Wormwood and vermouth are the same word

Many people are aware of the link between wormwood and absinthe. As names for the plant Artemisia absinthium, they are synonyms. A. absinthium has been used for many centuries to add a bitter flavor to various concoctions, especially wines and liqueurs. It has even taken the place of hops in some beer recipes.
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Some Old High German vocabulary for ‘intoxication’

There is an 8th-century Latin-German glossary (named Abrogans after its initial entry) that presents a large number of Latin words along with their Old High German meanings. The vocabulary is largely religious and/or biblical, but there are such occasional flights of whimsy as the following:

cit · Inprinnit · Crapula ·
ummazzi · Ebrietaſ · upar
trunkhani · Nauſia ·
uuillidho · poſt potum ·
aft̃ drankhe · Crapu
latuſ · uparhlatan ·
Subituſ · kahun · (Cod. Sang. 911; p. 67)

Here are the correspondences, in Latin and a standardized form of Old High German:

crapula ‘drunkenness’—un-māzī, lit. ‘immoderation’ (fem. īn-stem); cf. messen ‘measure,’ das Maß ‘measurement’

ebrietas ‘inebriation’—ubar-trunkanī lit. ‘over-drunkenness’ (fem. īn-stem)

post potum ‘after drinking’—aftar dranke

crapulatus ‘drunk’—ubar-hlatan, lit. ‘overladen’ = ‘overloaded’ (VI (h)ladan past ppl); cf. laden ‘load’

Etymology: nähren and νόστος

German (er)nähren ‘nourish, foster’ (Old High German nerien) has a pretty interesting history. Its resemblance to English nourish is mere coincidence (the English word being a loan from French, related to nurse and nutrition); rather, it goes back to Proto-Germanic *nazjaną ‘heal, save, cause to recover.’ This frequently takes on a religious tone in the old West Germanic languages: Old English Neriend means ‘Savior,’ basically equivalent to Hælend, lit. ‘Healer,’ as an epithet for Christ (cf. OHG neriendo and heilant; Old Saxon neriand and heliand).

*nazjaną itself is a weak class 1 causative of the strong class V verb *nesaną, which means ‘recover; escape, survive [a battle].’ Old English (ge)nesan is usually used of human beings escaping some harrowing situation—

Þæt ealde wundor þæra þreora cnihta þe aworpene wæron in þone byrnende ofen, and swa þeah ungederede genæson.
The ancient miracle of the three young men who were cast into the burning furnace, and nevertheless escaped unharmed. (Gr. D. 219)

—though its use is not strictly limited to humans:

Hrof ana genæs ealles ansund
The roof alone survived totally sound. (Beowulf 999b–1000a)

In modern Dutch, genezen (*ga-nesaną) has taken over the causative semantics of *nazjaną and thus means both ‘recover’ and ‘cure, heal’; derived nouns are de geneeskunde ‘(study of) medicine’ and het geneesmiddel ‘medication, drug.’

But the semantics of Germanic *nesaną ‘recover, survive, escape’ and of its causative counterpart *nazjaną ’cause to recover, save’ represent a substantial—though not inexplicable—divergence from a yet earlier meaning. Ancient Greek offers an array of cognates of *nesaną, all having to do with going home. For obvious reasons, these vocabulary items occur frequently in The Odyssey. The verb νέομαι (*nés-o-) is a prominent example.

κτήματα κείροντες καὶ ἀτιμάζοντες ἄκοιτιν
ἀνδρὸς ἀριστῆος· τὸν δ᾽ οὐκέτι φάντο νέεσθαι.
as they consumed the possessions and disrespected the wife
of an excellent man; they did not expect him to return home again. (Od. 24.459–460)

An important related noun is ὁ νόστος ‘a homecoming, returning home’ (*nós-tos). This word and its derived adjective νόστιμος are also frequent in the Odyssey.

“εἰ δ᾽ ὁ μὲν ὣς ἀπόλωλε καὶ οὐκέτι νόστιμός ἐστιν,
ἀλλ᾽ ἤδη παῖς τοῖος Ἀπόλλωνός γε ἕκητι”
“If he has thus perished and is no longer homeward bound,
his son, by the favor of Apollo, is of the same quality.” (Od. 19.85–86)

Still, tinges of the Germanic sense can be found in Homer, such as in Agamemnon’s rejection of Chryses and his gifts in Iliad 1—

“ἀλλ᾽ ἴθι μή μ᾽ ἐρέθιζε σαώτερος ὥς κε νέηαι.”
“But go, do not bother me, so that you might return the safer.” (Il. 1.32)

—in which “return the safer” is euphemism for “escape with your life.”

