Reader, I finished it. Jane Eyre, that is; after reading a chapter or two a day for weeks, I gobbled up the last sixty or seventy pages today, and am still not sure how to think about it. There is a fair amount of Gothic nonsense, and an almost intolerable quantity of Christian sanctimony (I am astonished to learn from Wikipedia that “In 1848 Elizabeth Rigby […], reviewing Jane Eyre in The Quarterly Review, found it ‘pre-eminently an anti-Christian composition'”), but I can see why Dostoevsky was so struck by it when he read a translation in Otechestvennye Zapiski (the same journal that was carrying his Netochka Nezvanova) — it could be called more a Russian novel in feeling than an English one. I’ll be mulling over its characters and conflicts for some time.

Of linguistic interest is an odd word that occurs in the portion I read today: lameter. It means, as I guessed from context, “a lame person; a cripple” (in the words of the OED’s 1901 entry), but the pronunciation was unexpected: /ˈleɪmɪtə(r)/ (three syllables, LAME-iter). For an etymology, the OED says (after the obvious information that it’s from lame) “the formation is obscure”; the DSL (it’s a Scots and dialectal word) is more precise: “Appar. from lamit, lamed, + –er, personal n.suff., in imitation of curator, debitor, servitor, etc.” S. R. Crockett’s Men of Moss-hags (1895) provides a fine quote for both reference works to cite: “A foot … came into the passage, dunt-duntin’ like a lameter hirplin’ on two staves.”


  1. I think it is not sanctimony. The villains are not Christians but churchmen, and Jane quickly learns the difference. She has no other language for integrity and honor and moral worth than Christian language, and she deploys it: almost everyone except Helen is eventually criticized for hypocrisy. She aims almost as much at class hypocrisy (not at class itself, which I think is a distinction missed in the post-Marx age). It’s been said that whereas Charlotte wanted everyone to be sincerely moral, Emily didn’t give a damn about anybody’s morals, which is why Emily is easier to absorb earlier in life.

  2. No, I understand that the author is not actually propagandizing, but the Christian language becomes as overbearing as the Marxist verbiage does in many Soviet novels.

  3. I don’t think the pronunciation is a surprise if the formation of the word from LAME or LAMIT is akin to the formation of words like trickster, barrister, hunter, etc. which use the English suffixes -ster or -ter. (The distinction of -ster being feminine disappeared before the instances of LAMETER cited. This seems like a more likely origin of the suffix than the OED’s suggestion of -tor as in curator, debitor, servitor, which are all straight from Latin, while the roots of LAME are Germanic or Norse.

  4. “She has no other language for integrity and honor and moral worth than Christian language, and she deploys it: ”

    Something similar happened in Massachusetts with “King Philip’s War/Rebellion.”

    It was in no way a rebellion; the English settlers were functionally pre-Neolithic and completely at the mercy of the local Wampanoag polity. The war was what we would call ethnic cleansing. The failure of the English to assimilate into society was a threat to Metacom and his people. (Nativism at its purest!) Ethnic cleansing is pretty heinous but the English of that time had no term that captured that exactly. “Rebellion” was the most heinous word they could come up with.

  5. Charlotte wanted everyone to be sincerely moral, Emily didn’t give a damn about anybody’s morals, which is why Emily is easier to absorb earlier in life.

    Who said this? Emily Bronte did not give a damn about anyone’s morals? It has been about twenty years since I read the book, so I may be mistaken, but this does not fit with my recollection.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    fisheyed, are you confusing Emily and Charlotte, or their respective works?

  7. Consider Heathcliff, who is noted neither for his sense of morals nor even for doing what is right, and yet he’s the hero of Wuthering Heights.

  8. Martin, I don’t think hunter is an example of a -ter suffix. It seems to be just hunt + -er. The rest of your examples are -ster. Is there a -ter?

  9. Keith:

    What about the words potter, cutter and sitter? Were they formatted with a -ter suffix? And how about the nouns catheter, pewter, laughter or slaughter? They also seem to end in the suffix -ter. I may be wrong though.

  10. So the DSL hypothesis is that lamiter comes from lamit (-it is a Scots variant of -ed) + the agent suffix -er (an otherwise unattested combination of suffixes). The word is found in Scotland, Ulster and NW England. But what about the West Country word lamiger, lammiger [ˈlæmɪʤɚ], with exactly the same meaning and a short vowel? I would bet that they are somehow related, though I can’t as yet see how.

    By the way, there is no Germanic agent suffix -ter. In potter, cutter etc.we have a graphically doubled LETTER which signals the shortness of the preceding vowel, but it’s pronounced a single CONSONANT and belogs to the root, not the suffix. Potter = pot + -er. The originally feminine -ster suffix (as in spinster) is puzzling but may be inherited (despite being an Anglo-Dutch thing with no uncontroversial relatives elsewhere in Germanic). Today, most agent nouns contain -er, found throughout Germanic (and borrowed into Slavic, where it has also become highly productive). Oddly enough, this suffix seems to be of Latin origin (-ārius).

