I always thought a narwhal was, etymologically, a “corpse whale”; if you’re not familiar with that etymology, Stan at Sentence first provides links to several essentially identical derivations from Old Norse náhvalr. But he complicates the picture by mentioning other “speculative origin stories,” and quotes the OED’s comprehensive etymology:

Probably < Danish narhval, cognate with Norwegian narkval, Swedish narval (1754), and further cognate with Old Icelandic náhvalr < a first element of uncertain origin (perhaps < nár corpse: see need n., with reference to the colour of the animal’s skin; or perhaps shortened < nál needle n., with reference to the straight tusk) + hvalr whale n.; the epenthetic –r– in the Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish forms has not been satisfactorily explained (see note below). Compare Middle French nahual (1598; French †narhual (1647), †narwal (1676), narval (1723)), Spanish narval (1706), Italian narvalo (1745), Dutch narwal (1769), German Narwal (18th cent.), all ultimately borrowings from Scandinavian.

Alternative etymologies connect the first element with the Germanic base of either nase n. or narrow adj.; both of these suggestions assume that forms with –r– are primary, and that forms without –r– (the earliest attested forms) are alterations by folk etymology, after Old Icelandic nár corpse.

The Russian word is, unsurprisingly, нарвал [narval].


  1. David Marjanović says

    A nose-whale with added Verner?

  2. I was told long ago that narwhal is the only English mammal that starts with n-. I’ve since learned of the nutria and the numbat, but these are still slim pickings.

  3. George Grady says

    There’s also the nilgai and the ningaui. And if you allow multi-word species names, there’s things like the naked mole-rat, and there’s bound to be some species that start with northern, New Guinea and such, although that seems like cheating. And there’s so many different kinds of bats, there’s bound to be some that start with N. (Looking things up, there are. There are naked-back bats and noctule bats, among others.)

  4. See, you have to scrape pretty hard to come up with any more. I only heard about the ningaui for the first time yesterday, when reading about floods destroying the habitat of its cousin, the Julia Creek dunnart.

    I haven’t conducted a scientific survey to see if n- is really exceptional that way (relative to its general frequency) or if other kinds of animals display the same peculiarity.

    (Using naked and northern is definitely cheating.)

  5. Also nahur/naur, aka bharal, nyala, and notoungulates.

  6. Naugahyde is the skin of a North American mammal.

  7. Nesophontes.

    But unfortunately they are extinct as no doubt the narwhals will be in near future.

    N curse at work.

  8. January First-of-May says

    Surely there’s also the newfoundland (though I’m not sure if it’s actually called that way in English, as opposed to “Newfoundland dog” or similar).

  9. neanderthal

  10. Nutria

  11. Already got nutria.

  12. The Niata or Ñata is an extinct breed of dwarf cattle from Uruguay and Argentina.

  13. Narrow-ridged finless porpoise

  14. Nubian wild ass

  15. N-initialled northern Norwegian mammal… y’all are just cheating.

  16. Why Narrow-ridged finless porpoise would be cheating if ‘narrow whale’ is not?

  17. Graham Asher says

    neat = cow

  18. Graham Asher says

    The entry for narval in the Svensk etymologisk ordbok ( supports the corpse derivation:

    narval, 1796 (då ännu enstaka) = da. narhval; från nord. komma eng.
    narw(h)ale, fra. narval osv, Ombildat av isl. náhvalr, som på grund av djurets
    gulvita färg vanl. plägar föras till isl. nár (genit. nás) m., lik, no. naae, got.
    naus, ags. néo-, besl. med fslav. navĭ
    ds., lett. nāwe, död, osv.

    That is:

    narval, 1796 (then still rare) = Danish narhval; From the Scandinavian forms are derived the English narw(h)ale, French narval etc. Formed from Icelandic náhvalr, which by reason of the animal’s yellow-white colour is usually connected with Icelandic nár (genitive nás) masculine, corpse, Norwegian naae, Gothic naus, old German néo-, cognate with proto-Slavic navĭ (ditto), Latvian nāwe, dead, etc.

  19. As in neatherd, neat-house, neat(s)foot oil, and neat’s leather, but otherwise obsolete. A pity, too, since it is the cover term for ‘any bovine animal’ that we no longer have in English.

  20. After hearing a story about narwhal horns being sold as unicorn horns I’ve always been thinking of narwhals as unicorn whales. They have quite a mythical shimmer around them! Corpse whales does not have quite the same ring to it.


