Old English numbers 1 – 10

Learning a dead language seems to be very different to learning a living one. I’ve had classes in varying degrees in French, Spanish, German, Old English, Old Norse and Latin and the following was true:

  • Living languages: hello, goodbye, my name is, colours, animals and numbers.
  • Dead languages: Here are some sentences from actual texts. Please translate them.

I suppose it makes perfect sense, since you’re supposed to use the living language to communicate with people and the dead one to read old texts, but it just always made me smile. When I came home from uni and said that I was learning some Old English, people who had only studied living languages would ask me to say something in the language, or to recite the numbers 1 to 10.

So, now I will!

(Proving my case, I didn’t have this information in any of my old notes that I could find and had to look it up online.)

1 – 10 in Old English

  1. ān
  2. tƿeġen (twegen, masculine. In neuter it was tu and in the feminine case it was tƿa)
  3. Þrēo (threo)
  4. fēoƿer (feower)
  5. fīf
  6. seox
  7. seofon
  8. eahta
  9. nigon
  10. tīen


Old English numbers 1 – 10

Etymology – Snow

As you can see from this photo of my front garden at 4 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, our second snowy weather alarm didn’t come to much. Nonetheless, today’s word is “Snow”.

It shouldn’t surprise you that this word comes straight from Old English. Imagine how horrible it would have been to live in this weather back then, with no central heating and no glass in your windows!

Yes, the Old English word for snow is simply snaw. (With an accent I can’t insert, here’s a dictionary entry)

Spellings weren’t standardised, though, so here are some hilarious Middle English versions:

“Also snoue, snoȝ, snogh, snough, snouȝ(h, snouh, (N) snai, (chiefly early & N) snau(e” (from here)

Fun fact, the ȝ (called yogh, we don’t have it in our alphabet anymore) and all the gh/ough/ spellings implies that some areas of England used to pronounce snow not with the ending I do today but with something a bit closer to the “oy” in destroy. I think several northern/Scottish/Irish accents sound a bit closer to that.

The use of snow as a simile, e.g. “white as snow” also goes back to at least the 12th century (in Old English): “His claðes weron iworden swa hwite swa snaw”

“His clothes became as white as snow.”

Etymology – Snow

Close cousins – the days of the week

Hi all! Today I’m going to show you how certain languages are very closely related using the days of the week.

If you’d guessed that I’ll be talking about Old English (OE) and Old Norse (ON) then you’ve learn what I enjoy, well done, but I’ll also be looking a bit more widely. Because that’s fun too.

First things first. OE and ON are members of a language family called Germanic. This doesn’t mean that they are all descended from German, though!

I’ve read that this language family is called “Germanic” partly because many of its languages fall into the geographic area the Romans called Germania, and partly because most of the 19th century heavyweight thinkers who solidified the idea of languages “relating” to each other, like families or species, were German and regarded those languages as “a central branch” (small mention here).

If the idea that languages can be related seems a stretch to you, then congratulations you were never forced to learn both Spanish and French simultaneously. This theory is the idea that all languages are descended from other languages. To pick a common example, all of the Romance languages, so, French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian and so on, are descended from Latin.

(No really, it goes on. The Romans got everywhere, and so their Latin was subject to countless different regional (and in the case in Ladino, ethno-religous) variations. Look at this list from Wikipedia! I didn’t even know some of these languages existed!

So, the Germanic language family is another load of related languages. Let’s go through a few.

So I’ve already said Old English is in that group. Old English gave rise to English (of course) and Scots (depending on your political views, don’t fight me). There’s also two extinct languages used in Ireland, Yola and Fingallian. And of course thanks to Britain’s invading imperialist colonialism (hello are my politics showing? oh dear) English is the ancestor to absolutely loads of creole languages, including the very widely used Hawaiian, Jamaican Patois and Singlish.

Old Norse too has its fair share of descendants: Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Faroese, Greenlandic, and Icelandic. (Icelandic is particularly cool because it is very much still Old Norse. They can read the Icelandic sagas without much trouble. Delightfully un-evolved language.) There was also Norn, which I’ve mentioned before when talking about Orkney surnames, and Russian and Norse traders did create a pidgin (which is a smushing together of languages together to try and reach a mutual understanding) called Russenorsk.

