Entries linking to Old English
Old English ald (Anglian), eald (West Saxon, Kentish) "antique, of ancient origin, belonging to antiquity, primeval; long in existence or use; near the end of the normal span of life; elder, mature, experienced," from Proto-Germanic *althaz "grown up, adult" (source also of Old Frisian ald, Gothic alþeis, Dutch oud, German alt), originally a past-participle stem of a verb meaning "grow, nourish" (compare Gothic alan "to grow up," Old Norse ala "to nourish"), from PIE root *al- (2) "to grow, nourish." The original Old English vowel is preserved in Scots auld, also in alderman. The original comparative and superlative (elder, eldest) are retained in particular uses.
The usual PIE root is *sen- (see senior (adj.)). A few Indo-European languages distinguish words for "old" (vs. young) from words for "old" (vs. new), and some have separate words for aged persons as opposed to old things. Latin senex was used of aged living things, mostly persons, while vetus (literally "having many years") was used of inanimate things. Greek geraios was used mostly of humans; palaios was used mostly of things, of persons only in a derogatory sense. Greek also had arkhaios, literally "belonging to the beginning," which parallels French ancien, used mostly with reference to things "of former times."
Old English also had fyrn "ancient," which is related to Old English feor "far, distant" (see far, and compare Gothic fairneis, Old Norse forn "old, of old, of former times," Old High German firni "old, experienced").
Meaning "of a specified age" (three days old) is from late Old English. Sense of "pertaining to or characteristic of the earlier or earliest of two or more stages of development or periods of time" is from late Old English. As an intensive, "great, high," mid-15c., now only following another adjective (gay old time, good old Charlie Brown). As a noun, "those who are old," 12c. Of old "of old times" is from late 14c.
Old age "period of life of advanced years" is from early 14c. Old Testament is attested from mid-14c. (in late Old English it was old law). Old lady "wife, mother" is attested from c. 1775 (but compare Old English seo ealde hlæfdige "the queen dowager"). Old man "man who has lived long" is from late Old English; the sense of "husband, father, boss" is from 1854, earlier (1830) it was military slang for "commanding officer;" old boy as a familiar form of address is by c. 1600. Old days "former times" is from late Old English; good old days, "former times conceived as better than the present," sometimes ironic, is by 1670s. Old Light (adj.), in religion, "favoring the old faith or principles," is by 1819.
"the people of England; the speech of England," noun use of Old English adjective Englisc (contrasted to Denisc, Frencisce, etc.), "of or pertaining to the Angles," from Engle (plural) "the Angles," the name of one of the Germanic groups that overran the island 5c., supposedly so-called because Angul, the land they inhabited on the Jutland coast, was shaped like a fish hook (see angle (n.)). The use of the word in Middle English was reinforced by Anglo-French Engleis. Cognates: Dutch Engelsch, German Englisch, Danish Engelsk, French Anglais (Old French Engelsche), Spanish Inglés, Italian Inglese.
Technically "of the Angles," but Englisc also was used from earliest times without distinction for all the Germanic invaders — Angles, Saxon, Jutes (Bede's gens Anglorum) — and applied to their group of related languages by Alfred the Great. "The name English for the language is thus older than the name England for the country" [OED]. After 1066, it specifically meant the native population of England (as distinguished from Normans and French occupiers), a distinction which lasted about a generation. But as late as Robert of Gloucester's "Chronicle" (c. 1300) it still could retain a sense of "Anglian" and be distinguished from "Saxon" ("Þe englisse in þe norþ half, þe saxons bi souþe").
... when Scots & others are likely to be within earshot, Britain & British should be inserted as tokens, but no more, of what is really meant [Fowler]
In pronunciation, "En-" has become "In-," perhaps through the frequency of -ing- words and the relative rarity of -e- before -ng- in the modern language. A form Inglis is attested from 14c. and persisted in Scotland and northern England, and Ingland and Yngelond were used for "England" in Middle English, but the older spelling has stood fast. Meaning "English language or literature as a subject at school" is from 1889.
"the middle period in the history of the English language," 1830; see middle (adj.) + English (n.). The term comes from Jakob Grimm's division of Germanic languages into Old, Middle and New in "Deutsche Grammatik" (1819). But for English he retained Anglo-Saxon, then already established, for what we call Old English, and used Old English for what we call early Middle English. Thus his Mittelenglisch, and the Middle English of mid-19th century English writers, tends to refer to the period c. 1400 to c. 1550. The confusion was sorted out, and the modern terminology established (with Middle English for the language from c. 1100 to c. 1500), mostly in the 1870.
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updated on August 19, 2019