I ran across the word guipure and had only a vague sense that it was some kind of fabric; it turns out to be (per Wiktionary) “A kind of bobbin lace that connects the motifs with bars or plaits rather than net or mesh,” or (per AHD) “A coarse large-patterned lace without a net background.” The ancient OED entry (published 1900) says:

Etymology: French, < guiper to cover with silk, etc., < Germanic wîp-, represented by German weifen to turn, Gothic weipan to crown.

Well, that’s an odd assemblage of meanings, thought I. The AHD, after deriving it from French and Germanic, says “see weip- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots,” so I did:

To turn, vacillate, tremble ecstatically.
Derivatives include wipe, whip, and vibrate.

1. O-grade form *woip‑. waif¹, waif², waive, waiver, from Anglo-Norman waif, ownerless property, from a Scandinavian source probably akin to Old Norse veif, waving thing, flag, from Germanic *waif‑.
2. Variant form *weib‑.
a. wipe, from Old English wīpian, to wipe;
b. guipure, from Old French guiper, to cover with silk;
c. whip, from Middle English wippen, to whip. a-c all from Germanic *wīpjan, to move back and forth.
3. Perhaps suffixed nasalized zero-grade form *wi-m-p-ila‑.
a. wimple, from Old English wimpel, covering for the neck (< “something that winds around”);
b. gimp¹, guimpe, from Old High German wimpal, guimpe;
c. perhaps Middle Dutch wimmel, auger (< “that which turns in boring”) wimble.
4. Suffixed zero-grade variant form *wib-ro‑. vibrate, from Latin vibrāre, to vibrate.
[Pokorny u̯eip‑ 1131.]

I suppose “tremble ecstatically” is based on some descendant not shown in that list, though it seems like a strangely specific sense to reconstruct, and I can’t see anything at the much more extensive Wiktionary list that would fit (maybe Younger Avestan vaēpaiia, “to be homosexual”?). And where does “to crown” come in? At any rate, it does seem like an odd assemblage, and I suspect there’s been some dumping of similar forms under an increasingly large and shapeless umbrella.


  1. I think “tremble ecstatically” was motivated by Indo-Iranian forms taken as derivatives of this root, namely Vedic viprá- ‘inspired; seer, sage, poet’ (see page 972 and 973 in Monier-Williams, for example) and Avestan vifra- ‘ecstatic(?)’ (see here for Gignoux’s view of this word).

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Wot, no wife?
    (Obviously, “trembling ecstatically” would be the link here.)

  3. David Marjanović says

    2. Variant form *weib‑.

    “Variant forms” with PIE *b (also the less suspicious *d, *g, *gʷ) used to be assumed in great numbers to explain Germanic roots that end in *p (*t, *k, *kʷ). This seems to be entirely unnecessary, and seems to have been accordingly dropped in the last 10 years; rather, PIE *wip-n- gives PGmc *wipp- (with iterative meanings, as indeed found in wippen – which also occurs in Low German and was borrowed by High German), and PIE *weip-n- gives PGmc *wīp- because overlong syllables (*wīpp-) were outlawed at some point in Pre-Germanic.

    Also interesting is the prediction that the h in whip is fake. How do people without the wine-whine merger pronounce it?

    4. Suffixed zero-grade variant form *wib-ro‑. vibrate, from Latin vibrāre, to vibrate.

    If this root is related, it really does need PIE *b. So I strongly suspect it’s not related and instead ended in *bʰ or *dʰ.

    Wot, no wife?

    One of the Tocharian languages has a word kwipe that apparently refers to female genitalia. That seems to be the only possible non-Germanic cognate of the wife word yet published. There’s evidence that *gʰʷ became *w in Germanic if it didn’t lead the PIE stressed syllable; I can’t look for the list of examples right now. The rest of the word probably lines up. PIE *k is a priori unlikely because the other consonant was *bʰ judging from German Weib “woman I don’t like” (earlier just “woman” of course, into the 20th century in literary and philosophical prose).