As you’d expect, modern German is also in this language family, and Dutch (and thus Afrikaans).

Ok, I’m probably the only one finding this language genealogy interesting, so let’s skip to the direct comparisons!

(Full confession, if you want to skip my rambling and just have a look yourself, I am largely using the relevant Wikipedia article.)

The Germanic days of the week are to an extent just pagan-ised versions of the Latin, since Roman gods were replaced by their Germanic “equivalents”. That in itself is very interesting, since it comes from both directions: the Germanic people noticed the similarities and adopted the Romans gods into their systems, and the Romans encouraged this because it meant that they could keep their pantheon across their whole empire, thus creating a symbol of “we are the same people”.

The Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings (to use my fall-back examples)  didn’t have exactly the same gods, but from what we know they had similar gods and you can see this in the names.

The modern Icelandic days of the week don’t fit the same pattern as their relatives so I’ve not used them here; they feel foul of an anti-paganism attempt by this guy.

So. To the similarities!

First, the Latin and the relevant gods:

dies Lunae, dies Martis, dies Mercuri, dies Iovis, dies Veneris, dies Saturni, dies Solis

  • Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Sun

Old English

Monandag, Tiwsdaeg, Wodensdaeg, Thunresdaeg, Frigedaeg, Saeternesdaeg, Sunnandaeg

  • Moon, Tiw, Woden, Thunor, Frige, Saturn, Sun

Old Norse

manadagr, tysdagr, odinsdagr, thorsadgr, frjadagr, laugardar, sunnadagr

  • Mani, Tyr, Odin, Thor, Frigg/Freyja, washing-day, Sun


Modern Norwegian (Bokmal)

mandag, tirsdag, onsdag, torsdag, fredag, lordag, sondag

Modern German

Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch (was Wutenstag), Donnerstag, Freitag, Sonnabend, Sonntag

Hopefully you can see from these that not only did those languages all use pretty much the same gods in the same way, they also still show that they have a common ancestor. Even if you look at their words for “day” you can see it looks similar throughout.

Thanks for reading!

Close cousins – the days of the week

Hunts place-names – The Fens

Happy Easter Monday, everyone! Those of you who had today off work, I hope you made the most of it, and those of you who did not, I hope you were well fuelled by chocolate. Or religion. Or both.

This is part of my little mini series on a sample of Huntingdonshire place-names, where I look at what they were originally named and discuss what this could mean about the area (for example, what was farmed there?) or the people living there (who were they?).

(Catch up with part 1part 2part 3  and part 4 or browse my whole place-names tag)

Today I’m going to be introducing you to several place-names in the area of Huntingdonshire (and other counties) called The Fens which discuss notable landscape and environment features.

An acquaintance of mine has an excellent podcast about the myths and creepy stories around the fens, so you should check it out here, or search Fencast on Twitter!

  • Ramsey – Garlic Island

I discussed Ramsey yesterday in the plants section, so just to remind everyone:

Earliest spelling: Hramesege from roughly the year 1000. It’s made up of two Old English words: hramsa, ‘garlic’, and e.g. for ‘island’.

“Island” as you might have guessed is the word of interest here. This didn’t necessarily mean that everywhere around Ramsey at the time was underwater, since it could also mean an area of land which was higher than everywhere surrounding it. Given that the Fens are incredibly low-lying, both interpretations are possible.

© Copyright  David Deardenand licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

You can see from the little lane just to the right hand side of this picture that the land where Ramsey Abbey sits, which presumably was the first and most central part of the settlement, was raised from the Fens surrounding it.

If anyone does know the inundation state of the lands around Ramsey, do let me know! In the meantime it’s on my list of things to research.

