I was reading Stephen Baxter’s very interesting report on a new interpretation of the Domesday survey (“It is now clear that the survey was more even more efficient, complex, and sophisticated than previously supposed”) and got curious about the word featured in this passage:

The suggestion is that the first draft of the survey was made between Christmas 1085 and the following Easter, which fell on 5 April 1086. This was organised on a geographical plan and was intended to improve yields from the land tax known as the “geld,” which was paid by lesser landholders, subtenants, and peasant farmers. Indeed, a major levy of the geld was collected and accounted for in tandem with the survey.

I looked up “geld” in the OED and discovered the article had been updated as recently as December 2018, and the discussion of spelling and pronunciation was so interesting I thought I’d share it:

Etymology: < post-classical Latin geldum (also gildum) tax paid to the crown, district paying this tax (1086 in Domesday Book; frequently in British sources) < Old English gield yield n. in sense ‘payment, tax, tribute’ (compare also guild n.). […]

When borrowed from Old English, post-classical Latin graphical forms geldum, gildum reflected a usual correspondence between an insular form of the letter g in Old English script (pronounced /j/ in this position: compare yield n.) and a continental form of the letter in contemporary Latin script (see discussion at G n.). The original English word subsequently came to be written with ȝ (the development in Middle English of Old English insular g) or with y (compare forms at yield n. and discussion at G n.), while Latin geldum, gildum continued to be written with the continental form of g, as the only form available in Latin scripts. Since g did not normally stand for /j/ in post-classical Latin, the word was borrowed back into English on the assumption that its initial consonant was pronounced /g/. […]

The previous version of the entry was much less helpful:

[ad. med.L. geldum (in Domesday Book), ad. OE. ȝield, ȝeld, ȝyld, str. neut., payment, tribute, also guild; = OFris. geld, jeld money, OS. geld payment […], Goth. gild tribute:—OTeut. *geldom, f. root of *gelþan: see yield v.]

Incidentally, the Wikipedia article for Domesday Book says “/ˈduːmzdeɪ/ or US: /ˈdoʊmzdeɪ/”; can it really be true that everyone in the UK is so knowledgeable they pronounce it as if it were spelled “Doomsday”? If they mean “knowledgeable people in the UK,” well, the equivalent people in the US presumably also say /ˈduːmzdeɪ/. I smell lingering postcolonial snobbery.


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says

    As far as I can remember, I knew that there was a thing called the Doomsday book long before I had any clear idea what it did, or that it wasn’t spelt quite like that.

    I can’t speak for American pronunciation, obviously, but yes, as far as it goes, I would be less surprised if a ‘less knowledgeable’ person here said AND wrote ‘Doomsday’, than if they wrote and said ‘Domesday’.

  2. Here in Australia it’s always been /ˈduːmzdeɪ/ for the Domesday book.

  3. OK, I guess the OED is correct. Who’d have thought it?

  4. Insular vs Caroline “g” always fills me with joy, and reminds me of the flurry of lightly confused articles that surrounded a Scottish politician some time ago –

  5. I remember learning something about the Domesday book, including the ‘Doom’ pronunciation, maybe as early as primary school — before the age of eleven, that is. I think we were supposed to know about it because it was one of the earliest historical signs that England was a Proper Nation, not like all those European countries where the borders couldn’t stay still for more than a decade or two.

    As for ‘geld,’ we also learned about the Danegeld, which as far as I remember was a kind of tax that Anglo-Saxons had to pay to the occupying Danes. (Wikipedia tells me it was more like protection money).

  6. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I’ve always said Danegeld with the g- sound, though. That’s definitely one I got from reading!

  7. I’m pretty sure everyone says Danegeld with the g- sound; as the OED says, “the word was borrowed back into English on the assumption that its initial consonant was pronounced /g/.”

  8. Yes, definitely a hard g, and if I ever thought about where the word came from I probably assumed it had something to do with ‘gold.’

  9. Me too.

  10. As for ‘geld,’ we also learned about the Danegeld …

    There’s also weregild/weregeld — “man-payment”, as in a payment you could make to the family of someone you (or your family) injured or killed, in hopes of avoiding a blood feud.

  11. Jen in Edinburgh says

    So that really is the same word as in werewolf? I’d never thought to connect them!

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    I agree with my fellow-Brits: I would think that almost all Brits who actually know about the Domesday Book say Doom.