The Old High German Muspilli


The incomplete Old High German epic poem that has become known as the Muspilli represents a Germanic interpretation of the Final Judgement as a battle for souls between heavenly and infernal powers and an ultimate burning up of this world—a Christian Ragnarök. The 100 surviving lines of the poem exhibit the linguistic features of a southern OHG dialect (most saliently, an advanced stage of the High German consonant shift). The extant lines were written in the margins and blank folios of a single manuscript (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 14098), which itself is from the 9th century and predominantly contains a theological text written in Latin.

The Muspilli is written in alliterative verse, the traditional form for virtually all early Germanic poetry. Although the precise requirements vary from language to language—Old English appears to exhibit stricter metrical rules than OHG, and North Germanic skaldic poetry features internal rhyme and highly complex kennings—common rules can be abstracted. Each line is metrically divisible into two hemistichs (half-lines), each of which contains exactly two stressed syllables. One or both of the stressed syllables in the first hemistich always alliterates with the first syllable in the second hemistich. Even this much is not inviolable, however (cf. l. 3, which contains a second alliterating syllable in the second hemistich: likkan lazzit).

I will publish the poem in a series of workable chunks, boldfacing the alliterating consonants. Reconstructed forms are Proto-Germanic unless indicated otherwise.

Part I (ll. 1–10)

Part II (ll. 11–24)

Part III (ll. 25–43)

Part IV (ll. 44–60)

Part V (ll. 61–72)

Part VI (ll. 73–90)

Part VII (ll. 91–105)

A magic spell to heal injured horses

Seldom do the old Germanic gods make an appearance in Old High German texts. The Merseburger Zaubersprüche, of which No. 2 is featured here, are found in a 9th- or 10th-century manuscript from the monastery in Fulda. I have boldfaced the alliterating sounds.


Phol ende uuodan    uuorun zi holza.
du uuart demo balderes uolon    sin uuoz birenkit.
thu biguol en sinthgunt,    sunna era suister;
thu biguol en friia,    uolla era suister;
thu biguol en uuodan,    so he uuola conda: 5
“sose benrenki, sose bluotrenki, sose lidirenki:
ben zi bena, bluot zi bluoda,
lid zi geliden,    sose gelimida sin.”

1   Phol is a nickname of the god Balder, Old Norse Baldr (cf. l. 2 balderes)—uuodan =  ‘Woden’ or Old Norse Óðinn the All-Father of the Germanic pantheon, patron of death and magic—uuorun = fuorun VI faran 3 pl pret ind ‘were riding, were going’—holza dat sg ‘wood, forest’

2   du = thō ‘then’—uolon = folon masc n dat sg ‘foal’; demo balderes uolon is the dative used for inalienable possession (=body parts); for l. 2 cf. Ger Da wurde dem Balders Pferde sein Fuß verrenkt.—uuoz = fuoz ‘foot’—birenkit 1 bi-renken past ppl ‘sprained’

3   thu here and elsewhere = thō ‘then’—biguol VI bi-galan 3 sg pret ind ‘enchanted, charmed’—en = masc acc ‘him, it’ i.e. the foal—sinthgunt is a goddess—sunna fem n nom ‘Sunna,’ the personification of the Sun, = Old Norse Sólera 3 sg fem dat ‘to her’ i.e. to Sinthgunt; read sunna era suister as a parenthetic description of Sinthgunt, “Sunna (was) her sister”

4   friia is Frija, equivalent to the Norse goddess Frigguolla = folla is the godddess Fulla

5   so … uuola = ‘as well as …’—conda ‘knew how’; cf. Eng could, Ger konnte; this verb still has its original semantics of ‘to know how to’ as opposed to the more general ‘to be able’ of its modern reflex können

6   This line represents a departure from the prescribed meter—sose … sose … sose ‘as … so … so’—benrenki fem ī lit. ‘bone-sprain’—bluotrenki lit. ‘blood-sprain’—lidirenki lit. ‘joint-sprain’

7   This line is pretty clunky, and seems to be more of a continuation of the formula in l. 6 than a resumption of the meter, but it is convenient that bēn and bluot alliterate—ben neut a ‘bone’—bluot neut a ‘blood’