  • Holme – Island

The fancy word for this type of name is simplex


because it only has one element. That element is from Old Norse (finally, it’s not Old English!!) and it’s holmr. It means almost exactly the same as Old English eg for Ramsey, so, island/dry ground in marsh. It probably wasn’t hard to be raised higher than the surrounding lands, since according to a bit of Googling the Holme Fens contains the lowest point in the whole of the UK. Wikipedia says that it is 2.75 metres (9.0 ft) below sea level. I can’t find a decent map of the area which shows land levels, which is really annoying.

  • Fenton – Fen Farm

This tiny settlement near Ramsey  was first recorded in 1236 as Fentun. Pretty simple here, it’s Old English fenn and Old English tun. The interesting thing is that several of my sources query what exactly fenn meant. One just calls it an area specific dialect term for  marshy ground. Given that the entire area for miles around is marshy, and that this settlement is tiny so probably didn’t have huge importance (look at me and my generalising without evidence; I’d be shot for this at uni), why this settlement was actually named fenn is unknown. Mystery!

  • Fenstanton

Another fenn name! This one interesting for a slightly different reason. So, we’ve got the settlement first recorded in 1012 as Stanton and then over 200 years later in 1260 as, Fenstanton. Fenn + stan for stone + tun, which as we’ve seen many times before in this series means farm or enclosure. I think this may actually be the least changed name I’ve ever come across.

It’s not quite the puzzle of Fenton because this place wasn’t named for fenn. We can clearly see in the recorded names that it was called Stanton first and only had the Fen added on much later.

I’m still intrigued though as one of the points from above still basically stands – why would you add a prefix which means marshy to a name in an area which is overwhelmingly marshy? Names are meant to distinguish settlements from each other! What did fenn mean??

Fun fact, the first person I’ve found with the surname or byname (see here for the difference between the two) Fen is “Willielmus de Fenbrig”, who was in a list of fines. Tut, tut. Piqued my interest though – there’s no modern place-name I can find called Fenbridge. Lost place-name?? Does anyone know of a street or field with a name like this?

  • Morborne – Marsh River

This tiny village near Yaxley is first recorded in an almost identical form: Morburne in 1086 (Domesday Book again). This is made from OE mor which means ‘marsh’ combined with OE burna. People of a Scottish persuasion might be able to figure out that second element without being told – yup, I’m pretty sure that word is the direct ancestor of Scots “burn” for stream. In an Old English context, a burna was used for a small waterway which wasn’t big enough to be called ea ‘river’.

In conclusion, every post I come up with new questions! When this daily challenge is over I will have a lot of material for future research, that’s for certain.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment, pass it on to anyone with fabulous local knowledge, or just ‘like’ it on social media. See you tomorrow!

Hunts place-names – The Fens

Hunts place-names – Flora

Happy Easter to everyone! And happy anniversary to me, since apparently I started this blog up exactly 2 years ago.

This is part of my little mini series on a sample of Huntingdonshire place-names, where I look at what they were originally named and discuss what this could mean about the area (for example, what was farmed there?) or the people living there (who were they?).

(Catch up with part 1part 2, and part 3 or browse my whole place-names tag)

Daily challenge update: I am still two blogs behind where I numerically should be, oops! Will do my very best to get two up today! More information on the daily challenge here.

On to plants and crops in place-names! (Pop back here if you missed animals)

  • Brampton – Bramble or Broom Farm

To clear things up, we are of course not talking about wooden sticks for brushing here. The Wildlife Trust gives an excellent definition and picture here of the plant involved. Now, as a thoroughly townie child I have no idea why you would want to cultivate plants that I see growing everywhere, but I suppose brambles are a delicious food source and according to the Wildlife Trust broom may actually have been used for making brooms. Feel free to enlighten me.

The Old English words in contention are brame or brom. the first recorded spelling is unhelpful in curing the confusion: Brantune. Stupid Domesday.

  • Leighton Bromswold – Leek or Garlic Farm On/Above Brun’s High Woodland/Clearing

Isn’t that a mouthful? To take the plant element first: that’s Old English leac.

