I found the section on Visigothic Spain in Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome a slog (for some reason, names like Chindasuinth, Recceswinth, and Wamba are hard for me to take seriously, and reading about their endless squabbles makes my eyelids droop — incidentally, you can get lists of all the Germanic rulers of Western Europe in this period, along with maps and mini-essays on related subjects, here), so I thought I’d take a look at a book I’d had sitting around for a couple of decades, Bernard F. Reilly’s The Medieval Spains, to get another perspective on it. I was manfully trying to disentangle the regions, names, and heresies when I hit this passage:

The reader will understand, of course, that to speak of the Visigoths, or any other society, as Christian here implies merely a formal and legal adhesion. It prescinds entirely from a judgment on the spiritual or intellectual character of any individual’s religious assent.

I immediately came to attention: it does what? I turned to the OED and found a perfectly good (if recondite) verb I had been unacquainted with:

prescind, v.

Etymology: < post-classical Latin praescindere to cut off, to shorten by cutting (4th or 5th cent.) < classical Latin prae- pre- prefix + scindere to cut (see scind v.).

1. trans. To cut off beforehand, prematurely, or abruptly; to remove, cut away.
1636 R. Basset tr. G. A. de Paoli Lives Rom. Emperors 20 The brevity of his reigne prescinded many and great hopes of his good government of the whole Empire.
1872 N. Amer. Rev. July 65 Mr. Buckle does not generally care to prescind matters. It is in his nature rather to affect the circumlocutory and vague.
1994 Buffalo (N.Y.) News (Nexis) 28 Nov. 3 If one were to prescind the whole of federal benefits that go to the poor, you’d come up with about $140 billion per year.
2004 National Rev. 56 1 The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court..granted conjugal rights to gays, and the bells tolled, as they did in San Francisco under the patronage of rump political leaders who sought to prescind the law on the question.

2. a. trans. To cut off, detach, or separate from; to abstract from.
1640 J. Sadler Masquarade du Ciel 7 Whether Art or Nature, Sense or Reason, could best separate, abstract, at least prescind, a Sprightly Genius from its Body.
1856 J. F. Ferrier Inst. Metaphysic (ed. 2) . 475 Nor have universal things prescinded from the particular any absolute existence.
1947 M. Lowry Under Volcano iv. 104 The Malebolge was the barranca, the ravine which wound through the country, narrow here—but its momentousness successfully prescinded their minds from the goat.
1996 Wisconsin State Jrnl. (Nexis) 27 July 7 a, Oftentimes it is necessary to prescind the work from the surrounding environment.

3. intr. a. To withdraw attention from; to leave out of consideration; to ignore, put to one side.
1654 T. White Apol. Rushworth’s Dialogues 249 Their very words directly tel him they on purpose resolv’d to prescind from her particular Case, and not determin any thing concerning It in that Decree.
1890 W. S. Lilly Right & Wrong 98 In what I am about to write I prescind entirely from all theological theories and religious symbols.
1977 Times 13 Aug. 14/3 The various denominations..are prescinding from their differences and attending only to those matters about which they are agreed.
2005 Cross Currents (Nexis) 22 Mar. 83 The methods of religious studies generally prescind from any commitment to a particular tradition or any personal self-involvement in a religious path.

b. prescinding from: apart from.
1686 J. Goad Astro-meteorologica i. ii. 6 The Air..must be defin’d, prescinding from all Admistions that are extraneous to it.
1941 Far Eastern Q. 1 87 Prescinding from this misleading treatment of the mission history, the author’s presentation of the Tokugawa Shogunate is most elucidating.
1990 B. Bergon Exploding Eng. (BNC) 145 The last of the Victorian sages, who were men of letters and of affairs, not academics (prescinding from Arnold’s and Ruskin’s marginal tenure of chairs at Oxford).

Although, examining the citations, I see I had not been entirely unacquainted with it, since I read (and loved) Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano years ago; its momentousness must have prescinded my mind from the word as the ravine’s did the characters’ from the goat.


  1. I love that word as well, and for whatever reason, when I could conceivably use it, I usually sit for a moment blocked, trying to think of the word, and then have to pick a less apt alternative because prescind doesn’t come to mind.

  2. David Marjanović says

    As the article says, Wamba was most likely a nickname, so to some extent not meant to be taken seriously.