  4. Happily, the OED updated their wife entry in June 2016:

    Etymology: Cognate with Old Frisian wīf woman, married woman (West Frisian wiif), Old Dutch wīf woman, female spouse (Middle Dutch wijf woman, married woman, Dutch wijf woman, female (now chiefly derogatory)), Old Saxon wīf woman, married woman (Middle Low German wīf), Old High German wīb woman, female, married woman (Middle High German wīp woman, female, married woman (also with pejorative connotations), German Weib woman, female (now chiefly derogatory)), Old Icelandic víf (in poetry) woman (Icelandic víf), Old Swedish vif woman, married woman (Swedish viv, now archaic), Old Danish wiff woman, married woman (Danish viv, now archaic), of unknown origin.

    Compare woman n.

    History in Germanic.

    This word is not attested in Gothic (which uses a derivative of the base of quean n. in the sense ‘woman’ and of queen n. in the sense ‘married woman’) and has no secure cognates outside Germanic. It is generally accepted that the primary sense of the Germanic noun was ‘woman’ (without reference to marital status), with more specific use of a married woman arising later as a secondary development, although both senses are attested from the earliest stages of each of the Germanic languages, and in many cases it is unclear from the context which of the two is intended. Compare similar use of Old English wer to denote both ‘man’ and ‘husband’ (see were n.1).

    In Dutch and German, pejorative use appears to reflect semantic restriction arising from the increasing predominance of other words in the core senses ‘woman’ and ‘married woman’, especially Dutch vrouw, German Frau (see frow n. and frau n., respectively). Compare the semantic development of quean n. in English.

    Further etymology.

    Several phonologically plausible suggestions have been made as to the further etymology of this word, connecting it variously with e.g.:

    (i) an ablaut variant of the Indo-European base of Old English wǣfan to clothe (see weve v.²; compare the prefixed verb bewǣfan to cover, especially with a garment, to wrap around, to clothe: see biweve v.¹), with allusion to the custom in early Germanic societies for married women to wear the hair covered;

    (ii) the Indo-European base of Old High German weibōn to vacillate, fluctuate, move hither and thither (see waive v.²), with allusion either to the role of women as active workers in the home and on the land, or to a swaying gait held to be characteristic of adult females,

    (iii) the Indo-European base of Tocharian A kip, Tocharian B kwīpe shame, modesty, also genitals.

    However, all of these suggestions adduce semantic developments that cannot be substantiated by the evidence available.

    An etymological connection with the base of weave v.¹ has also been suggested, on the grounds of archaeological, historical, and lexical evidence that the production of textiles was strongly associated with women in Germanic societies; compare e.g. Old English spinelhealf (lit. ‘spindle side’) in sense ‘female line of descent’, beside wīfhealf, wīfhand. Perhaps compare also friðuwebbe (lit. ‘peace weaver’), used in heroic verse as an epithet of the female partner in a dynastic marriage (although contrast the corresponding masculine form friðuwebba, used of an angel). However, such a derivation presents phonological difficulties.

    For further discussion of many of the theories proposed, see D. E. Baron Gram. & Gender (1986) 34–7.

    I’m not sure what they mean by “semantic developments that cannot be substantiated by the evidence available”; how exactly do you substantiate a semantic development?

  5. David Marjanović says

    shame, modesty, also genitals

    The full misogyny package all the way down!

    how exactly do you substantiate a semantic development?

    Perhaps by having hypothesized intermediate stages actually attested somewhere. What those stages could be might be mentioned in Baron (1986), I guess…

  6. how exactly do you substantiate a semantic development?

    That’s a very great question, mostly ignored in the hist-ling literature. I’d say, the less obvious the semantic development is, the more you need to demonstrate parallel developments, preferably in the same language family; “obvious” and “parallel” being distressingly subjective terms. Greenbergians and orthodox IEanists alike often rely on semantic flights of fancy to create lovely but unsupported etymologies.

  7. January First-of-May says

    I’ve seen гипюр for some kind of fabric in Russian as well, but I couldn’t have told you much more than that. It’s one of those words that look (and/or sound) so weird it feels like there’s something wrong with them.

    Compare the semantic development of quean n. in English.

    …TIL that quean is not just a deliberately different spelling of queen.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Still means (generally young) “woman” in Aberdeen; my daughter, born in that great granite (somewhat radioactive) city, is the archetypal Aberdonian daft wee quine.

  9. marie-lucie says

    quean ?

