Leister and Glutton.

I’m currently editing a book on the prehistory of Scandinavia, and as usually happens with specialized works, I’m picking up some new vocabulary. Both these words looked like they might be typos, but a dip into the dictionary validated them.

A leister (pronounced LEE-ster) is a three-pronged spear used in fishing, and the AHD says it’s “Probably from Old Norse ljōstr, from ljōsta, to strike,” referring the reader to the PIE root *leu- ‘to loosen, divide’ (which gives us loose and lorn, among other words). The last citation in the OED entry (from 1902) is:
1895 Chambers’s Jrnl. 12 753/2 Celebrated..as a poacher and as a great hand at the leister in autumn.

Glutton, as used in the book, is (in the words of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary) an “old-fashioned term for wolverine,” and I queried the author suggesting the use of that word instead. The first and last OED citations (entry from 1900):
1674 A. Cremer tr. J. Scheffer Hist. Lapland 134 The Gluttons..have a round head, strong and sharp teeth, like a Wolfs..some compare it to the Otter, but it is far greedier than he, for thence it gets its name.
1869 J. Lubbock Prehist. Times (ed. 2) ix. 295 The glutton, or wolverine..has been found in three of the English bone-caves.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    The French name of the wolverine is le glouton.

  2. I immediately thought of the German Vielfraß for wolverine, literally something like “much-eater”, which connects nicely to the glutton and “gulo gulo”, but Wiki says “The animal’s name in Old Swedish, fjellfräs, meaning “mountain cat”, worked its way into German as Vielfrass.” The poor thing has had no way of shaking the old gossip.

  3. I’d heard the term ‘glutton’ for ‘wolverine’ but I wasn’t aware of ‘leister’.

    I must say the Michigan Wolverines would sound rather different if they were called the Michigan Gluttons…

  4. Stefan Holm says:

    Leister is in Swedish ljuster. Historically it has been very common but is since long illegal to use in fishing. With only one spong it is of course a harpoon, otherwise the number of spongs can vary, as is seen on these illustrations.
    https://www.google.se/search?q=ljuster&biw=1253&bih=732&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=BWpPVISGHcr_ygOdhoGQAg&ved=0CDkQ7Ak

    The wolverine (Sw. <p<järv) was by Carl von Linné mistaken for a relative to the wolf. That could explain the English name. In reality it appears to belong to the weasels

  5. I checked an old English-Japanese dictionary. This is what it said about ‘wolverine’:

    〖動〗クズリ(=carcajou, skunk bear)((北米産イタチ科の大型肉食獣で, 気の荒いことで知られる; 欧州・シベリアのものは glutton と呼ぶ)).

    (Animal) kuzuri (=carcajou, skunk bear) ((a large carnivorous animal of North America belonging to the Mustelidae, known for its savage nature; those of Europe and Siberia are known as ‘gluttons’)).

    Judging just from this entry, ‘glutton’ is more appropriate than ‘wolverine’ in the context you give.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    alexey: “The animal’s name in Old Swedish, fjellfräs, meaning “mountain cat”

    Did/does fräs occur on its own? meaning “wild cat”?

  7. Never mind the Michigan Wolverines, I can’t imagine either Bix Beiderbeke performing in a band called the Gluttons, or Hugh Jackman playing a character of that name.

    And if the collective noun for a group of wolverines (not, apparently, that you would find such a thing) isn’t “a gluttony”, it should be.

  8. With only one spong it is of course a harpoon, otherwise the number of spongs can vary, as is seen on these illustrations. …

    “Prong” or “tine”. “Sprong” means the entire instrument (and is more usually used of forks for hay and dung and so forth), and I learn just now from searching that this word from my childhood is dialectal or farmers’ jargon, I’ll check the OED when I get home. Spong doesn’t exist. (Unless the OED tells me otherwise!)

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Spong doesn’t exist.

    It does as a last name (perhaps originating in a language other than English).

  10. Jeffry House says:

    Our glutton is called “jerv” in Norwegian, and because a sports team bears that name, I presume the wild element outweighs the gluttonous in the word.

    But what’s the etymology?