  11. Yes, I think -er is more common as the (archaically) masculine agent noun suffix, related to the feminine -ster. But there’s -ter as well. Laughter and slaughter are not agent nouns but formed using a -ter suffix. In Dutch (relevant since the roots are proto-Germanic) the er/ster gender distinction is still operative, for example verpleger/verpleegster for male/female nurse (used until the mid-20th century when a new term, verpleegkundige, was created to be gender-neutral and more reflective of the education of nurses.)

  12. Laughter and slaughter are not agent nouns but formed using a -ter suffix.

    Precisely: they are not agent nouns. Their suffix is PIE *-tro-, which normally became Germanic *-þra- (by Grimm’s Law) or *-dra- (Grimm + Verner) except after a root originally ending in a stop. In Proto-Germanic, such a stop changed into a fricative and blocked the application of Grimm’s Law to the following *t. We also have the PIE kinship suffix *-ter-/-tor- (as in father, mother, brother, daughter) which also had Germanic *t only after a fricative (Old English dohtor); otherwise it became *þ (OE brōþor) or *d (fæder, mōdor)

    There was a well-attested PIE agent suffix *-ter-/-tor- (as in Lat. ac-tor from ago), but it completely lost its productivity in Germanic, leaving only a few scattered fossils (in which the *t usually became something else via Grimm’s and Verner’s Laws). Of course it can be seen in words borrowed from Latin or Greek in historical times.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    The originally feminine -ster suffix (as in spinster) is puzzling but may be inherited (despite being an Anglo-Dutch thing with no uncontroversial relatives elsewhere in Germanic).

    …Do you mean it could be derived from what you mentioned in the 4th paragraph of this post?

  14. It was Sihler’s idea back in the 1970s, and I wouldn’t rule it out for*-strijōn-, though I admit its limited range of occurrence within Germanic is a problem.

  15. David, I’ve had a lightbulb moment too. It has just occurred to me that the -er suffix may be a native Germanic morpheme after all (IOW, not = -ārius), and that it may be closely related to -ster in a way nobody has thought of before.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Oddly enough, this suffix seems to be of Latin origin (-ārius).

    On the blog “Wanana sculun Frankon” there’s a post on how it’s all very confusing and perhaps the same suffix was borrowed twice. However, the spam filter refuses to let me post the link. The address ends in /2014/02/26/between-latin-monetarius-and-english-minter/ .

  17. I think I have hit upon a hitherto overlooked analysis that solves several problems in one fell swoop, including the vowel quantity (in Germanic and Slavic) and the etymological status of the webster suffix. If my idea is correct, the homophony between the Germanic and Latin suffixes was accidental (but it helped the Germani to borrow some morphologically complex Latin words). My first impression is that it’s just too elegant to be wrong, but I’ll have to look at more data to make sure. Luckily, it’s the first day of my sabbatical leave, and although I’m supposed to be writing a book, I’ll find enough time for a journal article as well.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    the vowel quantity (in Germanic and Slavic)

    Does your idea solve the problem that OHG had both vowel quantities simultaneously according to the post I can’t link to?

  19. I’ll have to check if the distribution of both variants in OHG confirms my suspicion. I would expect -ari with Latinate bases and āri with native ones.

  20. Let’s see if the spam filter can be cheated:

  21. He cites OHG munizāri, mulināri, zolanāri, all with a Latin base and a long vowel, but there are a number of native bases with a long-vowel suffix as well. It’s more complicated than I thought at first. I’ll have to check examples of -eri ~ -iri.

  22. OK, I’ve done some checking and it seems that -āri is the main variant and -eri is an alternative form found in the same words, e.g. buohhāri ~ buocheri ‘scribe’ or wahtāri ~ wahteri ‘watchman’. This is fine as far as my hypothesis goes, since both the Latin and the putative Germanic suffix have an etymologically long vowel. It seems that sporadic vowel shortening in an unstressed medial syllable is responsible for the variation. The explanation suggested on Peter Kerkhof’s blog (different strata of Romance borrowings) seems less probable. Which Romance dialect was the source of -āri, if Gallo-Romance is ruled out? Why don’t the variants occur in different lexical sets but seem to be in free variation?

  23. Trond Engen says:

    I suppose the -ster suffix could be partly responsible for the Germanic remodeling of the ‘sister’ word. That would make it common Germanic.

    There are a fair number of Scandinavian toponyms ending in -ster, e.g. the Norwegian river Vinstra, which could be “the winding one (f.)”, and the Danish island Falster. I can’t immediately see what the first element might be.

