 10 E IV   f. 72)


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Word of the Month: Penthouse

Some Modern English words have a linguistic history that is straightforward to follow: formally, they have a transparent etymology, and semantically, they have a sense that has more or less remained the same throughout the centuries. Many words, though, take unexpected turns: some revert to very different spellings, twist their forms, and/or acquire new connotations or even meanings. The result is that for such words the root, or etymon, may turn up in quite unexpected places. One clear example of the latter – of a word ‘hiding’ its etymological and semantic origin – turned up during the current revision of AND of words beginning with P-: penthouse.

The Modern English word penthouse is defined in the OED (third edition, updated in 2005) as ‘a flat, apartment, suite of rooms, etc., occupying the top floor or floors of a tall building’, with the addition that the word usually has ‘connotations of wealth, status, etc., typically suggesting a luxuriously appointed apartment offering expansive views’. As they state, that sense is originally American, attested from the late nineteenth century, but has been taken over (and has become common) also in British English and beyond.
(BL, Royal 6.E.VI, fol.148v)

Although the word looks very English, it is not. As it turns out, its origin has nothing to do with the word house, but can be traced back to the Anglo-Norman word pentis (defined in AND#1 as ‘pentice’ and ‘small building’). This word, pentis, is an aphetic form (i.e. a word that loses its prefix, a process which is not uncommon in Anglo-Norman) of apentiz (also listed, separately, in the AND as ‘penthouse’ or ‘outbuilding’).

The word apentiz derives from the Latin verb appendere, (‘to hang on, be attached to’, DMLBS 105b), and more specifically from the related adjective appendicius (‘attached, adjoining’, DMLBS 105b). That, in turn, produced the noun, attested in twelfth-century Latin texts, with the sense ‘attached building, lean-to, penthouse’, DMLBS 105b). The equally related appendix is also found in Medieval Latin, slightly later, but with that very same sense of ‘penthouse’ (DMLBS 105c).[1]
From the early thirteenth century (the earliest attestation is from 1211), the aphetic form is also found in Medieval Latin from British sources as penticium/pendicium, specifically with the sense ‘structure appended to a wall of a building’ (DMLBS 2183b). The coincidental dating of the earliest Latin and Anglo-Norman attestations leaves it unclear whether this was an independent process in Latin, or (as was frequently the case) whether the medieval Latin word was influenced by the vernacular.

In Continental French, the word appears as appendis, appentis, appentise, and is defined in the DMF as ‘Construction sommaire, avec un toit en pente d'un seul côté, qui prend appui sur une maison plus importante’. The FEW, under appendere (25/i,33a-b) confirms that these forms and senses appear in Romance languages from the twelfth century, and adds variants and/or derivatives like arpentif, appendige and appension. Interestingly, no aphetic forms are listed, which suggested that these were indicative of an exclusively Anglo-Norman phenomenon.[2]

(BL, Oriental 2737, fol. 62v)