  11. Judging just from this entry, ‘glutton’ is more appropriate than ‘wolverine’ in the context you give.

    A century ago, maybe. I assume the Concise Oxford knows what it’s talking about when it says “old-fashioned.”

    But what’s the etymology?

    It’s just the normal word used in a special sense; see the 1674 citation and the comments about other languages.

  12. But wolverine may actually be older than glutton as an animal name. It’s likely to be an OE compound, despite its late attestation.

    [Of glutton:] It’s just the normal word…

    I think Jeffry actually meant Norwegian jerv (Old Norse jarfr), which goes back to Proto-Norse (PGmc.?) *erfaz (it occurs as a nickname, spelt erafaz on the 4/5th-century Hogganvik runestone in southern Norway).

  13. Stefan Holm says:

    m-l: Did/does fräs occur on its own? meaning “wild cat”?

    This is blurry. There is an entry in the ‘Svensk etymologisk ordbok’ (Elof Hellquist 1922) under filfras, an old word for järv (wolverine). I’ve never heard it but Hellquist says that it has made this journey:

    It started with a Norwegian word fellfross / fjallfross. This is a compound of fell / fjall ‘mountain’ and fross, Icel. and Sw. dial. fress, ‘male cat’ (again never heard of by me). It should in turn though be connected to the verb fräsa, ‘fizzle’ or ‘sputter’ (the sound of an angry cat).

    The word reached the ears of Hanseatic fur traders and became by folk etymology MLG veelvratz, from veel, ‘much’ and vratz, ‘glutton’. This was then normally rendered in High German as Vielfrass with the same meaning. (Germans differ between human and animal intake of nutrition: (Mensche essen, Tiere fressen). From there it finally reached Swedish as filfrass.

    To further complicate the story Hellquist adds, that German sanskritist Otto von Böhtlingk in an article published 1901 in Berichte d. sächs. ges. d. wissenschaften (p. 35) claimed that the word had travelled in the completely opposite direction – from High to Low German and then into Scandinavian. Anybody with access to century old publications of the Scientific Society of Saxony may evaluate his arguments…

    Piotr: Both Hellquist and ‘Svenska akademins ordbok’ mentions *erfaz and, as so often concerning animal names, connect it to a word for the colour of the animal, in this case ‘the brown one’.

    The reindeer herding Saami, who have suffered most from this glutton (it can easily kill a grown up reindeer) call it geatki.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks SH! So the animal, a native of Far Northern Europe, was first named in North Germanic languages, the name was misunderstood by neighbours to the South as meaning “glutton”, and then translated with this meaning in countries which do not have the animal, such as France. These steps make a lot of sense.

    The animal is not limited to Northern Europe, it also lives in North America, quite far North although not in the Arctic. But it is now endangered.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    PG: But wolverine may actually be older than glutton as an animal name. It’s likely to be an OE compound, despite its late attestation.

    I agree that glutton is an obvious translation from French. But if it is from OE, starting with “wolf”, what could the rest of the word be from?

  16. Stefan Holm says:

    m-l: It’s not listed as endangered. And it is present in the Rocky Mountains all the way down to the Californian border. As for the origin of the name though I’m open to any suggestions. I don’t know how far south in Europe it reached a few hundred (or thousand) years ago. But I do know, that present day Saami people consider it nothing else but a glutton.

    During the winter reindeers face problems moving in layers of snow. But the wolverine doesn’t. It walks/runs easily upon any snow sheet so that a reindeer can’t escape. Its killing method is to jump upon the back of the deer and biting through its neck or backhead.

    What then follows – myth or not – is that the predator eats the udder of the vaja (female reindeer in Saami and borrowed into Swedish) and then gets on to its next victim. Wolves are known to do the same in a herd of sheep, i.e. kill a lot more than they actually feed on. This has lead to the very bad reputation as a glutton among those the most concerned. So the French name seems very natural to me. ‘Mountain cat’ – well I don’t know.

  17. I think Jeffry actually meant Norwegian jerv

    Oh, of course! Sorry, Jeffry.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    SH, It’s not listed as endangered

    I guess it depends where. Not too long ago there was a story that there were only a few hundred left in British Columbia, but perhaps it is doing better elsewhere.