8   Here we have the completed transition back into the meter—lid ‘joint, limb, body part’; cf. Ger Glied ‘member’ < gi-lidgeliden dat pl ‘joints’; the -er pluralizing suffix has not yet spread to this word (cf. modern die Glieder, dat. den Gliedern)—gelimida 1 gi-līmen past ppl ‘mended, reassembled, glued’—sin sīn 3 pl pres opt ‘they may be’

Phol (=Balder) and Woden were traveling to the forest
when the foot of Balder’s foal became sprained.
Then Sinthgunt enchanted it, Sunna was her sister;
then Frija enchanted it, Folla was her sister;
then Woden enchanted it, as well as he could: 5
“As the bone-sprain, so the blood-sprain, and so the joint-sprain:
bone to bone, blood to blood,
joint to joints, so that they may be mended.”

(Featured image: Wotan heilt Balders Pferd by Emil Doepler)

Muspilli Part VII (91-105)

Go to Part VI

so dar manno nohhein    uuiht pimidan ni mak,
dar scal denne hant sprehhan,    houpit sagen,
allero lido uuelihc    unzi in den luzigun uinger,
uuaz er untar desen mannun    mordes kifrumita.
dar ni ist eo so listic man    der dar iouuiht arliugan megi, 95
daz er kitarnan megi    tato dehheina,
niz al fora demo khuninge    kichundit uuerde,
uzzan er iz mit alamusanu furimegi
enti mit fastun    dio uirina kipuazti.
denne der paldet    der gipuazzit hapet, 100
denner ze deru suonu quimit.
uuirdit denne furi kitragan    daz frono chruci,
dar der heligo Christ    ana arhangan uuard.
denne augit er dio masun,    dio er in deru menniski anfenc,
dio er duruh desse mancunnes    minna fardoleta. 105

91   uuiht (fem. i) here = ‘anything’ but historically < ‘thing, living being,’ cf. wightpimidan (I bi-mīdan) ‘avoid, dodge’

92   houpit (neut. a) ‘head,’ replaced in the modern language by der Kopf, although das Haupt is still found in compounds (and, archaically, on its own); cf. head < OE hēafod; for the vocalic alternation in reconstructed *haubid-/*haubud- cf. Latin caput (nom.) but capitis (gen.)

93   lido (masc. i lid genitive plural) ‘body part’—unzi (preposition) ‘until’ but here with the force of ‘down to’—luzigun ‘little’—uinger ‘finger’ < *fingraz; possibly related to PIE *pénkʷe ‘five’

94   desen mannun is dative plural—mordes (masc./neut. mord genitive plural) ‘murder,’ a partitive genitive

95   Here is another line with twofold alliteration: l | m || l | mlistic ‘clever, crafty’—iouuiht ‘anything’ = io + uuiht, cf. the English cognate aughtarliugan (II ir-liogan) ‘lie, cheat’—megi (mugan 3sg present optative) ‘might be able’

96   dehheina (fem. accusative singular) ‘any’

97   niz = ni + iz—khuninge (masc. a dative singular) ‘king’—kichundit (1 kunden past participle) ‘made known’

98   This line seems incomplete—uzzan (conjunction) ‘except, unless,’ lit. ‘outside’—alamusanu (neut. a alamuosan accusative plural) ‘alms, sacrifice’ < Greek ἐλεημοσύνη ‘pity, mercy’—furimegi (-mugan 3sg present optative) ‘be able to, be successful at, prevail’

99   fastun (fem. ō fasta) ‘fasting’—uirina ‘sins’—kipuazti (1 gi-buozen 3sg preterite optative) ‘might atone, improve, repair’

100   denne … denne are correlative = ‘then … when (relative)’—der … der are correlative; the second der begins a relative clause—paldet (3 baldēn) ‘becomes bold, takes courage’—gipuazzit hapet is a periphrastic perfect form, rather new at this stage in the language; the older alternative would be gipuazta

101   denner = denne + er, ‘when he …’

102   uuirdit, an auxiliary verb in the passive construction (for kitragan), has chruci as its subject—furi is adverbial ‘forth,’ i.e. ‘before (the man being judged)’—kitragan (VI gi-tragan past participle) ‘brought’—frono ‘lordly,’ i.e. ‘belonging to a lord (frō)’; in this case probably = ‘holy, belonging to the Lord’—chruci (neut. ja krūci nominative singular) ‘cross’