(Fact which amuses me and probably no-one else; I have typed leah “clearing/woodland” enough that WordPress now accepts it as a word and just tried to auto-correct leac to it)

So this isn’t a question of two possible words; this is one word with two possible meanings. Since leek and garlic are related, this at least makes some sense. Onion is also related, and a quick hunt in the online Old English dictionary shows that the Anglo-Saxons knew that very well:

leac – leek (or sometimes garlic)

garleac – garlic

efeleac/eneleac – onion (also could be cipe)

The “farm” word is just tun, which we’ve come across before.

The Bromswold bit is added a lot later: in 1254 we get Letton super Bruneswald. Clearly written in Latin, because super certainly didn’t mean it was a great place to go to. Then we have the name Brun, a clear genitive es, and wald, which is a regional variant of weald, which we came across yesterday as another one of those irritating words which can mean clearing and can be woodland. Argh.

  • Ramsey – Garlic Island, or Hraefn’s Island

Yes, there is yet another possible word for garlic: hramsa. Different type of garlic? Wild vs farmed? No idea. Second element is Old English eg for island. First spelling is Hramesege in about 1000, and we also get Ramesige in 1034.

I’ll be back for Ramsey in a later post, to talk about why it’s called an island!

  • Bythorn – By Thorn

Simplest name ever. OE bi + OE thyrne.  You can see it settling into basically what it is today even in the earliest spelling: Bitherna in 960. I mean, then Domesday Book comes along again with Bierne but that’s always an issue.

The thing which makes this name interesting is that this place-name has an odd structure. Most place-names that I looked at are made up of a second element which references a place, such as a farm or enclosure, and a first element which tells you what was grown/made/looked after on that farm. This is just … just a direction. Near the thorns. There must have been an awful lot of thorns for that to be memorable enough to make a lasting name!

  • Warboys – Watch Bush, or Wearda’s Bush

This is made up of the Old English word weard, meaning watch or protection (or alternately a man’s name Wearda) and the Old English busc for bush. Earliest form:  Weardebusc  974, and in the Domesday book it’s Wardebusc (see this fantastic website).

However, the cool thing about its modern form, Warboys, is that it indicates that the second bush element got influenced strongly by the Old French bois for wood. I don’t have the data to find out when this started affecting the spelling, but I would have thought somewhere between the 12th and 14th centuries?

Thanks for reading! Enjoy Easter in whichever way suits you! I will be eating my body weight in Easter Eggs and going on a long Pokemon Go walk to hatch and collect more Pokemon Eggs. But hey, that’s just me.


Hunts place-names – Flora

Hunts place-names: Fauna

Evening all! Today I’ll show you some Huntingdonshire names which have animal elements. This is part of my little mini series on a sample of Huntingdonshire place-names, where I look at what they were originally named and discuss what this could mean about the area (for example, what was farmed there?) or the people living there (who were they?).

(Catch up with part 1 and part 2, or browse my whole place-names tag)

Tenuous link: Easter makes me think of, spring means lambs and baby animals, animals mean nature in general. So now you’ve had that peek inside my head …


I found 5 names in my sample which have something to do with animals. It’s worth remembering – and I will point out – that a few of these may have been named for oddly shaped hills rather than important nearby animal populations or the like. Bearing that in mind:

  • Woolley – “Wolf Wood”

This hamlet has some frankly astonishing recorded spellings. I don’t know how anyone ever figured out what it meant. In the Domesday Book it’s Ciluelai, and in 1158 it is called Wulueleia. My general place-names dictionary even wrote [sic] next to the Domesday Book entry to prove that it wasn’t their typo. Scribes, what were you doing? Where’s the f gone? Is there an extra syllable in the middle – some distant past grammatical marker? Apparently it’s wulf + leah. I’m just going to agree. An information website gives more recorded spellings (sadly no sources though!):

Ulvelai (11th century); Wulueleia, Wolfleg, Wlfleg, Wolle (13th century) Wolley (16th century) and Woolley (Modern).


You might remember me previously mentioning that leah can mean either wood or clearing. I reckon it’s more likely to be wood here because WOLVES although maybe it could have been a clearing where wolves appeared a lot? Who knows? It’s near another wood place-name, weald, but that one can mean both wooded area and clearing too. Still, I’m claiming wood, because I can.