    Re mountain cat, I wondered about the meaning of the Old Swedish compound, since the first part meant “mountain”.

  19. Both Hellquist and ‘Svenska akademins ordbok’ mentions *erfaz and, as so often concerning animal names, connect it to a word for the colour of the animal, in this case ‘the brown one’.

    I presume they mean the colour word reflected in OE eorp, ON jarpr, OHG erpf, which however has PGmc. *p, not *f. One would have to assume the operation of Kluge’s Law in the adjective, e.g. Pre-Gmc. *erp-nó- > *er(p)pa-, Another possibility would be *erbʰ-nó- (with the same Gmc. outcome), but if so, the Proto-NGmc. ‘wolverine’ word would have to have been *erβaz, with a voiced fricative. It would yield the correct ON and modern forms, but is at odds with the Hogganvik inscription. On the other hand, perhaps the word on the runestone has been misidentified, or the spelling is inconsistent. I must say I like the reconstruction *erbʰ-nó-, since it nicely matches Greek órphnē ‘darkness’, and Slavic *(e)rębъ ‘motley’ (occurring also in Slavic names of the hazel grouse, cf. OHG repa-huon, Ger. Rebhuhn ‘partridge’, and similar words in Baltic).

  20. But if it is from OE, starting with “wolf”, what could the rest of the word be from?

    The etymology is discussed (with some onomastic evidence) in an old squib by Olof Arngart (1979, Notes and Queries 26 (6): 494-495). Alas, it’s behind a paywall and I have no free access to issues older than 1996, but apparently Arngart believed it was something like *wulf(a)-ryne, with Gmc. *runiz ‘course, walk’ as the second element (‘walking like a wolf’? — the name Wolfgang springs to mind).

  21. Russian росомаха “wolverine” (also Polish rosomak) is really murky – Vasmer discards one hypothesis after another, finally suggesting it meant “fat belly” in Finnish?? One of the Finnish nicknames for the animal is osmo, but it could be, inversely. Russian borrowing?

  22. Are the sloth and the glutton the only animals named after the sins they commit?

  23. … animals named after the sins they commit…

    There are also raths (a rath is a sort of greeen pig, as in “the mome raths outgrabe”).

  24. Well, now I have to quote Groucho:

    Secretary: “The Dean is furious. He’s waxing wroth.”
    Quincy Adams Wagstaf [Groucho]: “Is Roth out there too? Tell Roth to wax the Dean for a while.”

  25. Stefan Holm says:

    I wouldn’t dream of arguing against you, Piotr (I’ve passively been following you for a decade or so on Cybalist). But I can as a native provide you with what Swedish textbooks say:

    As for JÄRV Swedish academy’s wordbook says: ‘possibly from an ON adjective erba, brown, IE erbho-; c.f. ‘JÄRPE’ and even ‘RÄV’.’

    About JÄRPE (hazelhen) it says ‘derivative of jarpr, brown, corresponding to OHG erbnó, OE eorp, dark coloured, from an IE erbhnó-/erbo, in ablaut relation to Greek ὄϱφνινος, ὀϱφνός, dark brown, possibly related to JÄRV.’

    About RÄV (fox): ‘probably from an adjective meaning red-brown or brown in ablaut relation to Greek ὀϱφνός, and related to JÄRPE, JÄRV, RIPA and the prefix in RAPPHÖNS (partridge).’

    Concerning RIPA (grouse) the wordbook refers to an IE root (e)rub, ‘speckled’ and root-connected to JÄRPE and JÄRV.

  26. Thanks, Stefan! Older dictionaries generally ignore Kluge’s Law (rescued from oblivion and vindicated rather recently), which is why they have to propose, Walde/Pokorny-style, superfluous IE “variants” like *erbʰ-nó-/*erbo-. Also, I think Scandinavian *reba- ‘fox’ is now believed to be a loan from Finnic (cf. [archaic] Finnish repo, Est. rebane, etc.), and the Finno-Ugric word in question is in turn of Iranian origin. Otherwise — very solid stuff.

