Entries linking to heathenish
Old English hæðen "not Christian or Jewish," also as a noun, "heathen man, one of a race or nation which does not acknowledge the God of the Bible" (especially of the Danes), merged with Old Norse heiðinn (adj.) "heathen, pagan," from Proto-Germanic *haithana- (source also of Old Saxon hedhin, Old Frisian hethen, Dutch heiden, Old High German heidan, German Heiden), which is of uncertain origin.
Perhaps literally "dweller on the heath, one inhabiting uncultivated land;" see heath + -en (2). Historically assumed to be ultimately from Gothic haiþno "gentile, heathen woman," used by Ulfilas in the first translation of the Bible into a Germanic language (as in Mark vii.26, for "Greek"); like other basic words for exclusively Christian ideas (such as church) it likely would have come first into Gothic and then spread to other Germanic languages. If so it could be a noun use of an unrelated Gothic adjective (compare Gothic haiþi "dwelling on the heath," but a religious sense is not recorded for this).
Whether native or Gothic, it might have been chosen on model of Latin paganus, with its root sense of "rural" (see pagan), but that word appears relatively late in the religious sense. Or the Germanic word might have been chosen for its resemblance to Greek ethne (see gentile), or it may be a literal borrowing of that Greek word, perhaps via Armenian hethanos [Sophus Bugge]. Boutkan (2005) presents another theory:
It is most probable that the Gmc. word *haiþana- referred to a person living on the heath, i.e. on common land, i.e. a person of one's own community. It would then be a neutral word used by heathen people in order to refer to each other rather than a Christian, negative word denoting non-Christians.
adjectival word-forming element, Old English -isc "of the nativity or country of," in later use "of the nature or character of," from Proto-Germanic suffix *-iska- (cognates: Old Saxon -isk, Old Frisian -sk, Old Norse -iskr, Swedish and Danish -sk, Dutch -sch, Old High German -isc, German -isch, Gothic -isks), cognate with Greek diminutive suffix -iskos. In its oldest forms with altered stem vowel (French, Welsh). The Germanic suffix was borrowed into Italian and Spanish (-esco) and French (-esque). Colloquially attached to hours to denote approximation, 1916.
updated on June 04, 2015