103   dar … ana ‘on which’; dar is relative; cf. Dutch waar Christus aan werd gehangenarhangan (VII ir-hāhan) ‘hung up, crucified’—uuard is the historical preterite singular for uuerdan; in modern German ward has rather recently been replaced with wurde

104   augit (1 ougen) this verb typically means ‘shows, reveals,’ lit. ‘(puts to the) eye’ < *augijaną (cf. *augan- ‘eye’), but here apparently = ‘sees,’ since the subject er seems to be the man; cf. to eye in modern English—masun (fem. n māsa accusative plural) ‘scars, stigmata’—menniski (fem. īn dative singular) is properly ‘the state of being a mann’; therefore = ‘personhood, humanity’—anfenc (VII -fāhan 3sg preterite indicative) ‘received,’ cf. modern Ger. empfing

105   dio … is a second relative clause whose antecedent is l. 104 masunduruh here = ‘because of’ lit. ‘through,’ governs minnadesse (fem. genitive singular) goes with minnamancunnes (neut. ja genitive singular) ‘of humanity, mankind’; recall that, at this point, mann can still refer either to a male or female person—minna (fem. ō) ‘love’; the modern word Minne typically refers to the ‘courtly love’ sung of in the Minnesang genre of Middle High German lyric poetry, but OHG does not have this restricted meaning; the word is apparently from < PIE *ménh2yeh2 ‘thought, consideration’; the cognate verb in Greek, μνάομαι, tellingly has the double meaning ‘remember, be mindful of,’ and (at least in Homer) ‘woo for one’s bride, court’—fardoleta (3 -dolēn) ‘endured, tolerated, suffered’ Ger. Geduld, Old English geþyld), from the zero-grade of *tleh2– ‘endure’ (cf. Greek τλάω ‘endure’; Latin ferō ‘carry’ has two suppletive forms from this root: the perfect tulī and the participle lātus, which was tlātus before the initial cluster was simplified

No person will then be able to avoid anything,
for the hand shall speak, the head say,
each body part down to the little finger,
what murder he has done among these people.
For there has never been a man so crafty who may lie about anything, 95
so that he may conceal a single deed
and it will not be made known before the king,
unless he manage it with alms
and might atone for his sins with fasting.
Then the one who has atoned will take courage, 100
when he comes to the judgement.
The lordly cross will then be brought before him
on which the holy Christ was hanged.
Then the man will see the scars that he received while human,
that he suffered because of this love of humanity. 105

Muspilli Part VI (73-90)

Go to Part V

So daz himilisca horn kilutit uuirdit,
enti sih der suanari    ana den sind arheuit
der dar suannan scal    toten enti lepenten, 75
denne heuit sih mit imo    herio meista,
daz ist allaz so pald,    daz imo nioman kipagan ni mak.
denne uerit er ze deru mahalsteti,    deru dar kimarchot ist:
dar uuirdit diu suona, dia man dar io sageta.
denne uarant engila    uper dio marha, 80
uuechant deota,    uuissant ze dinge.
denne scal manno gilih    fona deru moltu arsten,
lossan sih ar dero leuuo uazzon:    scal imo auar sin lip piqueman,
daz er sin reht allaz    kirahhon muozzi,
enti imo after sinen tatin    arteilit uuerde. 85
denne der gisizzit,    der dar suonnan scal
enti arteillan scal    toten enti quekkhen,
denne stet dar umpi    engilo menigi,
guotero gomono:    gart ist so mihhil:
dara quimit ze deru rihtungu so uilo    dia dar ar resti arstent. 90

73   On first glance, the alliteration scheme here appears to be h | h || l | w, which violates the requirement of an alliterating sound in the second half-line; but since kilutit represents historical *hl- it is at least conceivable that this word used to alliterate in an older period of the language’s history. (While clusters like */hl/ usually alliterate with identical clusters and not with single sounds, exceptions can easily be found, e.g. Beowulf l. 52 hæleð under heofenum, hwa þæm hlæste onfeng.)mdash;So temporal ‘when’—kilutit (1 gi-hlūten) ‘sounded’ < *hlūdaz ‘loud’ < PIE *ḱlew- ‘hear,’ cf. Greek κλέ(ϝ)ω ‘hear, obey’; Russian слушать ‘to listen’; Sanskrit śṛṇoti ‘hears’; Old Irish ro∙cluinethar ‘hears’