  27. Mensche essen, Tiere fressen

    Well, in standard German. In Pennsylvania German, essen is lost, which leads to various kinds of low comedy.

  28. JC, where on earth did you happen to hear Pennsylvania German speakers getting into fressen hijinx?

  29. I can’t say I’ve actually heard them speak German yet, but here in Shippensburg, PA, I can hear the horses and buggies clip-clop by several times a day (I live right in the center of town), and get stuck behind them in traffic several times a week. There is usually at least one large Amish family in Walmart or the various grocery stores whenever I go, so I imagine some stealthy eavesdropping could be done if one were so inclined.

    Once the weather turns warm again and the farmers’ markets resume, there will probably be more opportunities to hear spoken Pennsylvania ‘Dutch’. That’s where I mostly see Mennonites in Staunton, VA where I still spend my weekends, though the ones selling at the farmers’ markets there seem more assimilated (trucks, not buggies, and unaccented English).

  30. Re: sprong … “I’ll check the OED when I get home. Spong doesn’t exist. (Unless the OED tells me otherwise!)”

    ‘Sprong’ is indeed documented as dialectal, and OED2 says equivalent to ‘prong’, which can mean either a tine or the instrument (something I also learned :). ‘Spong’, sigh, exists, “a long narrow piece or strip (of ground or land)” but not in a related meaning.

  31. On my one trip to Pennsylvania Dutch country (Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which has a schwa in the -cas- syllable if I remember correctly), I have to admit I loved the shoofly pie; it’s a good thing I don’t spend more time there, because that stuff’ll kill ya.

  32. Hat, you seem to have an alarming predilection for girth-enhancing goodies.

  33. Once I was hiking a trail in the Rockies, turned a corner, and my heart stopped momentarily when I saw what I thought was a baby bear. The last thing you ever want to see on a trail is a baby bear. But it started moving away in that characteristic weasel-like fashion, and I thought, “Thank God! It’s a wolverine!”

    @ alexey: “eats-a lot” is probably a more natural English translation of Vielfraß.

    As to essen and fressen, one of my favourite quotes is Brecht’s “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.”

  34. @hector: this is actually a nice point there. I tried not to use an inflected verb form in the translation because it is not a verb in the German compound, but some kind of ablaut formation sounding natural enough to be immediately recognized. However, though it might easily be explained by someone familiar enough with the involved word formation processes, Germanic dialects and the history of this loanword — i.e., not me — it does seem fishy in that there is an urge to forego the explaining.

    That said, I absolutely agree that there must be a multitude of English quasi-literal translations of the word much more elegant than the one I dropped above, yours being one of them.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    LH, thanks for the link to “shoofly pie”. I was familiar with the term but had never seen one, let alone eaten it.

    Spelling note: what happens when you add “er” to “gooey”? in the article they used “gooier”. Would this word have two syllables or three?

    AK: ‘Spong’ … “a long narrow piece or strip (of ground or land)”

    Many words which are not used any more in general speech survive in last names. I knew the name as that of Dr Paul Spong in Canada, a specialist in orcas (killer whales). He had a brief moment of local fame some years ago for “playing the violin” to captive orcas in Vancouver (probably to imitate their sounds), but he is a very serious scientist with his own research centre on a small island out on the coast.

    jarv, etc I wonder if the last name of Wyatt Earp is related to this set?

  36. where on earth

    I read it somewhere, back in the 1960s.

  37. gooier

    Three syllables: /ˈgu.i.ər/.

  38. Hat, you seem to have an alarming predilection for girth-enhancing goodies.

    I know! Fortunately, I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth; I enjoy a good dessert but don’t have the impulse to gorge, so though I’ve lost the svelte figure I had in my youth, my corporation is still only a minor bulge.

    one of my favourite quotes is Brecht’s “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.”

    One of my favorite bits of Brecht as well.

    Dr Paul Spong

    Sounds like a W. C. Fields name. (Here‘s a nice list of some of them.)

    jarv, etc I wonder if the last name of Wyatt Earp is related to this set?

    Indeed it is; it’s simply the Old English word earp ‘dark, dusky.’

