Friday, September 25, 2015

Word of the Month: Predire

Do you ever wish you had a way to see into the future, to see how events might play out? The editors at the AND would certainly love to have this ability! As evidenced by a numerous medieval writings, the desire to predict or foretell the future, or predire in Anglo-Norman, has been a longstanding wish of many.

Two of the most recent additions to the Dictionary library are Tony Hunt’s Writing the Future: Prognostics Text of Medieval England (Textes littéraires du Moyen Âge 24, Paris, 2013) and Stefano Rapisarda’s Manuali medievali di chiromanzia (Biblioteca Medievale 95, Rome, 2005). Both of these books contain editions of Anglo-Norman texts which could be used to tell the future – texts to interpret the lines on hands, the meaning of dreams, the zodiac, the moon, the stars...[1]

Palmistry, BL Additional 11639, f. 115
Lunarie, a term attested in another prognostic text edited by T. Hunt[2], refers to a ‘lunary’, a text that provides a collection of predictions based on the day of the lunar month. These lunaries provide a wide range of very practical predictions, including the best time for blood-letting, the fates of children born on that day, the medical prognosis for those that are sick and general statements about the day.

The full moon falls on the 27th this month, and the lunary in Oxford, Bodl. Libr. Ashmole 342 provides this prediction for the first moon:

La prime lune est bone a comencer totes choses, vendre ou achater. Ki enmaladira, ben eschapera e garra. L’enfant ke nestra serra de grant age. Le soynge turnera a grant joye. Bon seigner fet de veyne. Future 68

[The first moon is good for beginning all things, selling or buying. Those who will fall ill, will escape and recover. The child who is born will live to a great age. Worry will turn to great joy. Good bloodletting can happen from a vein.]

While the many prose and verse lunaries do not always agree on their predictions, most seem to agree that the first day of the lunar cycle is a good day for new beginnings. So plan your weekend accordingly!

Prognostic texts based on a combination of the zodiac and the months of the year were also common, and provide information on the fates of individuals born in certain months, under certain signs, with different predictions for men and women (the predictions for women are much shorter). So what is in store for the dictionary editors based on their birth months?

Il serra de ouel estature de cors. Il avera bel chevelure. En acune tens il avera plenté e en autre tens defaute [...] Il avera le[s] dens large. Il espousera treys femmys e le un irra de ly sans revenyr [...] Le[s] premere [en]fans que il ad serrunt femmeles. Ky o ly mange ou beve il dirrent mal de ly e volenters voylent combatre o ly. Quant il est de age de .xxiii. ans, une grant renoumé avera [...] il vivera a l’age de .lxix. ans e il morra en autre tere de une espeye ou de doulur de ventre en jour de mardy. Future 144

[He will be of regular physical stature. He will have beautiful hair. At some times he will have plenty and at other times not enough. He will have large teeth. He will marry three women and one will leave him without returning. The first children he will have will be female. Those who eat or drink with him will speak ill of him and wish to fight him. When he is 23 years old, he will be famous. He will live to the age of 69 and will die in another land from a sword or a pain in the stomach on a Tuesday.]

Ele serra honuré. Ele avera fort corouce. [...] Ele serra sages. Un jour ele serra seyn e une autre jour serra dolant. Ele avera treys barons e entre ly e la premere serra grant corouce e grant changle e de le[s] deus ele avera fiz e fillez. De ces que ele eyme ele eydera volenters. Ele avera descord entre ly e sa veysyne. Ele morra en le jour de judy en dolur de la senestre coste Future 143

[She will be honoured. She will have a great anger. She will be wise. One day she will be healthy and another ailing. She will have three husbands and between her and the first will be a great anger and bickering and of the other two she will have sons and daughters. Those whom she loves she will help voluntarily. There will be discord between her and her neighbour. She will die a day in July of a pain the left rib.]

A bit of a mixed bag for us both, though we clearly need to line up more marital partners!

BL Arundel 377, fol. 5, Calendar page for September and October

Another series of texts predicts future events based on the day of the week the event or major holidays fall. For example, the text in Oxford, Bodl. Libr. Digby 86 offers predictions based on the day on which Christmas is celebrated. Christmas Day falls on a Friday this year so,

Si avient par venderdi, iver mervilous sera, ver bon, esté sech, [...], Aust sech. Vendeinge bone et plentivous. [...] Chevalers cumbatrirount. Plenté de oille. Noveles entres princes serount. Ouailles e boys perirount. Les vendredis de cel an bon est de toutes choses comencer. Future 208

[If it (=Christmas) occurs on a Friday, the winter will be marvellous, spring good, summer dry, August dry. The harvest will be good and plentiful. Knights will fight. Plenty of oil. There will be news between the princes. Loss of sheep and wood. Fridays of this year will be good for beginning things.]

Next year looks like a promising year – Fridays might be a good time to put into action some of the new plans we have in store for the dictionary. The price of oil might go down, but we better not buy any more sheep.

BL Egerton 2572, fol.51. Description from the BL: A volvelle, a device with a moveable disc rotating with a fixed matrix, the pointing moveable index of which could be set at the sign and degree of the zodiac for a particular day in order to predict the best time to provide medical treatment: the moving central part of the volvelle, with the pointer, is inscribed in red with numbers from 1-30; in the concentric circles around this are drawings of the signs of the zodiac, their names, and the names of the months and emblems for the occupations of the months

Numerous dictionary entries will be improved thanks to these new editions, with new citations to illustrate words such as geomancie ‘the art of divination by means of signs derived from the earth’, or new variants spellings such as maginacioun for machination. Multiple new entries will be created based on the vocabulary attested here: juracioun meaning ‘blasphemous oath’, malageous to mean ‘a sick person’ or soungerie to mean ‘a book of dreams’.

We predict that these new texts will greatly aid our understanding of the uses of Anglo-Norman and may even bring us our first attestation of prediction and prognostication![3]


[1] There still remains material to be edited of this type, which would undoubtedly enrich the dictionary even further. For example, the catalogue entry for BL Ms. 18210 Additional notes that ‘ff. 85-103: Treatises on palmistry (or chiromancy), spatulomancy (the use of the shoulder bone in divination), geomancy and hematoscopy (prognostication by inspection of the blood) in Anglo-Norman French. The texts on spatulomancy and hematoscopy are unique’. These latter texts are not currently edited.
[2] Tony Hunt, 'Les Pronostics en anglo-normand: Méthodes et documents', in Richard Trachsler, Julien Abed and David Expert, 'Moult obscures paroles': Études sur la prophétie médiévale, Paris, 2007, 29-50.
[3] The word prediction appears in English  from the mid sixteenth-century only and slightly earlier in Middle French. It was attested in Classical Latin so its absence from the Anglo-Norman lexis is surprising. The word prognostication is attested in Middle French from 1355 and in Middle English from 1400 which strongly suggests that it would have been present in Anglo-Norman.

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)