  • Buckworth – Buck (goat) enclosure

This village is only about 2.5 miles from Woolley. Wild conjecture time – was there a load of wolves nearby because there was a penned up fast food supply of walking meat?? Still doesn’t help with the wood vs clearing thing. This is mind-bogglingly self-explanatory as a place-name: Old English: bucc + worth, though my dictionary does suggest it could be Bucc as a name. Buck as a name, oh dear, I can’t blame the Americans for that any more …

I checked in the online Old English dictionary and bucc might specifically mean male goat. I kind of assumed we were talking deer or sheep, because in my head a male goat is a billy, but, that’s cool. Goat pen!

  • Yaxley – Cuckoo’s Clearing

Yay, it’s another name where you can see the possessive!! (Again, or for those who haven’t read previous posts, I’m talking about what in English we basically just have as the possessive apostrophe, and what if you’ve learnt German, Latin or basically any other language you might know as the genitive case.)

This first appears in 963 as Geaceslea, and is actually remarkably unchanged 120 years later in the Domesday Book: Iacheslei. Note the -es- middle bit!! Genitive!!!

The Anglo-Saxon didn’t always pronounce ‘g’ like we do. In front of certain vowels (I could dig  out my textbook and find out but I am sleepy … maybe I’ll do a brief post on it tomorrow?) it is pronounced like “y”. So you can see that the pronounciation hasn’t changed that much either.

  • Raveley – Raven Clearing

Great and Little Raveley are up near Ramsey in the fens. More on the fens in another post! This is fairly simple name. It was first attested as Raeflea in 1060, and it’s made up of Old English hreafn and good old leah.

Thanks for reading! I really do watch the view counter on WordPress with alarming concentration. I think I might have an F5 addiction.

Tomorrow I’ll do another little post on places named after plants and crops, and then hopefully I’ll do a meatier post about what names can tell us about the shape of the land at the time. See you then!

Hunts place-names: Fauna

Hunts place-names – Language

Welcome back to part 2 of my little series on a sample of the place-names from the historic county of Huntingdonshire. I’ll look at what they were originally named, and whether this can tell us anything about the area.

See part 1, on places originally named after people, here.

(Plug: Ask me your village/town name in the comments or on social media and I’ll look it up and tell you stuff about it! Places all over Britain welcome.)

Today I’ll show you how a few of the village/town names aren’t as English as you might have thought!

I’ll be putting these in roughly chronological order, so let’s discuss those categories first. If you know it all and want to skip to the names, feel free to click here!.


This is thought to have been a language spoken in Britain before the Celts arrived. So we’re talking probably hm, before about 700BC? 800BC? For comparison, this is roughly the period when the Greeks developed their alphabet (and by developed I mean nicked it off the Phoenicians, who got it from the Egyptians, and no-one’s quite sure where Sumerian fits in … ok so I like the history of the alphabet too, sue me). Anyway, the point I was going for is that names which use anything categorised as Pre-Celtic are really, really old. They are generally river names, which is the case in Huntingdonshire.


This is the language thought to have been spoken in Britain when the Romans invaded. (Romans were in Britain from 43 to 410.)

Old English/Anglo-Saxon

This was spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. The earliest record of them in Britain (in a position of power) was 441. I don’t think there is any evidence names anywhere in the country from that long ago, though. The question of when Old English ended is thorny but for simplicity’s sake I’ll go with traditional general views and say the twelfth century (1100 – 1199)

Old Norse/Scandinavian

This was spoken by the Vikings! gets shot by every single lecturer ever Ok, this was spoken by the settlers and also the raiders who came to live in Britain between the late 8th and 10th centuries. Fun fact, the settlers on the east coast of England were largely Danish, unlike those in Ireland and the North West (and Scottish Isles) who were largely Norwegians.

Middle English

Again to generalise drastically, this is thought of as what Old English developed into in England after the huge Latin and Romance influence from the Norman invasion of 1066. It’s the phase when, adjusting for spelling, you can generally read it without having to learn it word for word like you do Old English. Assume a rough start date of the twelfth century, and various netbooks are telling me the end date is 1475 – 1500. This basically corresponds with the printing press revolution, which standardised spelling properly.