    “Once you have paid him the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane.”

    This immediately comes to mind as the (sole) reason I know the word. The same may well be true for others.

  13. John Emerson says

    When I saw the “geld” I thought “Hm, maybe it was a gelded calf tht the Israelites were worshipping.” (Exodus 32).

  14. from the article @Lutefish linked to:

    A lively young damsel named Menzies
    Inquired: “Do you know what this thenzies?”
    Her aunt, with a gasp,
    Replied: “It’s a wasp,
    And you’re holding the end where the stenzies.”

    i appreciate the way the gasp/wasp rhyme doubles down on the regionalism! (or am i, a hopeless colonial, missing something else happening there?)

    and on were- : i didn’t know that “world” was another relative! per wiktionary:

    From Middle English world, weoreld, from Old English weorold (“world”), from Proto-Germanic *weraldiz (“lifetime, human existence, world”, literally “age/era of man”), equivalent to wer (“man”) +‎ eld (“age”).

    which implies that OE “wer” had pushed into the semantic space of OE “man(n)”, constricting the category of personhood into a single-gendered zone earlier than i’d’ve thought (i’d assumed that happened through “man(n)” becoming gendered while absorbing/displacing “wer”).

  15. Both Roach’s CEPD (continuing the tradition of Daniel Jones) and Wells’s LPD only list /du:mz-/, without any differentiation between Briish and American pronunciation.

  16. That makes sense, because now that I think about it, how many Yanks actually have occasion to talk about it? Those who do probably mostly know the correct/UK pronunciation anyway.

  17. can it really be true that everyone in the UK is so knowledgeable they pronounce it as if it were spelled “Doomsday”?

    Yes, I agree with other Brits. Some stuff about Romans, King Arthur and then the Norman invasion/Bayeux Tapestry/Harold’s defeat of the Danegeld/march to Hastings/arrow in the eye is the first thing schools teach in History. It’s unavoidable. (The book ‘1066 and All That’ hits the nail on the head.)

    If you visit any ancient church, it’ll proudly tell you it’s site was recorded in the Domesday Book — especially the ones now embedded in suburbia.

  18. Well, I’ve learned something today! (I’ve also gotten a mysterious Uzbek cap in the mail — anybody know anything about it?)

  19. rozele: see Orthographical Limericks. That was before you came here, I think.

  20. Does anyone say P.G. Woad-house?

  21. David Marjanović says

    Perhaps too transparent for me: Geld “money”, vergelten “recompensate”.

    (The High German consonant shift was generally undone sometime after Middle High German in -nd and -ld, though -rt uniformly stays. I’m not sure what happened there.)

  22. @Y: indeed! and thanks for the crosslink!

  23. Gavin Wraith says

    I have never heard Domesday pronounced as anything other than Doomsday. But I have noticed a trend in English pronunciation over the last 81 years – as if more people were acquiring it from reading rather than hearing. My grandmother said ‘gell’, ‘weskit’, ‘soajer’ for ‘girl’, ‘waistcoat’, ‘soldier’. Stress has changed too. People say c’ontra-v’ersy instead of contr’oversy. I like to imagine that many placenames in England got a funny pronunciation from a competitive urge to tease the grockles (Beaumaris -> Beamers?), especially those from the USA, and to strike a blow against the tyranny of orthography. Where did the mute (and invisible) ‘p’ in ‘cocoa’ come from?

  24. Where did the mute (and invisible) ‘p’ in ‘cocoa’ come from?

    I don’t understand this. What p?

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Where did the mute (and invisible) ‘p’ in ‘cocoa’ come from?

    It comes from Our Lady of Copacabana, patroness of cocopa, hygge, and bikinis (or bikpinis, as they are called in West Africa, where they are unknown.)

  26. Maybe Gavin is thinking of the [p] in oatmeal?

    Also, isn’t second-syllable stress in controversy the newfangled pronunciation?

  27. David Marjanović says

    Oaptmeal? Potmeal? Porridge?

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    The internet tells me that Middle English “dome” and Old English “dom” were both pronounced /doːm/, not /duːm/ like the Modern English “doom” that they evolved into. I can certainly understand why in practice the pronunciation of the word as used in a particular fixed context (said aloud much more frequently in England than in the US) might have shifted to the pronunciation of its modern descendent while retaining the archaic orthography. OTOH, when you teach students Chaucer with the archaic spelling, that’s often combined with teaching them the original pronunciation, not just silently updating/modernizing the pronunciation. So the “American” pronunciation here is not really a spelling pronunciation, it’s an archaic pronunciation cued by the archaic orthography, innit?