    When she was in preschool, my daughter loved unicorns. Now she prefers narwhals.

  22. Aren’t cattle any bovine animal?

  23. = Danish narhval

    Norwegian narhval. [Walks away muttering]

  24. Lars (the original one) says

    *Offers hand* Dano-Norwegian narhval?

  25. Aren’t cattle any bovine animal?

    They are, but only collectively. There is no singular noun that means ‘calf or heifer or cow or bull or ox, individual member of Bos taurus‘.

  26. Scandinavians are so understanding and public-spirited. Were the Vikings like that?

    Cattle Plurale tantum.

  27. Stephen Carlson says

    neat = cow
    Of course! I should have predicted it from Swedish nöt.

  28. nautakjöt (Is), naudanliha (Fi) = beef

  29. Trond Engen says

    < *nautanlíka-neat corpse”, I presume.

    Graham Asher: neat = cow
    John Cowan: As in neatherd, neat-house, neat(s)foot oil, and neat’s leather, but otherwise obsolete. A pity, too, since it is the cover term for ‘any bovine animal’ that we no longer have in English.

    There’s also a High German *Noß (or some such) < OHG nōz waiting to be resurrected.

    Lars: Dano-Norwegian narhval?

    Sure. Non-Southeastern Norwegian (and Nynorsk) has kval. But narkval isn’t even in Grunnmanuskriptet.

    My personal favorite etymology is naðr m. “snake; sword” (= Eng. nadder) with a probable variant form narr attested as a sword’s name in poetry. The variant compound forms could all be quasi-regular simplifications after naðr became obscure.

    A wild (and probably wildly wrong) idea that struck me now is that narhval could be a folk etymology of **narfill, a hypothesized predecessor of the narvetre or narvejarn, i.e. a ribbed tool for leatherwork.

    Sidetrack: I was at the Musée de Cluny recently. It had some impressive pieces of late medieval ivory on display, explaining the richness with increased availabilty of African and Oriental ivory from the 13th century. Interestingly, this coincides with the climax of the trade in narwhal teeth from the north. Did the supply of narwhal teeth reduce the demand for real ivory for minor pieces and thus make elephant tusks more available on the royal and ecclesiastical market?

  30. *nautanlíka- “neat corpse”

    Modern English *neatlich or even *neatly. Adverbial -ly is ultimately from lic too, so e.g. happily ‘lit. (with) happy body’. This is just the opposite semantically of Romance -ment, -mente, e.g. Spanish felizmente ‘lit. (with) happy mind’, but both suffixes are applied indiscriminately to both physical and mental adjectives.


    Adder nowadays, thanks to misanalysis of a naddre.

  31. liha means ‘meat’ and has no known etymology beyond Finnic (even Livonian lejā points rather to *lehä).

  32. Trond Engen says

    Yes, Fi. -h- < Gmc. -k- didn’t look regular. And -d- < -t- isn’t too good either. What would a Baltic parallel to *Nautanl(e)ika- look like?

  33. David Marjanović says

    < *nautanlíka- “neat corpse”, I presume.

    I wondered about that, but I don’t know the history of Finnic vowel length at all well, and I think I noticed that the h doesn’t fit, too…

    There’s also a High German *Noß (or some such) < OHG nōz waiting to be resurrected.

    Completely replaced by Rind (pl. -er because of course).

    Actually, I wonder if Rind is a back-formation from its synonym (and insult) Rindvieh, *”horned livestock”, *”horned possession”. In the Bavarian-Austrian dialects at the very least, [fɪç] has become a count noun (pl. [ˈfɪçːɐ] with analogical consonant length) meaning “animal” – farm animals archetypically, but happily applied to insects.

    And -d- < -t- isn’t too good either.

    That looks like Finnic-internal consonant gradation: nauta, gen. naudan?

    What would a Baltic parallel to *Nautanl(e)ika- look like?

    Baltic is [x]-free zone.

  34. Trond Engen says

    David M.: nauta, gen. naudan?

    Yes, obviously. I was too obsessed with the idea of a compound borrowing to notice.

    Baltic is [x]-free zone.

    But Baltic sibillants yield Fi. h. It was another spur of the moment idea, based on the recollection that Gmc. *leika- is pretty lonely, etymologywise, so the *k could just as well be an original palatal.