  3. It’s also the name of a slave and fool (“Wamba son of Witless”) in Ivanhoe. ObLanguageHat quote:

    “The curse of St Withold upon these infernal porkers!” said the swine-herd [Gurth], after blowing his horn obstreperously, to collect together the scattered herd of swine, which, answering his call with notes equally melodious, made, however, no haste to remove themselves from the luxurious banquet of beech-mast and acorns on which they had fattened, or to forsake the marshy banks of the rivulet, where several of them, half plunged in mud, lay stretched at their ease, altogether regardless of the voice of their keeper.

    “The curse of St Withold upon them and upon me!” said Gurth; “if the two-legged wolf snap not up some of them ere nightfall, I am no true man. Here, Fangs! Fangs!” he ejaculated at the top of his voice to a ragged wolfish-looking dog, a sort of lurcher, half mastiff, half greyhound, which ran limping about as if with the purpose of seconding his master in collecting the refractory grunters; but which, in fact, from misapprehension of the swine-herd’s signals, ignorance of his own duty, or malice prepense, only drove them hither and thither, and increased the evil which he seemed to design to remedy.

    “A devil draw the teeth of him,” said Gurth, “and the mother of mischief confound the Ranger of the forest, that cuts the foreclaws off our dogs, and makes them unfit for their trade! Wamba, up and help me an thou be’st a man; take a turn round the back o’ the hill to gain the wind on them; and when thous’t got the weather-gage, thou mayst drive them before thee as gently as so many innocent lambs.”

    “Truly,” said Wamba, without stirring from the spot, “I have consulted my legs upon this matter, and they are altogether of opinion, that to carry my gay garments through these sloughs, would be an act of unfriendship to my sovereign person and royal wardrobe; wherefore, Gurth, I advise thee to call off Fangs, and leave the herd to their destiny, which, whether they meet with bands of travelling soldiers, or of outlaws, or of wandering pilgrims, can be little else than to be converted into Normans before morning, to thy no small ease and comfort.”

    “The swine turned Normans to my comfort!” quoth Gurth; “expound that to me, Wamba, for my brain is too dull, and my mind too vexed, to read riddles.”

    “Why, how call you those grunting brutes running about on their four legs?” demanded Wamba.

    “Swine, fool, swine,” said the herd, “every fool knows that.”

    “And swine is good Saxon,” said the Jester; “but how call you the sow when she is flayed, and drawn, and quartered, and hung up by the heels, like a traitor?”

    “Pork,” answered the swine-herd.

    “I am very glad every fool knows that too,” said Wamba, “and pork, I think, is good Norman-French; and so when the brute lives, and is in the charge of a Saxon slave, she goes by her Saxon name; but becomes a Norman, and is called pork, when she is carried to the Castle-hall to feast among the nobles; what dost thou think of this, friend Gurth, ha?”

    “It is but too true doctrine, friend Wamba, however it got into thy fool’s pate.”

    “Nay, I can tell you more,” said Wamba, in the same tone; “there is old Alderman Ox continues to hold his Saxon epithet, while he is under the charge of serfs and bondsmen such as thou, but becomes Beef, a fiery French gallant, when he arrives before the worshipful jaws that are destined to consume him. Mynheer Calf, too, becomes Monsieur de Veau in the like manner; he is Saxon when he requires tendance, and takes a Norman name when he becomes matter of enjoyment.”

    “Refractory grunters” is good.

  4. In Spain, everybody who was born before 1961 and studied at Secondary school had to learn the list of 33 Visigothic Kings of Spain. It was a nightmare for most of them. Fortunately my generation could prescind of this memory test.

  5. David Marjanović says

    *facepalm* German Wampe “big belly”.

    …Hey. We seem to have a native High German /p/ here. That’s really rare (except behind /s/)!

    the list of 33 Visigothic Kings of Spain

    “How can you become a good citizen if you don’t know the names of the three sons of Chilperic?!?”

  6. David Marjanović says

    Womb has to be a cognate, too. I’ll stop here, or I’ll sit here all night…

  7. >David Marjanovic
    I still think about Felipe as a prince. From 718 to our days we have had 143 kings in Spain, most of them before the existence of our country.
    As an anecdote, I had a children’s deck of card whose motif was the Visigothic Kings so I learnt some names but not in order. I don’t know anybody who has been baptized with those names.

