Sunday, January 28, 2007


I was thinking today about a word. So this is the occasional etymology trivia into which my blog delves. The word is "fell" as in a fell weapon, fell swoop, or in Lord of the Rings, fell beast.

This specimen of language is interesting to me because it is so simple, and seldom used. We like to be boring and use "deadly" all the time. This "fell" comes from the same root as "felon." Originally, the word was Middle Latin, fello, meaning villain:

fell (adj.)

c.1275, from O.Fr. fel "cruel, fierce," from M.L. fello "villain" (see felon). Phrase at one fell swoop is from "Macbeth."

Here is where it gets interesting. The word "fell" in verb form is attributed to the Germanic branch of languages, with neater spellings:

fell (v.)

O.E. fællan, (Mercian) fyllan (W.Saxon) "make fall," also "demolish, kill," from P.Gmc. *fallijanan (cf. O.N. fella, Du. fellen, O.H.G. fellan), causative of *fallan (O.E. feallan, see fall (v.)), showing i-mutation.

For this word, think of a common use such as "felling trees" (what a logger - not a blogger - does).

Last but not least, the verb "fall" traces its hypothetical roots to the Proto-Indo-European, with representatives in Armenian, Lithuanian, and Old Prussian. How neat is that?

fall (v.)

O.E. feallan (class VII strong verb; past tense feoll, pp. feallen), from P.Gmc. *fallanan (cf. O.N. falla, O.H.G. fallan), from PIE base *phol- "to fall" (cf. Armenian p'ul "downfall," Lith. puola "to fall," O.Prus. aupallai "finds," lit. "falls upon").

Hope you all enjoyed your lesson, and that you will work to implement this ancient word in your everyday speech.

To God be all glory.

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