Some of you might, if you’re paying attention, be scowling right now and asking why Latin is this far forwards in my list when the Romans were here for, like, 400 years. That is a valid concern and the Romans did definitely name places in Britain in Latin. However, the Anglo-Saxons got rid of I think pretty much all of them. There certainly aren’t any in my sampled names in Huntingdonshire! So the Latin in place-names largely comes from the same era as the French – it’s those pesky Normans again!

Most of my sampled names are Old English, but there is at least one example of everything above. Let’s go!


The name of the village COLNE comes from the name of a nearby stream. It’s so old that we don’t know its meaning, as we don’t with many Pre-Celtic words.


The “Hail” in HAIL WESTON is a name meaning “dirty water” and was a previous name for the River Kym. (People started calling the river Kym after nearby Kimbolton.)

Old English

I’ve picked EARITH to represent the Anglo-Saxons, just because the translation makes me giggle. It’s made up of ear, which means muddy, and hyth, which means landing place. Obviously enough poor Anglo-Saxons got covered when they tried to get out of the River Ouse that it got named for it. Does anyone know if Earth is still muddy???

Old Norse

There isn’t a massive amount of evidence for Norse settlement in Huntingonshire. We know it happened, but there’s not a massive amount left for us to see. There are a couple of interesting place-names in that respect, but for now I’ll just talk about COPPINGFORD. The earliest form we’ve got for it is from the Domesday book, which is Copemaneforde. This is the Old Norse word for merchants: kaupmanna, plus of course the recognisable ford. But the reason that this is great is because the -nna ending on that word is a bit of Old Norse grammar which means belonging to (like the possessive apostrophe, or if you know German or Latin it’s the genitive case.)

That means that we can be pretty sure that Coppingford was named by Old Norse speakers. Whether they were the first to settle there, whether they just traded there a lot, or whether the name just replaced another unknown one, we don’t know, but I do think that’s pretty cool.

Concrete evidence of Norse presence in Huntingdonshire!

Middle English

WOODHURST is another favourite of mine. First recorded as Wdeherst in 1209 – no that’s not a typo, or if it is it’s about 800 years old and definitely not my fault. It’s made of two elements: Middle English wode and Old English hyrst. But here comes the daft bit. Wide means wood. Hyrst means wooded hill. So, Wood Wooded Hill. What??

Easy and also interesting explanation: originally this must have been called Hyrst. When people stopped understanding Old English, they just added a distinguishing word onto it. So there you go; a name springing from a misunderstanding!

(Other points raised: was there another Hyrst/Hurst around that Middle English speaking people wanted to distinguish it from? And was that area of woodland particularly important or rare, given that both names mention it?)


The only Latin lying around in my corpus comes in the form of distinguishing adjectives as happened to LITTLE PAXTON and GREAT PAXTON. Originally this was made up of the Old English name Paecc and that Old English tun suffix. Now, I don’t know why two settlements reasonably far away from each other have the same time, nor which one came first. Or maybe at one point they were the same place ad the middle section has disappeared? I don’t know, does anyone?

Anyway, so, by the 13th century, we see in the records that these two places are Magna Paxton and Parva Paxton. The fact that today they are called Great and Little suggests that all the scribe was doing there was translating those already existing words straight into Latin. He wasn’t even doing a great translation job, since my dad who loves Latin rather a lot assures me that adjectives should come after their nouns.


And finally, French!

The only usage of French in my sample (and I think probably the most common usage in Cambridgeshire overall) is in what’s known as “manorial suffixes”, which basically just means that when the French came in and were given stole lots of land, they added their family or land name at the end to identify the land as theirs.

Easy examples: OFFORD DARCY and OFFORD CLUNY. Darcy comes from a French family, and Cluny comes from a well-known French Abbey.


Thanks for reading! Please let me know if you’re enjoying this new idea. 🙂

Hunts place-names – Language