    Now I’ve even looked at it. It’s true that *leika- “body” is rather lonely. The internally reconstructed meaning “shape, form” is generally accepted, but beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be consensus. Some don’t go further. Others (including B&L) derive it from the verb *laikan- “move swiftly”, i.e. a semantic path “movement” -> “appearance” -> “shape” -> “body”.

    What I didn’t know is that there’s a homonymous *leika- n. “rope reinforcing the edges of a sail” < *ley-ǵ- “bind”, a root that is more or less all over IE except for Baltic. So what if they are the same word? The semantic path would be “binding” -> “containment” -> “holster” -> “body”, which I think I find simpler. A Baltic cognate could have been borrowed into Finnic and yielded -h-.

    Unfortunately this leaves the verb *laikan- “move swiftly” and its actually existing Baltic cognate Lith. láigyti “run about wildly” (of horses) orphaned. To which I may retort that those poor verbs were orphaned anyway, even if *leika- “body” was orphaned with them.

  35. January First-of-May says

    and its actually existing Baltic cognate Lith. láigyti “run about wildly” (of horses)

    With completely no knowledge of how the sound correspondences actually play out: is Russian лягать(ся) “to kick” (of horses) related in any way?

    (Looking it up, apparently this is one of the options proposed and discarded by Vasmer.)

    176 mammals starting with n listed here.

  37. John Cowan says

    *laikan- “move swiftly”

    Represented in English by laik (North of England) ‘not-work’. Children laik after school, but workers laik when they are on strike or locked out. It’s a lexical gap in standard English. “Working for little is better nor laiking.”

  38. It’s a lexical gap in standard English.

    There is nothing like the verb hinna as well, afaik.
    BTW, did the verb run ever conjugate ‘rin/ran/run’?

  39. David Marjanović says

    There is nothing like the verb hinna as well, afaik.

    Not in German either.


    German has two of those: rennen, rannte, gerannt “what Usain Bolt does”; rinnen, rann, geronnen refers to the flowing of small quantities of liquid – usually with the liquid as the subject, but mir rinnt die Nase “my nose is running”.

  40. OED:
    Forms: 1. Present stem. a. (i). Forms without metathesis.
    α. OE rinnan, OE rynnan (rare), ME rayne, ME rine, ME ringand (northern, present participle), ME ryne, ME rynn, ME–15 rinne, ME–15 rynne, ME–16 rin, ME–16 ryn, lME ryme (transmission error); English regional 18– rin, 18– ryn, 19– rinn; Scottish pre-17 rine, pre-17 rinne, pre-17 ryn, pre-17 ryne, pre-17 ryngande (present participle), pre-17 rynn, pre-17 rynne, pre-17 17– rin, pre-17 18 rinn; Irish English 18 rhin (Wexford), 19– rin.
    β. OE ren (imperative), ME reen, ME regne, ME reine, ME renn, ME reyn, ME reyne, ME–15 rene, ME–16 ren, ME–17 renne, lME reme (in a late copy, transmission error), lME reune (transmission error); English regional 18 ren; Scottish pre-17 rene, pre-17 renneth (plural indicative), 18 ren. Older Scots renneth occurs in an isolated example in a text imitating southern English (see quot. ?a1535).
    γ. ME–15 rone, ME–15 rowne, ME–16 ron, ME–16 ronne, 15 roon; Scottish pre-17 ronne, pre-17 roone.
    δ. ME ruyne (in sense 41), ME–16 rune, ME–16 runne, ME– run, lME nne (transmission error), 15–16 runn; Scottish pre-17 rune, pre-17 runn, pre-17 runne, pre-17 rwine, pre-17 rwn, pre-17 rwne, pre-17 17– run.

    (ii). Forms with metathesis.
    α. eOE irnn (Kentish, imperative), OE iernan, OE irnan, OE ryrne (singular subjunctive, rare), OE yrnan, OE yrnnan, eME hyrne, eME ierne, eME irne, eME yrne, ME hirne; English regional (south-western) 18– hirn. Old English ryrne apparently represents a hybrid (partly unmetathesized) form.
    β. OE eornan, OE iornan, eME eorne, eME eornenn ( Ormulum), eME heorne.
    γ. eOE earnenne (Mercian, inflected infinitive), OE ærnan, OE ernan (rare), OE herna (Northumbrian), eME ærne, eME eærne, eME earne, eME earnne, eME hearne, ME eerne, ME ern, ME erne, ME ernne, ME herne. Cf. also yearn v.2, earn v.3
    δ. ME orne, ME ourne (south-west midlands).
    ε. west midlands and south-western ME hurne, ME uerne, ME urne, ME verne, ME vrn, ME vrne; English regional (south-western) 18– hurn, 18– urn.
    ζ. ME arn, ME arne; English regional (Yorkshire) 18– arn.