  24. Trond Engen says:

    The river name Jølstra is usually taken to be derived from Jølster, quite likely the old name of the dominant lake in the river’s basin and now the name of the surrounding parish. O. Rygh is in doubt about the etymology. The oldest written source has Jolmstar, which might suggest jalm “noise”, but, as he says, that would be more suitable for the river.

    But using a feminine agentive suffix (rather than a participle) in river names is a leap of anthropomorphism.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Which Romance dialect was the source of -āri, if Gallo-Romance is ruled out?

    I don’t know if there’s a way to tell if the varieties spoken between the Danube and the Alps back then participated in the Gallo-Romance sound change. But perhaps it’s simply an even earlier borrowing; the author of the post (thanks for the tinyurl!) adheres to the Leiden School idea that Proto-Germanic hadn’t lowered all the way to even in Proto-West-Germanic.

    Why don’t the variants occur in different lexical sets but seem to be in free variation?

    They had the same meaning and were both unstressed, so they got mixed up? (The long one was randomly shortened, the short one was randomly hypercorrected…)

  26. Yes, but since there was a general tendency in OHG to shorten medial unstressed vowels, borrowing from an unspecified source is not a particularly attractive competing hypothesis.

  27. George Gibbard says:

    In your paper don’t leave out the Dutch data (not given by Kerkhof): apparently now there is -aar after l (as in Adelaar) but -er elsewhere.

  28. But Adelaar is a compound with Gmc. *aro̿ ‘eagle’ as the second member. Compounds are special.

  29. George Gibbard says:

    Oops, I made a wrong assumption about Adelaar — but still there is in general -aar instead of -er, apparently actually after r, l or n, as shown on p73 of Booij’s The Phonology of Dutch:

  30. George Gibbard says:

    Well, it looks a little more complicated than I just said. For -aar after a coronal sonorant the sonorant must usually be preceded by schwa, otherwise one ordinarily gets -der as in zeur-der ‘nag’, but then exceptions mentioned in a footnote are ler-aar ‘teacher’ and dien-aar ‘servant’ (vs. also irregular dien-der ‘police officer’).

  31. George Gibbard says:

    Oh, in fact, the -der is regular only after r following a full vowel.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    In German, BTW, Adelaar “noble-eagle” was contracted into Adler, the normal modern word for “eagle”; Aar is now purely poetic. – There’s an old church song with a three-syllable Adeler.

    Theoretically, Ad(e)ler could also mean “someone who ennobles”. And indeed, Emperor Charles the Fourth and Last of Austria-Hungary was called Seh-Adler because he ennobled “everyone he saw”; he still signed nobility patents on the train to exile in 1918. Seeadler, “sea eagle”, is the cover term for eagle species with ties to water like America’s bald eagle (but not the osprey).

  33. Aar is now purely poetic.

    And erne for the white-tailed sea eagle or the golden eagle is obsolescent in English, which is a shame. The stem *aran- (*arõ/*arn-) is a beautiful lexical archaism, perfectly matching Hittite haran- (PIE *h₃or-on-).

  34. Trond Engen says:

    The ørn is still reproducing in the wild in North Germanic. It’s close cousin are, OTOH, is never encountered outside the sanctuary of crossword puzzles.

  35. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve been trying to get my head around the different element morphemes of Germanic *-s-t-r-ijo:n- in an attempt to look for feminines that can’t be derived from the deverbal noun. It takes more time and dedication than I can muster now — and probably more knowledge than I’ll ever have. But I’m pretty sure the combination would end up in Norwegian as a suffix -stra.

  36. Every time I see *h₃or-on- I want to look up the etymology of heron, because doublets. So now I did, and of course that’s a completely different root (PG *hraigran, it seems).

  37. Trond Engen says:

    PG *haigran-, surely?

  38. David Marjanović says:

    Not if German Reiher is supposed to be derived from it.

    I guess Old English dissimilated the tongue-twister a bit.

  39. Trond Engen says:

    It seems simpler to assume some sort of special development (metathesis? folk etymology?) in German than an irregular loss of -r- in the other branches.

  40. Trond Engen says:

    According to Etymonline there was an OE hraga but also an OHG heigaro, so I guess we’re moving the metathesis into Proto-Saxon. Except we aren’t, since Welsh cregyra nails *hr-. But the loss of -r- in both North Germanic and southern West Germanic is weird.

  41. Trond Engen says:

    Bjorvand & Lindeman see the loss of -r- as a local North Germanic development, not accounting for OHG and French at all. I’d rather move the dual forms back into PG and let different forms win in different branches. I still think it’s easier to account for the -r- as contamination with *kr-ey- “cry”, but that doesn’t make it any more right.

    B&L also don’t have Etymonline’s Welch cregyra but rather creyr < *krogiro- %lt; *kr-oy-g-ró-. Neither is in my Oxford Modern Welsh Dictionary. It seems to settle the issue of the -r- either way.