74   suanari (masc. ja) ‘judge, conciliator’ = suona (cf. l. 7) + the agentive ending āri < *-ārijaz, which was borrowed from Latin ārius

75   This line does not alliterate. Take the whole line in apposition to l. 74 der suanarisuannan (1 suonen) ‘to judge’—toten enti lepenten are dative plural objects of suannan

76   herio (masc. ja genitive plural) ‘armies, hosts’—meista (neut. sg.) ‘greatest,’ superlative of mihhil; note the n-declension to imply definiteness: ‘the greatest of hosts’ i.e. ‘the greatest host’

77   pald ‘bold, courageous’; the antecedent of daz is l. 76 herio meistakipagan = the same as l. 6 pagan but with the prefix gi- implying perfectivity

78   deru (fem. sg. dative relative pronoun) the verb kimarchot is impersonal here, with a dative object—kimarchot (2 gi-markōn) ‘marked off’

79   man … sageta should probably be translated as a passive—io (adverb) here = ‘once, in the past’

81   Note the twofold alliteration in this line: w | þ || w | þdeota has been translated as ‘the dead,’ but both the d and e make this problematic; a better reading is perhaps (fem. ō diota) ‘the people’ < *þeudō < PIE *tewtéh2uuechant (1 uuekken) ‘wake’——uuissant (1 uuīsen) ‘guide, lead, summon’—dinge here = ‘court of (divine) law’

82   gilih (masc. sg.), like l. 32 kilihaz, has the meaning ‘each, every’—moltu (fem. ō molta) ‘earth, dust,’ cf. OE molde ‘earth’ > moldarsten (ir-stēn) ‘to stand up, arise’

83   lossan (1 lōsen) ‘to release, free’—ar (preposition) ‘out of’—leuuo (masc. wa genitive plural) ‘graves’ < *hlaiwaz, possibly the first element of Hlewagastizuazzon (fem. ō dative plural) ‘burdens’—auar here read as ‘moreover’—lip (masc./neut. a) ‘life’ but here = ‘body,’ cf. Ger. Leib

84   daz ‘so that’—sin reht here = ‘his case, his plea’—kirahhon (2 gi-rahhōn) ‘to tell, recount,’ related to rahhamuozzi (muozan 3sg present optative) ‘might be able’

85   after (preposition) ‘according to’—tatin (fem. i tāt) ‘deeds’—arteilit (1 ir-teilen past participle) ‘judged’ is impersonal with dative object imo

86   denne ‘when (relative),’ looks ahead to l. 88 denne ‘then’—der … der are a correlative pair; the second der is the relative pronoun—gisizzit (V gi-sizzen) ‘sits’

87   quekkhen (quek masc. dative plural) ‘alive,’ here substantivized = ‘the living’; cf. Ger. Quecksilber lit. ‘living silver’ i.e. ‘moving silver’

88   dar umpi ‘thereabout’ = ‘all around’—menigi (fem. īn) ‘multitude, crowd,’ cf. Ger. Menge

89   gomono (masc. n genitive plural) ‘men’; take this in apposition to engilo; OHG goma (cf. Latin homō, Irish duine) has obviously lost its historical semantics < PIE *dʰģʰom- ‘earth’; its only modern reflex is the second half of Bräutigam ‘bridegroom’ < *brūdi-guman- (the English bridegroom has acquired an r on analogy to an unrelated word)—gart (masc. a) ‘yard, circle,’ here = ‘choir’ < *gardaz, cf. yard

90   rihtungu (fem. ō rihtunga) ‘court, tribunal’—resti (fem. īn) ‘repose, peace, resting-place’

When the heavenly horn is sounded,
and the judge rises onto the way
who shall then judge the dead and the living, 75
there arises together with him the greatest army,
which is so bold that no one is able to fight against it.
Then he goes to the courtplace, which is marked out there;
then the judgement transpires that was once foretold.
Then angels will come over the land, 80
wake the people, summon them to the court.
Then every person shall rise up out of the ground,
loosen himself from the burdens of the graves; moreover, his body will come to him,
so that he might plead his whole case,
and that he might be judged according to his deeds. 85
When he sits, the one who shall then decide
and shall judge the dead and the living,
then a crowd of angels will stand all around,
(a crowd) of good people; the choir is so great.
Then so many come to the trial, those who rise up out of their resting-place. 90

Go to Part VII