    b. 3rd singular indicative. (i). Forms without metathesis.
    α. OE hrinneþ, OE–ME rynneþ, eME rinneð, ME rayneth, ME rines, ME rinnes, ME rinnyeþ, ME rynes, ME rynnes, ME rynnethe, ME rynnez, ME rynnis, ME rynnys, ME rynnyth, ME rynnythe, ME ryns, ME–15 rynneth, 15 rinneth; English regional (south-western) 18 rin’th, 18– rins, 18– rinth; Scottish pre-17 rines, pre-17 rinis, pre-17 rinnes, pre-17 rinneth, pre-17 rinnis, pre-17 rynes, pre-17 rynis, pre-17 rynnes, pre-17 rynnis, pre-17 rynnys, pre-17 rynnyth, pre-17 17– rins.
    β. lOE reonneð, lOE–eME renneð, eME rennet, eME rennid, ME renes, ME renneȝ, ME rennes, ME renneþ, ME rennethe, ME renneyth, ME rennis, ME renniþ, ME rennith, ME rennth, ME rennyȝt, ME rennys, ME rennyt, ME rennyþ, ME rennyþe, ME rennyth, ME rennythe, ME renþ, ME renyth, ME reynneth, ME–15 renneth. Late Old English reonneð apparently represents a hybrid form showing the vocalism of (metathesized) eorneð.
    γ. lME vnnethe (transmission error), lME (in a late copy) 15 runnith, lME–15 runnyth, 15 runes, 15 runth, 15–16 (17– archaic) runneth, 15–17 runnes, 15–17 runns, 15– runs, 16 runeth; Scottish pre-17 runes, pre-17 runeth, pre-17 runis, pre-17 runnes, pre-17 runneth, pre-17 runnis, pre-17 17– runs.
    δ. 15 ronnes, 15 ronneth, 15 ronth, 16 rons.

    (ii). Forms with metathesis.
    α. OE irnð, OE yrneþ, OE yrneð, OE–eME irneð, OE–eME yrnþ, OE–eME yrnð, lOE hyrnð, lOE irneþ, eME yrnaþ.
    β. eOE iornð, OE iorneð (Northumbrian), OE (Mercian)–eME eorneð, eME eorned, eME eornet, eME eorneþþ ( Ormulum), eME eornez, eME eornð, ME eorneþ, ME eorneth, ME eornth.
    γ. OE ærneð, eME erneþþ ( Ormulum), ME erneþ, ME ernnes.
    δ. west midlands and south-western ME urneþ, ME urnth, ME vrneþ; English regional (Somerset) 18– urnth.

    2. Past tense. a. Strong. (i). Forms without metathesis.
    α. (Orig. 1st and 3rd singular) OE– ran, ME raane, ME rane, ME rhan, ME þan (transmission error), ME–16 rann, ME–16 ranne; Scottish pre-17 rane, pre-17 rann, pre-17 ranne, pre-17 þane (transmission error), pre-17 17– ran.
    β. (Orig. 1st and 3rd singular) ME rone (in a late copy), ME–15 roone, ME–16 ron, ME–16 ronne, lME room (transmission error); English regional 18– roon; U.S. regional 19– ron (in African-American usage).
    γ. (Originally plural and 2nd singular) ME rvnne, ME–16 runne, ME–17 (18– regional and nonstandard) run, 16 (17 North American) runn; Scottish pre-17 runne, 17 run, 17 rune.
    δ. ME renne, ME 16 ren, lME reine (in a late copy).
    ε. U.S. regional 18 rin.