  39. The Earps or Erpes may indeed derive their name from OE eorp, but there are other possibilities: Low German erp(el) ‘drake’, in which case it would be an occupational surname for a duck-keeper, or finally a locational surname from the village of Erpel in the Rhineland-Palatinate, the name of which is said (on what authority, I don’t know) to be “pre-Germanic”.

  40. Stefan Holm says:

    John: Low German erp(el) ‘drake’

    And drake seems to be a folk etymology. OHG anutrehho is etymologized as anut (duck) + rehho, suggested to be of same origin as Latin ‘rex’, German ‘Reich’, Swedish ‘rike’ etc. – ‘rule(r)’, ‘might(y)’ and the like.

    Swedes show the same ambivalence. Original Andrake (drake) is more often today seen spelled ‘anddrake’, i.e. ‘and’ (wild duck – the domestic one is ‘anka’) + ‘drake’ (male duck – or dragon). The meaning dragon is though ok. – from Latin draco.

  41. Proto-Indo-European had two ‘eating’ verbs; their primary forms were the root present *h₁ḗd-/*h₁éd- and the root aorist *gʷérh₃-/*gʷr̥h₃-‘. Since the aorist had punctual, non-progressive semantics, it was normally interpreted as ‘devour, eat up, swallow whole’. In the languages that have preserved both verbs, even present stems derived from gʷerh₃- (Lat. vorō, Ved. giráti, OCS žьrǫ) are almost always deprecatory when used of humans, since their meaning was ‘eat quickly and greedily’ — something apparently regarded as horrible table manners by the Indo-Europeans. Thus, the subject of gʷérh₃- was normally a beast, a legendary dragon or giant, or a total barbarian. Germanic lost the verb completely, but *fra- + et- took over its meaning and connotations. In Old English, Bēowulf æt, Grendel fræt.

  42. Ved. giráti, OCS žьrǫ

    Zero-grade thematic presents, the topic of my abortive dissertation! I’ve got scads of notes on this root alone (Frisk thought the Vedic form “wahrscheinlich Neubild”; Narten thought it was analogical, with giráti:agārīt::kiráti:akārīt; etc. etc.). Ah, sweet hellish days of grad school…

  43. marie-lucie says:

    SH: It seems to me that English drake and its Germanic cognates can’t be related to Latin draco: if so, the Germanic consonants would be different from the Latin ones.

  44. Stefan Holm says:

    m-l: In the meaning ‘dragon’ they are loan words, i.e. not subject to consonant shift. If from Latin draco (-ŏnis) or Greek δϱάκων, I simply don’t know.

  45. Indeed, drake ‘male duck’ and drake ‘dragon’ < Latin is apparently a coincidence. The former is yet another of those words unrecorded in OE but probably existent. There was an Old High German form of the latter, trahho, evidently borrowed early enough to be affected by the second consonant shift but then replaced by the post-Grimm borrowing Drache.

  46. Stefan Holm says:

    Piotr: *gʷérh₃-/*gʷr̥h₃-. A shot in the dark maybe, but what about Icelandic and Swedish gor/gorr, gut contents of an animal (the least pleasant and stinking part of the slaughter procedure), excrements, ‘shit’. It’s alive and kicking in my dialect (‘Western Central Swedish’ or ‘Geat’) as a strengthening prefix: ‘gôrgôtt’ (very good) etc. It.s also the origin of my dialectal verb ‘gôra’ – childrens winter habit of pushing and smearing snow into the face of somebody (fairly innocent if it stays with snow).

  47. Stefan Holm says:

    ‘And-rake’. Mission completed, John. The residue is to figure out the etymology of this guy: 😉
    https://www.google.se/search?q=mandrake&biw=1052&bih=627&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=C1xRVJjwIuP9ygPnnIGYBA&sqi=2&ved=0CDkQsAQ

  48. A shot in the dark maybe, but what about Icelandic and Swedish gor/gorr, gut contents of an animal (the least pleasant and stinking part of the slaughter procedure), excrements, ‘shit’.