    Quite some time ago I casually picked up a book about raising cats, in which adult females were called “queen cats”. I wondered if the word meant was not originally “queen” but “quean”.

    la guipure

    This word refers to a kind of coarse lace made of small pieces of cloth linked together with heavy embroidery thread. It could be used instead of whole cloth to make whole garments such as women’s blouses, but is more generally used for portions of such garments, especially in the upper part.

    la guimpe (wimple)

    A bib-like piece of clothing made of a fairly light fabric, attached over or under a whole upper garment in order to “fill” an empty space between the neck itself and the often lower neckline of the main garment. Such a piece is rarely used in modern women’s garments, but was common in earlier periods when few garments were washable. A wimple was removable for washing and could also provide a background for an embroidered design.

  10. I was hoping you’d show up, m-l — who else can talk about these things so knowledgeably?

  11. OED:

    queen cat n. a female cat capable of or used for breeding; cf. sense 12.
    1673 J. Ray N. Countrey Words in Coll. Eng. Words 53 A Wheen-Cat: a Queen-Cat.
    1893 J. Jennings Domest. or Fancy Cats iv. 31 At what age should the queen cat breed?
    1960 Amer. Speech 35 300 Has this name [sc. queen] arisen from the often-observed imperious bearing of queen cats?
    1968 Times 1 Feb. 12/8 With hair on end like a ruffled queen cat.

    I don’t know where Wheen in this sense comes from.

  12. How do people without the wine-whine merger pronounce it?

    I pronounce the /h/ in whip. I also pronounce the /h/ in whiskey even though I well know there’s none in uisce [beatha]. OTOH some Irish people pronounce the breakfast cereal Weetabix as “wheat-a-bix”, which always annoyed me as a child; that is obviously the etymological pronunciation, but I insist on obeying the orthography.

    Stewie Griffin lacks the whip-coolwhip merger.

  13. PlasticPaddy says

    Loans in Irish with initial v and w in the original seem to pattern as follows:
    Latin v > Irish f (ex. vinum > fíon)
    Norse v > Irish f (ex. vindauga > fuinneóg)
    English v,w > Irish b (ex. wall > balla)
    English wh > Irish f (ex. whip > fuip)

    From Norse loanword examples (and including variants from Scots Gaelic) there could be a secondary pattern, i.e., v+slender > f and v+broad > b, but this does not seem to happen with loans from English v.
    Note that there is also fuisce for whiskey, at least in Donegal Irish; I suppose this was borrowed from (Scots or) English.
    I would guess
    1. Latin loans were made based on a Classical pronunciation, resulting in a word beginning with a vowel; prosthetic f was added conventionally.
    2. Norse v must have had a different quality to English v (more like f?).
    3. English v and w were heard as v+broad, this was interpreted as lenited b with the nominative form corrected to b without lenition.
    4a. English wh was heard as h+broad, resulting in a word beginning in a vowel, prosthetic f was added (analogically to Latin loans?)
    4b. English wh was heard as h+broad and f was substituted for the h.

  14. David Eddyshaw says

    I think that the Irish f for Latin v is not prosthetic but actually reflects borrowing antedating the intra-Irish shift of inherited w -> f (cf Old Irish fer “man” cognate with Latin vir etc.)

    For the Latin /w/ not /v/, it’s probably relevant that a lot of early Latin loans were transmitted via Brythonic, which keeps the /w/ to this day (with an actual prosthetic /g/ initially when unlenited (e.g. gwin “wine.”)

  15. John Cowan says

    Note that there is also fuisce for whiskey, at least in Donegal Irish; I suppose this was borrowed from (Scots or) English.

    Scots. definitely. OE /xw/ (written hw) weakened to /hw/ in most Scots varieties, but in North-East Scots it became /fw/ > /f/, thus fat ‘what’. In the majority of English varieties it became simply /w/ just as /h/ > zero, and was not restored even in varieties where /h/ was restored from the spelling.

  16. David Marjanović says

    Some sort of U-RP did actually restore it, but it didn’t last.

    Also, I see no reason to think it was [xw] rather than [hw] in Old English. There wasn’t any other word-initial [x], including in hl, hr, hn. It alliterates with all of these plus prevocalic h, right?

  17. John Cowan says

    In Old English, initial h was [x] or [ç], so yes, they all alliterated. (I should have been using brackets, not slashes.)

