« IndietroContinua »
left a trace upon their language. And hence we find that of the words which the Saxons learnt from the Britons, some are undoubted Latin, others are doubtful whether they should be called Latin or Keltic. Of the first class are those elements of local nomenclature -CHESTER, from castrum 'fortified place-Saxon form, ceaster : STREET, from strata, i.e. 'via strata’ = a causeway-Saxon form, stræt : PORT, a word derived from the Latin porta, a gate, signified in Saxon times just a town, a market-town.' And this is the sense of it in such a compound as Newport Pagnell. Wall (Saxon weall) is through the same filtered process a descendant of the Latin vallum
= a rampart: Mil, from the Latin milia (passuum), a thousand paces, has lived through all the ages to our day, and we are the only people of Western Europe who still make use of this Roman measure of distance. The French keep to their league (lieue), the measure which they had in use before the Romans troubled them, the old Keltic leuga. In Saxon poetry we find the old highways called by the suggestive name of mil-padas, the mile-paths. CORPER, a troop, is probably the Latin cohors : CARCERN, a prison, is the Latin carcer, with the Saxon word ern, a building, mingled into the last syllable: TIGOL, a tile, is the Roman tegula : MEOWLE, a poetic word for woman, is most likely the Latin mulier; and FÆMNE, a prose word for the same, is from the Latin fæmina. “Orchard,' in Saxon ORT-GEARD, is a tautological compound of the Latin hortus or ortus, a garden, and geard, the Saxon for garden or any yard or enclosure. At this time too, we must have received the names of many plants and fruits, as PYRIGE, the pear, Latin pyrus.
Many of the words which pertain to the personal and social comforts of life, were in this manner learnt at secondhand from Roman culture: as DISC, a dish, from his handing
of which a royal officer all through the Saxon period bore the title of DISC-HEGN, dish-thane.
From those which we class as certainly Brito-Roman, we move on to some other words which hover between the characteristics of British and Roman. Such is that famous verb to ear, in the sense of 'to plough, till, cultivate'; which in the form ERIAN was the standard word for ploughing all through the Saxon period, a word which occurs in Shakspeare, and which in the opening of the seventeenth century was still in force sufficient to retain five places in our version of the Old Testament, as may be seen by reference to Cruden's Concordance, under the words Ear, Eared, Earing. This word might be derived from the Latin arare, through the British form aru; or the British form may be considered as an independent Keltic word, with as good a claim to originality as the Latin. And to this latter view its wealth of derivatives seems to point. This, however, is a question which belongs rather to a history of the British language, than to English philology. What concerns us here to note, is this: that soon after the Saxon settlement, the verb ERIAN must have been adopted from the British vernacular.
When we consider that there was much originally in common between the Latin and the Keltic, and, even again, between these two and the Gothic languages, it is no matter of surprise that after so long a period we should find it difficult to sift out with absolute distinctness the words which we owe to the British influence. The most certain are those names of rivers and mountains, and some elements in the names of ancient towns, which have been handed on from Keltic times to ours. Thus the river-name Avon is unquestionably British, for it is the common word for river in Wales to this day. So again with regard to that large class of river-names which are merely variations of the one
name Isca-Usk, Ux, Wis- in Wisbech, The Wash, Exe, Axe, Ouse, by academic corruption Isis, and by municipal corruption Ox- in Oxford. All these are but many forms of one Keltic word, uisg = water; which is found in usquebagh, the Irish for eau-de-vie, and in the word whiskey. There are, however, on our map, a great many names of rivers and cities and mountains, of which, though so precise an account cannot be rendered, it is generally concluded that they are British- because they run back historically into the time when British was prevalent–because they are not Saxonbecause, in short, they cannot otherwise be accounted for. Such are, Thames, Tamar, Frome, Derwent, Trent, Tweed, Severn, and the bulk of our great river-names. In like manner of the oldest town-names, and some names of districts.