    (ii). Forms with metathesis.
    α. (Orig. 1st and 3rd singular) OE arun (Northumbrian, perhaps transmission error), OE–eME earn, OE–ME arn, ME arne
    β. (Orig. 1st and 3rd singular) OE ornun (Northumbrian, plural, perhaps transmission error), OE–ME orn, eME orin (perhaps transmission error), ME hourne, ME oorne, ME orne, ME ourn, ME ourne.
    γ. (Originally plural and 2nd singular) OE urnan (rare), OE urne (2nd singular), OE urnon, OE urnun (rare), OE wurnon (Northumbrian), lOE urnen, ME hurne, ME urne, ME vrn, ME vrne, ME yrne (south-western); English regional (Somerset) 18– uurn.
    δ. (1st and 3rd singular) lOE–ME ern, ME ernne.
    ε. (1st and 3rd singular) eME eorn, eME oern.

    b. Weak. (i). Forms without metathesis.
    α. ME rowned, ME runde, 15–16 (18– regional) runned, 17 run’d; English regional 18 run’d, 18– runn’d; U.S. regional 18 runded (in African-American usage), 18 runn’d.
    β. ME rend, ME rende, ME rennede, ME rennyd, ME rennyde; English regional (Somerset) 17 renn’d.
    γ. lME rynnyde; English regional 18 rinn’d (Dorset), 19– rinned (Devon).
    δ. U.S. regional 19– ranned (in African-American usage).

    (ii). Forms with metathesis.
    α. OE ærdon (plural), OE ærndon (plural), eME ærde, eME ærnde. Forms such as Old English ærdon, early Middle English ærde appear to show simplification of the medial consonant cluster.
    β. eME arde, ME arnde, ME arnede, ME harnde. Forms such as early Middle English arde appear to show simplification of the medial consonant cluster.
    γ. eME earde, eME earnde, eME earnede, eME ernde, eME hearde, eME hearnde, eME hernde, eME hernede, ME ernede, ME ernned. Forms such as early Middle English earde, hearde appear to show simplification of the medial consonant cluster.
    δ. ME ornd, ME ornde.
    ε. English regional (south-western) 18 hirn’d, 18– hirnd.
    ζ. English regional (south-western) 18– hurn’d, 18– urnd, 18– urn’d, 18– urned.

    3. Past participle. a. Strong. (i). Forms without metathesis.
    α. OE gehrunnen (rare), OE gerunen (probably transmission error), OE gerunnen, OE–ME runnen, ME irunne, ME runnin, ME runnun, ME runnyn, ME yrunne, ME–16 rune, ME–16 runn, ME–16 runne, ME– run; Scottish pre-17 rune, pre-17 runin, pre-17 runne, pre-17 runnen, pre-17 runnin, pre-17 running, pre-17 runnyn, pre-17 runnyne, pre-17 runnyng, pre-17 runyn, pre-17 rvn, pre-17 rvne, pre-17 rvnnyn, pre-17 rwn, pre-17 rwne, pre-17 rwnnyn, pre-17 rwnnyng, pre-17 17– run, pre-17 18 runn.
    β. ME ironne, ME ironnen, ME irounne, ME jronne, ME ron, ME ronen, ME ronene, ME ronnen, ME ronnene, ME ronnon, ME ronnyn, ME ronyn, ME yron, ME yronne, ME yronnen, ME–15 rone, ME–15 ronn, ME–15 ronne, lME ronnens (transmission error); English regional 18 ron (Cumberland); Scottish pre-17 ron, pre-17 rone, pre-17 ronen, pre-17 ronn, pre-17 ronne, pre-17 ronnyn, pre-17 ronnyne, pre-17 ronnyng, pre-17 roun, pre-17 roune, pre-17 rounyn, pre-17 rovne, pre-17 rovning, pre-17 rowine, pre-17 rown, pre-17 rowne, pre-17 rownyn, pre-17 royne, pre-17 yronne.
    γ. ME iren, ME irene, ME yren, ME yrenne, ME–15 ren, ME–15 renne, 15 rennyng (Scottish).
    δ. lME ryn; Scottish pre-17 rine, pre-17 18– rin; Irish English (northern) 19– rin.

    (ii). Forms with metathesis.
    α. OE geurnen, OE urnen, eME urnan, ME vrne, ME vrnen.
    β. eME hornen, eME hourne, eME hyȝouren, eME iorne, eME yorne, ME ȝorne.

    b. Weak. (i). Forms without metathesis.
    α. lOE gerenned, ME renned.
    β. 15 ronned.
    γ. 15–17 (18– regional and nonstandard) runned; English regional 18– arunned (Somerset), 18– run’d, 18– runnd.
    δ. English regional (Devon) 18– arinned.

    (ii). Forms with metathesis.
    α. ME arnd, ME yarned, ME yȝarnd.
    β. lME yeornd.
    γ. English regional (south-western) 18– hirnd.
    δ. English regional (south-western) 18– a-urn’d.

