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The etymology of the word-field of Old English hōre and the lexico-cultural climate of eleventh-century England

Pons-Sanz, Sara 2011. The etymology of the word-field of Old English hōre and the lexico-cultural climate of eleventh-century England. Nottingham Medieval Studies 55 , pp. 23-48. 10.1484/J.NMS.1.102418

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Abstract

This article analyses the evidence behind the Norse derivation of OE hōre (PDE whore) and related terms (cp. ON hóra ‘adulteress, harlot’). After establishing that the terms probably referred to promiscuity and moral depravity rather than prostitution per se, the article explores the eleventh-century contexts where the terms are recorded: the Old English glosses to Aldhelm’s Prosa de uirginitate in Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, MS 1650, and Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 146, and the works of Archbishop Wulfstan II of York. The Norse-derived terms recorded in these texts belong to specific technolects (e.g. legal, monetary, and social terms), and, therefore, it is argued, their presence cannot be taken as strong evidence in favour of the Norse origin of the non-technical terms under consideration. The article concludes that, when this is considered together with the fact that there exist cognates for the terms in other Germanic languages and that the late attestation of the terms might be due to their informal, ‘demotic’, character rather than to their foreign etymology, there is not much evidence in favour of interpreting the terms as Norse derived. It is hoped that this approach will urge scholars to adopt similar caution when dealing with English terms whose late attestation is the main source of evidence for their suggested Norse origin.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
Publisher: Brepols
ISSN: 0078-2122
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 08:49
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/85768

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