    It isn’t restricted to Scandinavian; see OE/OHG gor ‘dung’ (the literal Anglo-Saxon translation of ‘bullshit’ would have been fearres gor). It can’t have anything to do with the root *gʷ(e)rh₃-, which would have become *kʷer-/*kur- as a result of Grimm’s Law. The ‘dung’ word reflects Proto-Germanic *ɣura-, variously etymologised. I wouldn’t exclude something like *ǵʰr̥H-o-, from the root seen in Latin haru-spex and ON gǫrn ‘intestines’, but I have never given it much thought, so I don’t think I can explain the semantics convincingly.

  49. Trond Engen says:

    No. andrik “male duck”. I’ve vaguely assumed the word to be from Low German because of the ending. It’s literary enough to have a feel of danified register, and that’s supported by the fact that Norsk Ordbok 2014 won’t know anything of it, but Otto Kalkar says it’s Norwegian.

  50. Ducks and … and … andrakes, right? Germanic *rekan- is found in other compounds too (ON naut-reki ‘herdsman’) and — while ultimately connected with rēx — looks simply like an agent noun formed to the verb *h₃reǵ- in its more mundane sense of directing or leading the way. ‘Duck-herd’ rather than ‘King Duck’.

  51. Trond Engen says:

    Slightly bothersome: If the initial j of jerv is the result of ja-breaking, we should expect ON *jarfr, but that isn’t even attested.

  52. It is jarfi in Icelandic, isn’t it?

  53. Trond Engen says:

    True, but I doubt it’s transmitted in Icelandic. But I was wrong anyway. Norsk Ordbok 2014 lists it as “jarv (også jerv)“, so it’s probably common in more conservative Norwegian dialects — although I can’t remember hearing it. (Bjorvand & Lindeman usually list important orthographic varieties from Nynorsk, so when they don’t, and instead note the absence of attestations with -a- in ON, I took that to imply absence also in modern Norwegian.)

  54. True, but I doubt it’s transmitted in Icelandic.

    Why not? Iceland was a very active member of the Norse “common market” throughout the Middle Ages and wolverine pelts surely kept arriving.

  55. Trond Engen says:

    Maybe, although it isn’t attested before 1852 according to Ritmálsskrá. Thinking of it, the Icelandic form may actually support preservation through trade, since it looks like a back-formation from a compound, e.g. (*)jarfafell.

  56. Trond Engen says:

    I should probably add that I have a long and proud history of being wrong about matters Icelandic.

  57. John Emerson says:

    “Gor”: in surgery suites the leftover body parts and fluid are called “gurry”. In the dictionary it’s “fish offal”.

  58. David Marjanović says:

    What about blood and gore?

    Fressen is commonly used as a dysphemism, as the word for “eat” without any further connotations in deliberately coarse language.

    to the verb fräsa, ‘fizzle’ or ‘sputter’ (the sound of an angry cat)

    German has a verb fräsen which the English Wikipedia renders as “milling (machining)“.

    It’s alive and kicking in my dialect (‘Western Central Swedish’ or ‘Geat’) as a strengthening prefix: ‘gôrgôtt’ (very good) etc.

    I’m reminded of German gar “fully cooked”, “utterly”, es ist gar dialectally “we’re out of it, there’s none left”; sogar is “even”.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    Oh. I forgot to close the <a> tag. No further links were harmed in the making of that comment.

  60. Fixed, but it was interesting to see what it did to the formatting of the rest of the comment!

  61. David Marjanović says:

    Pretty colors!

  62. marie-lucie says:

    David: German has a verb fräsen which the English Wikipedia renders as “milling (machining)“.

    It is likely that this verb is a borrowing from French fraiser. The TLFI has 3 homophonous verbs, all used in specialized contexts. The one with a meaning closest to “milling” is no. 2. But none of the verbs is attested earlier than the 1500’s.

    The French Wikipedia equivalent to the English article on “milling (machining)” is about le fraisage, an operation performed either with a hand tool called une fraise or a machine (which can be very large) called une fraiseuse.

  63. es ist gar dialectally “we’re out of it, there’s none left”

    = Pennsylvania German est ist alle > local English it is all, with stress on all. This may be archaic now.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    Encore des fraises

    The word means several things, including ‘strawberry’ and ‘dentist’s drill’.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    Fascinating!

Speak Your Mind

*