  41. Stu Clayton says

    geronnen refers to the flowing of small quantities of liquid – usually with the liquid as the subject, but mir rinnt die Nase “my nose is running”.

    geronnen can also mean “clotted, congealed”. It’s the freestanding participle of rinnen whose meaning has congealed into a slightly different form. Blutgerinnsel = “blood clot”.

  42. Thanks a lot!

  43. You’re welcome, though it’s probably more than you asked for!

  44. The etymology starts:

    A merging of two originally distinct Old English words, probably reinforced in Middle English by borrowing of cognate forms from early Scandinavian:

    (i) a Class III strong verb (thus showing a similar paradigm to e.g. sing v.1, but greatly complicated by the frequency of metathesized forms in Old English), cognate with Old Frisian renna, ronna, rinna (probably also runna) to run, to flow, to go by, pass, to make for, (of land) to extend, to border (on), adjoin (West Frisian rinne), Middle Dutch rinnen to run, to flow, to flow together, to become thick, to flow away, Old Saxon rinnan to flow, to run, to rush (Middle Low German rinnen (also occasionally found with weak past forms) to flow, to drip, to coagulate, to thicken), Old High German rinnan to flow, to run (Middle High German rinnen to flow, to flow away, to drip, to shoot up, to run, German rinnen), Old Icelandic rinna, later renna to run, to flee, to flow, to melt, to arise, to pass away (from), (of sleep, an emotion, etc.) to come (over someone), (of a plant) to run (up), Norn (Shetland) ridna, Norwegian renna, Old Swedish, Swedish rinna, Old Danish rinnæ (Danish rinde), Gothic rinnan to run, walk; see below on the further etymology. However, comparatively few examples of this unmetathesized type occur in Old English texts (a handful of unprefixed forms, chiefly in verse, and a somewhat larger number of the prefixed past participle gerunnen and of forms with other prefixes: see below). The prevailing form in all dialects appears to have been that with metathesis, irnan, iernan, yrnan (1st and 3rd singular past tense arn or orn, 3rd plural urnon, past participle urnen): see further discussion below.

    (ii) a weak (originally causative) verb derived ultimately from the o-grade of the same base as the strong verb (hence *rannjan), cognate with Middle Dutch rennen to ride (a horse) (Dutch rennen to run), Old Saxon rennian to glue together (Middle Low German rennen (also occasionally found with weak past forms) to run, to follow (something) up, to attack, to take part in a tournament), Old High German rennan to make run, to hunt, drive on, to make run together, to collect together (Middle High German rennen, also in sense ‘to ride fast, to race’, German rennen), Old Icelandic renna to make run, to put to flight, to prevent, to let loose, to direct (the eyes), to pour, to turn, (intransitive) to move swiftly, to slide, glide, slip (compare ren v.), Norwegian renna, Old Swedish, Swedish ränna, Old Danish rænnæ (Danish rende); compare also the Gothic prefixed form ur-rannjan to cause to run. In Old English the simple verb appears overwhelmingly in the metathetic form ærnan (chiefly in sense ‘to ride, to gallop’); the unmetathesized type is attested only twice (in both instances as prefixed gerennan, and both in sense ‘to cause (milk, etc.) to coagulate or curdle’).

    The rarity of the unmetathesized reflexes of both verbs in Old English makes it appear likely that the Middle English types rinne and especially renne show at least some reinforcement from their cognates in early Scandinavian, although see discussion below for other possibilities. To a great extent they first appear in texts where Scandinavian influence is prominent.

    Compare yern v. (representing the reflex of the Old English prefixed forms ge-yrnan and ge-ærnan).

    (i) Further etymology.The further etymology is extremely uncertain, largely because the gemination in the Germanic verbal root *renn-a- (beside zero-grade *run– without gemination in derivatives such as rune n.1 [‘Course, onward movement; flow’]) is open to a number of different explanations. It is possible that the word is ultimately from the same Indo-European base as rithe n. [‘A small stream or channel’] and other words listed at that entry, although there are several other possibilities.

    It continues with an extraordinarily long “Form history.” A complicated verb!

  45. >geronnen can also mean “clotted, congealed”. It’s the freestanding participle of rinnen whose meaning has congealed into a slightly different form. Blutgerinnsel = “blood clot”.