  42. In modern Welsh, it’s creyr (disyllabic, also crehyr or contracted crŷr). The Proto-Brittonic vowels are practically impossible to reconstruct in this word. According to Schrijver, who wrote about the ‘heron’ word in one of his “substratologist” articles, it goes back to something like *krVxVrV-, not incompatible with Germanic *xraigaran- (which seems to be the optimal reconstruction, though there are deviant vowels here and there, and the first rhotic seems to have been dissimilated away in Scandinavian). Schrijver, naturally, derives both the Germanic and the Brittonic words from a “European substratum language” of which nothing is known apart from the fact that its speakers called the heron *krVxar.

  43. I haven’t read Schrijver’s article, but isn’t it a bit dangerous assuming sound law regularity when dealing with words of likely onomatopoeic origin? What about the Semitic words for ‘heron’ (Arabic kurki, Aramaic kurkia ~ kruxia)?

  44. What about the Semitic words for ‘heron’ (Arabic kurki, Aramaic kurkia ~ kruxia)?

    Also Finnish kurki and Estonian kurg for “crane”, or Turkic turna/torna/dorna for “crane”, as opposed to trana in Swedish.

  45. Consider Heathcliff, who is noted neither for his sense of morals nor even for doing what is right, and yet he’s the hero of Wuthering Heights.

    I don’t think he is the hero in the idealizing sense, he is a main character, and his actions land him in misery. WH was unconventional for its day (the scene in which young Catherine’s father tells her to be good, and she asks him if he’s been good), I don’t see how it can be said that it is indifferent to morals. Anyway, I would be curious to read a work that argued that EB was indifferent to morality.

  46. Okay, I have found such a work; it’s the introduction by Le Guin to her 1976 novel The Word for World is Forest. I don’t know when the introduction was first printed, but it was reprinted in her 1980 non-fiction collection The Language of the Night. Here are her remarks (mostly but by no means entirely ironic):

    There is nothing in all Freud’s writings I like better than his assertion that artists’ work is motivated by the desire “to achieve honour, power, riches, fame, and the love of women”. It is such a comforting, such a complete statement; it explains everything about the artist. There have even been artists that agreed with it; Ernest Hemingway, for instance; at least, he said he wrote for money, and since he was an honored, powerful, rich, famous artist beloved by women, he ought to know.

    There is another statement about the artist’s desires that is, to me, less obscure; the first two stanzas of it read:

    Riches I hold in light esteem
    And Love I laugh to scorn
    And lust of Fame was but a dream
    That vanished with the morn —

    And if I pray, the only prayer
    That moves my lips for me
    Is — “Leave the heart that now I bear
    And give me liberty.

    Emily Brontë wrote those lines when she was twenty-two. She was a young and inexperienced woman, not honored, not rich, not powerful, not famous, and you can see that she was positively rude about love (“of women” or otherwise). I believe, however, that she was rather better qualified than Freud to talk about what motivates the artist. He had a theory. But she had authority.

    It may well be useless, if not pernicious, to seek a single motive for a pursuit so complex, long-pursued, and various as art; I imagine that Brontë got as close to it as anyone needs to get, with her word “liberty.”

    The pursuit of art, then, by audience or artist, is the pursuit of liberty. If you accept that, you see at once why truly serious people reject and mistrust the arts, labeling them as “escapism”. The captured soldier tunneling out of prison, the runaway slave, an Solzhenytsin in exile are escapists. Aren’t they? The definition also helps explain why all healthy children can sing, dance, paint, and play with words; why art is an increasingly important element in psychotherapy; why Winson Churchill painted, why mothers sing cradle-songs, and what is wrong with Plato’s Republic. It really is a much more useful statement than Freud’s, though nowhere near as funny.

    I am not sure what Freud meant by “power”, in this context. Perhaps significantly, Brontë does not mention power. Shelley does, indirectly: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” This is perhaps not too far from what Freud had in mind, for I doubt he was thinking of the artist’s immediate and joyous power over his material ­— the shaping hand, the dancer’s leap, the novelist’s power of life and death over his characters; it is more probable that he meant the power of the idea to influence other people.

    The desire for power, in the sense of power over others, is what pulls most people off the path of the pursuit of liberty. The reason Brontë does not mentio it is probably that it was never even a temptation to her, as it was to her sister Charlotte. Emily did not give a damn about other people’s morals [emphasis added]. But many artists, particularly artists of the word, whose ideas must actually be spoken in their work, succumb to the temptation. They forget about liberty, then, and instead of legislating in divine arrogance, like God or Shelley, they begin to preach.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    I am not sure what Freud meant by “power”, in this context.

    Must be Macht: irresistible influence on other people, political power, and the Force of Star Wars.

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