English originally borrowed the word, presumably from Anglo-Norman but possibly with some influence of medieval Latin as well, as pentis – the aphetic form. Although the MED lists attestations as early as 1232,[3] the earliest unequivocally English uses date from 1400. Subsequently, in the fifteenth century the word seem to become more common, with variant spellings such as pendise, penteis, pentace, pentesse or peintiz. The OED suggests that the shift to ‘penthouse’ happened at a later stage, in post-medieval times: through  a process of folk etymology (or re-analysis of the meaning of a word through popular but historically incorrect interpretation of its origin) the word was now understood as a compound of pent (French pente for ‘slope’) and the English word house, probably because it was used with reference to a small house or annex with a sloped roof – which, as the dictionaries suggest, was one of the interpretations of what a medieval pentis could be.[4]
The earliest attestation of this English re-interpreted form (pent + house) in the OED dates from 1530, in John Palgrave’s L’Esclarcissement de la langue francoise, where he defines the French word appentis as ‘Penthouse of a house’ (253/1). There is, however, a clear indication that the development must be much earlier than that, found, somewhat surprisingly, in an Anglo-Norman text of 1371-75.
nostre dit seignur ad baillez […] al dit Thomas toute sa pescherie deinz l’eawe de Severne, ovesque pentthous et touz autres appurtinances           - GAUNT#1 i 9.
(‘our said lord has entrusted the said Thomas with all his fishing grounds in the river Severn [...] together with ‘penthouses’ and all other purtenances’)
The word hous is not Anglo-Norman,[5] so even though the context is Anglo-Norman, this example must be considered an instance of code-switching, where the Anglo-Norman matrix-language text reverts to a Middle English word. This particular word has clearly been subjected to the aforementioned specifically English folk-etymology, more than 150 years before it can be found attested in any English-language context.
(BL, Royal 20 B.XX, fol. 21)
Briefly returning to the sense of the word, penthouse, with its implications of wealth and luxury, seems to have moved away considerably from what it was in medieval times, and defining the word in the AND as ‘penthouse’ may be rather misleading. A pentis seems to have referred to any kind of structure appended to the wall of another building, and the evidence suggests that this structure may have been anything from a covered walkway, projecting porch, or shelter to a shed, annex or outhouse.[6]
Et qe les pentyz et getiz des measouns soient autresi hautz qe gentz as chivalx puissent par desouthe chivacher      - Lib Alb 271
(‘And that the ‘pentyz’ and jutties/projecting parts of the houses must be high enough for people on horseback to be able to pass underneath’)
In this case, the pentyz are structures appended to the wall of a building (in the form of a shelter, extended eaves or a sloping roof) possibly in order to provide a covered area or gangway between buildings. They may have been full extensions of the entire upper floor creating a covered gallery underneath, or they may have formed simply a porch or shelter above the door, as is suggested by the vernacular gloss found to porticus in a manuscript of Adam of Petit Pont’s Latin De Utensilibus: ‘gallice pentise vel porche’ (TLL ii 61).
(Medieval Merchant's House, Southampton)
Similarly, in an attestation found in the Merchant Taylor Accounts for the fourth regnal year of Henry V (1417):
pur .ij. okenbordes as .ij. pentises en l’ostell ové les petitz stuples - .vj. d.    - Mch Tayl Accs 4HenV
(‘for two planks of oak wood towards two ‘pentises’ for the (guest-)house /stable[7] with the small steeples: 6 d.’)

two wooden planks can have been barely sufficient for more than a simple covering for a door or a window.
(Loubressac, France)
In contrast, in an indenture from 1321, detailing the masonry works to build a hall in Hamsey (Sussex), the word seems to refer to part of a much more elaborate structure:

le dit Johan fra un mur de pere e de chaux a sesse pees du but de la sale de trentesis [pees] de loung e dis pees de haut pur receivre un pentis qe serra outre la panetrie e botelerie           Building 427
(‘the aforementioned John will build a wall with stone and lime at sixteen feet off the wall of the hall, which is 36 feet [i.e. ca. 10m] long and 10 feet [i.e. ca. 3m] high, in order to support a ‘pentis’ which will be above the pantry and the wine-cellar’)

Here the word ‘pentis’ refers to at least the roof of a proper annexe or building attached to wall of another one but also having its own supporting wall.
(Château de Guedelon (France) - modern reconstruction of a medieval castle)
Finally, in the aforementioned John of Gaunt attestation, no other buildings or walls are mentioned, suggesting that the ‘pentthous’ belonging to a fishery may have been small independent shelters or outbuildings used by fishermen.
In conclusion, in Anglo-Norman, a pentis or penthouse could have been anything from a small shelter or covering to an elaborate extension. So anyone thinking of buying an Anglo-Norman house ‘with penthouse’ (these adverts seem to appear on the internet from time to time) would be strongly advised to go and check this feature out before making any purchase.


[1] Together with ‘(?) book cover’. The modern senses of ‘an addition to a document or book’ or the anatomical ‘extension of the large intestine’ are post-medieval, cf. OED appendix n..
[2] Remarkably, English does not have the pre-fixed form, with only one attestation of appentice found in an English text from 1600, cf. OED appentice n..
[3] Its earliest attestation is the word appearing in the name Willelmus de la Pentic’ (from the Close Rolls of Henry III), which looks suspiciously Anglo-Norman. Other early examples show the vernacular word in a Latin context, and may equally be interpreted as Anglo-Norman.
[4] Of course, the first half (pent) may have retained its association with Latin pendere, as the sense ‘to hang from’ may be equally relevant.
[5] In the AND hous can be a variant spelling of houce1 (‘holly’) or the plural of houe1 (‘hoe’). Furthermore, A-N house can be found in the entries hose1 (‘hose, leggings’), huce1 (‘tabard, mantle’) and us2 (‘door, gate’). None of these entries/senses are relevant for the present word.
[6] Another (purely military) sense of penthouse as ‘a makeshift portable shelter formed of soldiers’ shields above their heads’ is post-medieval, attested, according to the OED, from 1600.
[7] For the many possible senses of this word, see AND ostel.