    And why isn’t the archaism consistent, like Domesdaeg Boc, or something?

  29. These are déop wættrs.

  30. The intrusive consonant in “oaptmeal” sounds fine to me only so long as it is unvoiced and lenis. But that may just be a consequence of the fact that a very weak consonant is almost ignorable right before the fortis dental stop.

  31. David Marjanović says

    Oh, I was just making a wild guess! I had no idea this was real.

    Well, if Yélî Dnye can have a t̠͡p, so can English, I guess…

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    The intrusive consonant in “oaptmeal”

    I don’t think there’s an intrusive consonant there: the unreleased [p] is the actual realisation of /t/ before /m/.

  33. I still don’t understand the cocoa thing, though.

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    Myself, I was (perhaps too hastily) assuming that Gavin Wrapith may not have been altogether in earnest.

    Mind you, Kusaal kʋkʋr “pig” is a loanword from Portuguese porco (ultimately), and the Irish clann derives (eventually) from the Latin planta, so who knows what strange and dreadful mutations may result in the lost eons of time?

    Disappointingly, “cocoa” seems merely to be from the Nahuatl cacahuatl, confused (by Samuel Johnson himself, no less) with the unrelated Spanish coco.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    On the other hand, there is certainly P in cocoa (and very important it is too):


  36. There’s also a p in foopball, of course. (First noted, I believe, by Nigel Molesworth.)

  37. David Eddyshaw says

    Kingsley Amis’ novel The Green Man features as a minor character a Trendy Vicar (this was 1969), whose speech Amis represents in a sort of eye-dialect with all the foopball-type assimilations of alveolars to following consonants actually written out. I’ve never been quite clear just what objectionable feature of Trendy-Vicarese it was that Amis was trying to capture, exactly. Unmanly fluency, perhaps.

  38. Most British speakers I hear (unless they are very careful and/or old-fashioned) pronounce syllable-final t as a glottal stop.

  39. David Eddyshaw says

    These analyses are not altogether incompatible: RP (at least) preglottalises syllable-final voiceless stops (not just /t/)

    so the “change” of /t/ to a glottal stop is actually just complete loss of the alveolar occlusion component. Assimilated to the following zero, as it were.

  40. Wildly off topic, but you’ve reminded me:
    A couple of weeks ago my husband read an article about Simone de Beauvoir in the London Review of Books (16 April 2020). At some point in the article (or possibly in the book the article was reviewing) it was mentioned that she was nicknamed “Castor” because she was “always fussing and working”. But was it?
    It seemed transparent even to me, as soon as I remembered Belvoir Castle, which is (of course…) pronounced “Beaver”. I guess it was just surprising that the LRB reviewer, or the biographer(s)/memoirist would miss that liklihood.
    I’m sure I must’ve learnt about the Domesday Book when I was about five (but not how to spell it). Nor much about it. Along with Pompeii, the Bayeux Tapestry, & the Mona Lisa.
    I LOVE Carolingian [or “Carlovingian”!] gs. They are thrilling to write. & don’t look so much like commercial cursive zs.

  41. Both explanations are correct!

    Pourquoi Simone de Beauvoir était-elle surnommée «le Castor»?

    On ne naît pas castor, on le devient… Et Simone de Beauvoir l’est devenue par la grâce de Sartre, qui aimait l’appeler ainsi. Parce qu’il était Pollux, son jumeau d’esprit? Non, même si Castor et Pollux étaient deux éléphants mythiques et inséparables du Jardin des plantes, tués et mangés, à la fin de 1870, pendant le siège de Paris. Parce qu’elle avait le poil dru, de petites oreilles, de grands yeux et deux longues dents devant? Pas davantage. Parce que, chez ces petits rongeurs, la femelle est socialement dominante? Tentant, mais hors propos. Castor est le petit nom que René Gabriel Eugène Maheu, professeur de philosophie et attaché culturel à Londres, donna à son amie Simone en 1929 en pensant à beaver, castor en anglais, et qui se prononce presque comme Beauvoir. Surnom repris et popularisé par Sartre, qui tenait en estime les castors «qui vont en bande et qui ont l’esprit constructeur».