    There’s English rennet – the congealing factor that separates curds for cheese from whey.

  46. Stu Clayton says

    Yes, and the OED says:

    # 1.1 A mass of curdled milk found in the stomach of an unweaned calf or other animal, used for curdling milk in making cheese, etc.; also, a preparation of the inner membrane of the stomach used for this or other purposes. #

    The congealing factor is extracted from that.

    Cheese was invented by slaughtered calves. Wiener Schnitzel too.

  47. geronnen can also mean “clotted, congealed”. It’s the freestanding participle of rinnen whose meaning has congealed into a slightly different form. Blutgerinnsel = “blood clot”.
    Both geronnen “congealed” and Gerinnsel are forms of the prefixed verb gerinnen “to congeal”. Other prefixed forms of rinnen are zerrinnen “melt away”, entrinnen “escape” and verrinnen “trickle away”.

  48. A merging of two originally distinct Old English words (one cognate to German rinnen, the other to German rennen)

    Were there any peevers moaning about sloppy young people and their degenerate language? The distinctions, won’t somebody please think of the distinctions!

    Some other distinctions lost since Old English: melt was originally two different verbs meltan (intransitive) and gemæltan (transitive). Sink was originally intransitive only; the transitive was sench (sink is to sench as drink is to drench).

    That must be why Shakespeare invented so many words: he had to replenish the impoverished stock he’d inherited!

  49. Stu Clayton says

    @Hans: Both geronnen “congealed” and Gerinnsel are forms of the prefixed verb gerinnen “to congeal”.

    Aargh. I didn’t think hard enough about geronnen. I should have just noted the meaning not mentioned by David, and left it to others to explain its connections with the rest of reality.

    Other prefixed forms of rinnen are zerrinnen “melt away”, entrinnen “escape” and verrinnen “trickle away”

    Also Innensenatorinnen.

  50. more than you asked for

    Well, I’d noticed that the Swedish class 3 strong verbs are much more regular with their /I-A-U/ conjugation pattern, as in brinna/brann/brunnit, than their English counterparts.

  51. Regularity is not English’s strong (verb) suit.

  52. Stu Clayton says

    German “strong” verbs, like rinnen and erkiesen, are the irregular ones. So regularity is not German’s strong suit either.

  53. David Marjanović says


    For, presumably, some reason, the city/state governments of Berlin and Hamburg are called “senate”. Thus, there is a Senator of the Interior in each.

  54. Senat: That’s a tradition in several German city states. And from WP I see that Vienna has a Senate, too?

  55. John Cowan says

    Yes, but strong verbs are much closer to regularity outside English. In English, speaking of “strong verb classes” at all is purely historical. The relentlessly synchronic Puddleston divides them into four groups:

    1. Those with -t in the preterite and participle.

    2. Those with vowel changes.

    3. Those with -en in the participle (including the special cases be, do, show, go)

    4. The truly irregular, namely flee/fled, say/said, shoe/shod; hear/heard, sell/sold, tell/told; have/had, make/made, stand/stood; bring/brought, buy/bought, catch/caught, seek/sought, teach/taught, think/thought.

    There are only about 140 irregular roots altogether, and perhaps twice that many if you add in the roots with prefixes like understand and become.

  56. @David Marjanović, Hans: More sinisterly, the specific court that Judge President Roland Freisler presided over was the First Senate of the People’s Court. (I haven’t gone digging to find out what exactly that was in German though.)

  57. “Erster Senat des Volksgerichtshofs”
    Senat is a usual designation for subdivisions of courts in Germany. It was used before the Nazis and is still in use today.

  58. Stu Clayton says

    Senator Thomas Buddenbrook.

  59. David Marjanović says

    And from WP I see that Vienna has a Senate, too?

    The University of Vienna has one. The city/state government of Vienna is called Stadtrat “city council”, and so are its members if male (otherwise -rätin).

  60. David Marjanović says

    For German, the text says “between 200 and 300” without derivation, while this table in the same de.WP article counts 219 (plus some 3000 derivates). The numbers for Latin are remarkably similar.

  61. The Russian word is, unsurprisingly, нарвал [narval].

    But, and very surprisingly, the Russian word for ‘blubber,’ ворвань [vorvan′], is from ON. náhvalr!

  62. Trond Engen says

    That is surprising. It vaguely looks like assimilation-dissimilation, but it’s a weird outcome. Some sort of folk-etymology or contamination?

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