Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hale, Hail, Whole, Health

While I'm busy reveling in beautiful old words, and since mentioning "exhale" earlier today made me think of it, I thought I'd move to the etymology of hale. Unfortunately most of us haven't heard the word, though it is still English enough to be in the dictionary. JRR Tolkien used it. He was a fan of old words, and sought to preserve their use by employing them himself. Oftentimes he would write a whole seen encompassing the entire meanings, nuances, and etymology of a word. Such is the case, I believe, with mead.

Hale is actually related to "whole" and "health," so you may see connections there. Dictionary.com defines hale as: "free from disease or infirmity; robust; vigorous: hale and hearty men in the prime of life" or "Free from infirmity or illness; sound."

Its etymology is: "healthy," Old English hal "healthy" (see health). The Scottish and northern English form of "whole," it was given a literary sense of "free from infirmity" (1734).

health: Old English hælþ "wholeness, a being whole, sound or well," from Proto-Indo-European *kailo- "whole, uninjured, of good omen" (cf. Old English hal "hale, whole;" Old Norse heill "healthy;" Old English halig, Old Norse helge "holy, sacred;" Old English hælan "to heal"). Healthy is first attested 1552.

Hail: "greetings!" c.1200, from Old Norse heill "health, prosperity, good luck;" and Old English hals, shortening of wæs hæil "be healthy" (see health and cf. wassail). The verb meaning "to call from a distance" is 1563, originally nautical. 'Hail fellow well met' is 1581, from a familiar greeting. Hail Mary (c.1300) is the angelic salutation (L. ave Maria), cf. Luke i.58, used as a devotional recitation.

Wassail: c.1140, from Old Norse ves heill "be healthy," a salutation, from ves, imperative of vesa "to be" (see was) + heill "healthy" (see health). Use as a drinking phrase appears to have arisen among Danes in England and spread to native inhabitants. A similar formation appears in Old English wes þu hal, but this is not recorded as a drinking salutation. Sense extended c.1300 to "liquor in which healths were drunk," especially spiced ale used in Christmas Eve celebrations. Meaning "a carousal, reveling" first attested 1602. Wassailing "custom of going caroling house to house at Christmas time" is recorded from 1742.

So Eomer blessed King Theoden after the monarch regained his strength and cried out for battle in the Two Towers. (The King of the Golden Hall) Tolkien here used the Old English "westu [Theoden] hal!" Eowyn bids her king "Ferthu Theoden hal!" when she offers him the stirrup-cup. This phrase means "Go now in health, Theoden!" (Ferthu can be related to 'forth.')

whole: Old English hal "entire, unhurt, healthy," from Proto Germanic *khailaz "undamaged" (cf. Old Saxon hel, Old Norse heill, Old Frisian hal, Middle Dutch hiel, Dutch heel, Old High German, German heil "salvation, welfare"), from Proto-Indo-European *koilas (cf. O.S.C. celu "whole, complete;" see health). The spelling with wh- developed c.1420.

To God be all glory.

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