  18. January First-of-May says

    Also, I see no reason to think it was [xw] rather than [hw] in Old English.

    I thought it was [xʷ], actually; I wonder where I got that.

  19. David Marjanović says

    In Old English, initial h was [x] or [ç]

    Huh. What’s the evidence for that?

  20. Mitchell and Robinson’s A Guide to Old English says:

    At the beginning of a word (‘initially’) before a vowel, h is pronounced as in MnE ‘hound’. Otherwise it is like German ch in ich [ç] or ach [x]

    That’s how I’ve always understood it. If it were x/ç everywhere, developments like sċōs “shoe” (gen.) < /ˈʃoː.es/ < /ˈʃoːhes/ would make no sense.

  21. Barbara Phillips Long says

    There’s a well-illustrated post on the definition and history of guipure lace on the Fashion Institute of Technology website. There are a couple of statements about the history of the word, in addition to information about the textile, a form of bobbin lace.


    In A History of Handmade Lace (1900) Emily Jackson defines guipure lace as:

    “The word Guipure is now indiscriminately applied to all large-patterned laces with coarse grounds, which require no “brides” or bars, and no delicate groundings; but formerly it was the name for a kind of gold and silver thread lace. Guipure was also the name given to a sort of passement or gimp made with ‘cartisane’ and twisted silk. The word is derived from guipé, a thick cord round which silk is rolled. Cartisane is a little strip of thin parchment or vellum, which was covered with silk, gold, or silver thread.” (163).

    Another quote:

    Jackson describes Renaissance guipure:

    “The work of Guipure lace-making [in the sixteenth century] was done either with bobbins or with a needle, the stiff lines which formed the pattern being held together by stitches worked with a needle or by the plaiting of the bobbins. From its costliness, being made only in gold, silver, or coloured silk, Guipure was only worn by the rich, or on the livery of the King’s servants… The word Guipure is not found in inventories and records of English lace: Parchment Lace and Dentelle à Cartisan are, however, frequently met with.” (163)

    As Jackson describes, guipure of the Renaissance period was finer and more expensive, created with bobbins on pillows. By the nineteenth and twentieth century, imitation laces, made using crochet techniques or automated machinery, were also being called guipure.

  22. Thanks!

  23. Barbara Phillips Long says

    Going back to the original post, it makes sense that “guipure” would be related to “weifen,” to turn. Bobbin lace, in the hand-crafted revival techniques I have seen, involves twisting and twining many threads that are wrapped around bobbins — the bobbins reduce or prevent tangling as the pattern takes shape on a surface in a contrasting color. Often the surface is a pillow designed for lace making. There may be a dozen or many more bobbin threads in the pattern. Sometimes straight pins pushed into the pillow mark key points in the lace pattern — when the lace or a section of lace is complete, the lace can be removed by lifting it up, or the pins can be removed if necessary.

    Could the connection to the Gothic “weipan,” to crown, be related to the fact that women have, historically, often worn head coverings of lace?

    This post claims that guipure lace was once made on parchment that was then removed or dissolved to free the lace. How linguists’ etymologies and textile historians’ etymologies coincide or diverge may be a problem with guipure — not every textile historian starts out the way Elizabeth J. W. Barber did.


    Guipure Lace comes from the French word meaning vellum or parchment and is a firm heavy lace with no net background according to George S. Cole who wrote A Complete History of Drygoods.
    Originally it was made on a parchment foundation that would dissolve in a lye bath. To make Guipure Lace, the old French lacemakers would form the outlines of the pattern on the parchment. The patterns were held together with “brides” or “bars” made with a needle and thread. The patterns were arranged so that they could be sewn together for support or connected by the brides to form the pattern. Now of course, the lace is made by machine, using a cotton or rayon thread on an acetate background. The background is then dissolved leaving the embroidered lace behind with the individual motifs being connected by the “brides”.

    And “old French lacemakers” probably means long-ago lacemakers, although Old French was certainly spoken long ago. Whether the lacemakers were elderly is unknown, but it takes dexterity and decent eyesight to make bobbin lace.

    Here’s a beginner’s video for those who are curious (warning —- subtitles in English but no sound):

  24. Barbara Phillips Long says

    Sorry. — Here is a much better tutorial:

  25. Barbara Phillips Long, thank you for those links!

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