  8. To me Chilperic is the surname of a Dorothy L. Sayers character. Never knew he was a king.

  9. The Italian author Luigi Bertelli used the pen-name Vamba, after the jester in Ivanhoe. His story Ciondolino, about a boy turned into an ant, has been a great favorite of mine since I was 9 or so.

  10. “Prescindere” is very common in Italian, and it would make my life easier as a translator if I could just use “prescind” all the time. But alas.

  11. Jeffry House says

    As a youth, I was made to learn the “kongerekke” or “Kings’ row” of Norway. There were two cheats: first, early Norse Kings were followed by their sons, so Magnus would often be followed by Magnusson. More importantly, during the period of Danish rule, King Christian was followed by King Frederik, followed by King Christian again, for fully four hundred years. While the Roman numerals were a bit off (Christian II might be followed by Frederick I) you could be sure that Christian III and Frederik II were next at the plate. And the alternating sequence continued till 1814.

    The Visigoths could have profited by this system, but did not. Thus, their kingdoms lie in ruins.

  12. “Prescindere” is very common in Italian

    That reminded me of a Spanish word still floating around in the recesses of my wordhoard from my time in Argentina: imprescindible ‘essential, indispensible’ (Nadie es imprescindible ‘Nobody is indispensible’). At last I know where it comes from!

  13. My dictionary tells me there’s also a verb prescindir de ‘to do without,’ but that seems to have left no trace in my memory.

  14. Wasn’t it de Gaulle who said something along the lines of “Les cimetières sont pleins de gens indispensables”?

  15. The Malebolge was the barranca, the ravine which wound through the country, narrow here—but its momentousness successfully prescinded their minds from the goat.

    What a sentence!

  16. Lowry was a wonderful writer.

  17. “As the article says, Wamba was most likely a nickname, so to some extent not meant to be taken seriously.”

    I wonder if Wembley was named after a Saxon with some form of that nickname.

  18. Apparently yes, per Wikipedia.

  19. Jeffry, you left off the punch line: that after Christian, Frederick, Christian, Frederick, Christian, Frederick, Christian, Frederick, Christian, Frederick, Christian, Frederick, the new king who broke the sequence was named Christian Frederick.

  20. Assuming that the British royal succession continues as expected, and that distinct regnal names have gone out of style, we’re at the start of a sequence of prime number monarchs: Elizabeth II, Charles III, William V and George VII.

  21. “Prescind from”. OK the words exist, but it’s a very lazy translation. If I didn’t get sacked for that, it would at least be “called to my attention”,.

  22. But who will be XI ? There’s never been a X of any of them. Lazar predicts the fall of the British monarchy. All hail Lazar, protector of the British republic – hang on, haven’t we been here before?

  23. @Jeffry — you will have noticed, I hope, that we have taken steps to rectify the numbering mishap. Barring unforeseen events, Margrethe II will be followed by Frederik X and then Christian XI. (But of course they won’t be Kings of Norway).

  24. David Marjanović says

    Assuming that the British royal succession continues as expected, and that distinct regnal names have gone out of style

    I once read they haven’t, and Prince Charles is going to be George VII already. No idea if there’s any truth to that.

  25. Yes, I never heard that distinct regnal names have gone out of style; when did that happen?

  26. David Marjanović says


    Oh – look at that, it says SVINθVS on one of his coins.

    That’s fascinating.

  27. Prince Charles Philip Arthur George is keeping his options open when it comes to regnal names, but George VII looks pretty likely; the last two Georges, his grandfather (born Albert) and his great-grandfather were popular. Charles III would associate him with some unfortunate events and people, and Philip is tied to some less than savory kings of France and Spain (if you’re English, that is). Arthur — well, can’t blame him for not being up for that.

  28. Oh – look at that, it says SVINθVS on one of his coins.

    And somebody isn’t very good at reading inscriptions; the legend says:

    +CN•SVINLVS PX, facing bust
    +ISPLLIS PIVS, facing bust.

    …but it’s clearly ISPALIS (=Hispalis, ‘Seville’), and of course SVINLVS should be SVINθVS; furthermore, I suspect CN should be CH (for CHinda).

  29. >”a book I’d had sitting around for a couple of decades”

    THIS. This nearly made me weep with recognition.

  30. People don’t understand. They say “If you haven’t looked at a book in a year, get rid of it!” They have no concept that a book is waiting to serve a purpose, and it may have to wait decades to do so. I still regret certain books that I got rid of years ago under the impression that I would never read them or want to look at them again, only to discover I had been wrong.

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