The first syllable in Winchester is known to us, through the Latin form of Venta, to have been the same as the Welsh Gwent, a plain or open country. The first syllable in Manchester is probably the old Keltic Man, place; just as it probably is in the archaic name for Bath, Ake-manchester. York is so called from the Keltic river-name Eure; from an elder form of which came the old Latin form of the city-name Ebur-acum. But often where the sense cannot be so plainly traced, we acquiesce in the opinion that names are British, because their place in history seems to require it. Such are, for instance, Kent, London, Gloucester.
We will add a few words that have a fair Keltic reputation, basket, bran, breeches, clout, crag, crock, manor, paddock, wicket.
It is very probable that a few Keltic words are still living on among us in the popular names of wild plants. The cockle of our corn-fields, which the botanists call Agrostemma Githago, has been with great reason attributed to the Britons. Dr. Johnston, in The Botany of the Eastern Borders (Van
Voorst, 1853), explains this word by reference to the British word coch = red. This etymology is strengthened by the fact that he had heard in the neighbourhood of Gordon the red corn-poppy
called cockeno. Not only is this word cockle used in Chaucer, but also in the Saxon Gospels, in Matt. xiii. in those places where our version has tares. The Saxon form is coccel. The word is not found in the kindred dialects. This is the more important to observe, because the bulk of popular tree and plant names are common to us with the German, Dutch, Danish, &c. The words tree, beam, holt, wood, oak, ash, elm, birch, beech, aspen, lime, yew, ali er, thorn, bramble, reed, wheat, rye, bere, bean, weed, flax, wort, grass, root, leek, thistle, clover, radish, wormwood, yarrow, waybread, moss, nightshade, bloom, blossom, corn, apple,--are more or less common to the cognate languages. This is not the case with the coccel. Other plant-names may be added which are probably British, as willow. well be traced to the Welsh helig as its nearer relative, without interfering with the more distant claims of saugh, sallow, salix. Whin, also, and furze have perhaps a right here. And eglantine, which has become the standard poetic name for the dog-rose, and which has such a French air, due to its having been adopted from the poetry of the Fabliaux, is very probably a British word. With strong probability also may we add to this botanical list the terms husk, haw; and more particularly cod, a word that merits a special remark. What it came to mean in the Elizabethan dramatists must here be kept apart. In Anglo-Saxon times it meant a bag, a purse or wallet. See a spirited passage in the Saxon Chronicle of Peterborough, A. D. 1131, and my note there. Thence it was applied to the seed-bags of plants, as pease-cod. This seems to be the Welsh cwd. The puff-ball is in Welsh cwd-y-mwg, a bag of smoke. Owen
Pughe quotes this Welsh adage :—'Egor dy gwd pan gaech borchell’: i.e. open thy bag when canst get a pig ! expression which for picturesqueness must be allowed the palm over our English proverb ‘Never say no to a good offer.' What establishes the British origin of this word is the large connection it has in Welsh, and its appearance also in Brittany. Thus in Welsh there is the diminutive form cydyn, a little pouch, and the verb cuddio, to hide, with many allied words; in Breton there is kód, pocket.
The compound cock-boat is probably a tautological compound, of which the first part is the Welsh cwch, a boat. The word has several derivatives in Welsh.
The word clock, which signifies bell in German (Glocke) and in French (cloche), is undoubtedly British. A bell in Welsh is clôch, in Gaelic clag, and in Manx clag. But then this word did not come into our language (probably) till the twelfth century. Yet it may have had an obscure existence among us in Saxon times.
Bard is unquestionably British, and so is glen. But then these made their entry later, and we must not dwell on them here, and wander from our subject, which is the immediate influence of the British on the Saxon.
The Saxons called a sorcerer DRY, and sorcery or magic they called DRY-CRÆFT. These words are not found in any of the dialects cognate to ours, and therefore they must have learnt the word of the Britons. Here then we seem to have evidence of the influence of the Druids, as still surviving within the Saxon period. Out of this word DRY, a verb was made, BE-DRIAN, to bewitch or fascinate. Thus we read in the homily on Swiðun:
Sume swefna syndon soblice of Some dreams are verily of God; Gode. and sume beoð of deofle and some be of the devil for some
sumum swicdome. þa swefna delusion. Those dreams be cheerful beoð wynsume be gewurþað of that are of God; and those are hor