    (Bolding added.)

  42. David Marjanović says

    RP (at least) preglottalises syllable-final voiceless stops

    Yeah. Combine suʔʔsh an aʔʔcent with a bad miʔʔrophone, and I geʔʔ real trouble understanding whaʔʔ I hear – or breathing, just through empathy.

  43. why isn’t the archaism consistent, like Domesdaeg Boc

    That would’ve been the pre-Conquest spelling (but you probably knew that). The book originally had no title; Domesday was a nickname, first attested 1178, by which time the spellings dai, dei, daye, etc. were taking over. The sound change from the ancestral g sound to the glide /j/ was hundreds of years past by then.

    Looking that up led me to some surprises: The plural was a different phonological environment, where the g sound shifted to /w/ instead, so plurals spelled dawes hung on a little longer. Similarly, the Old English verb dagian ‘to become day’ evolved into Middle English dawen and modern daw (“Obsolete exc. Scottish” —OED), with its gerund dawing. But somehow that was replaced by dawning (“No form corresponding to dawening, dawning is recorded in Old English, and it was probably < Norse” —OED). Dawn is a later back-formation. Hard to believe a word for something as universal as dawn is only 500 years old, but it is!

  44. Very interesting!

  45. J.W. Brewer says

    A 20th-century reprint of a 16th-century text by John Hooker (or Hoker, or Vowell), uncle of the more famous Richard Hooker, calls it the “booke of Domesdaye,” which has consistent archaism even if of a post-Conquest stratum.

  46. David Marjanović says

    It helps that “the g sound” was [ɣ].

  47. My daughter at ages 3-5 or thereabouts consistently said “opameal”, indicating an epenthetic vowel inserted into the [pm] assimilated cluster.

  48. I’ve been thinking for years that “beaver”, meaning the visor of a knight’s helmet, came from “beauvoir”. But it turns out that it actually comes from OF “bavière”, meaning a child’s bib. And it also turns out that “visor” is not the thing you look through, but the thing that covers your face (OF “vis”, which does come from the same root as vision). The beaver was originally just the bottom part of the front of the helmet. False friends exposed.

    ktschwarz. Interesting, It makes me think of the “Freedom Come-All-Ye” by Hamish Henderson:
    Roch the wind in the clear day’s dawin
    Blaws the cloods heelster-gowdie ow’r the bay

  49. I have wondered for a long time whether there was some connection between the frequent phonological slippage observed between sounds represented by “g,” “j,” and “y” and the forms of their minuscule glyphs. There are only five characters in the standard minuscule alphabet that go below the baseline. (The other two are “p” and “q.” Historically, there have been other minuscule forms that dipped below, but they are largely extinct now, except for the variant form “ʒ”.*) The final strokes of “g,” “j,” and “y” are all similar, and the lower case “g” also bears little resemblance to the upper case (classical Latin) “G.” So is the visual similarity just a coincidence? And, if not, which came first—the similar written forms or the similar phonology?

    * Does this mean Unicode “ʒ” is a Z-variant of “z”?

  50. Graham Asher says

    “can it really be true that everyone in the UK is so knowledgeable they pronounce it as if it were spelled “Doomsday””

    Yes. We’re taught about it at school and that’s how the schoolmaster pronounces the word. (Or ‘schoolteacher’ if you went to school more recently than me.)

  51. Yes, I’ve figured that out by now. The things I learn around here!

  52. Graham Asher says

    “If they mean “knowledgeable people in the UK,” well, the equivalent people in the US presumably also say /ˈduːmzdeɪ/. I smell lingering postcolonial snobbery.”

    Try being a little less suspicious. And I don’t know how you can sustain your continual incredulity about all things English. Perpetually raised eyebrows can cause a headache.

  53. For us Yanks, it’s an obscure bit of medieval history we may or may not get exposed to; it’s hard to realize that for you folks across the water it’s as inescapable as our Revolution.

  54. Try being a little less suspicious. And I don’t know how you can sustain your continual incredulity about all things English. Perpetually raised eyebrows can cause a headache.

    Try being a little less suspicious yourself. I was not making a serious historical statement, just riffing. Sheesh.

  55. David Eddyshaw says

    I smell lingering postcolonial snobbery

    You say that like it’s a bad thing …

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