The Internet Surname Database says of the surname Threadgold:

This unusual and interesting name is of early medieval English origin, and derives from an occupational nickname for an embroiderer, specifically one who embroidered fine clothes with gold thread. The name derives from the Middle English “thred(en)”, to thread, from the Olde English pre 7th Century “thraed”, thread, with “gold”, gold. Occupational surnames were originally acquired by those who were employed in that specific occupation, but later became hereditary. The development of the surname include Walterus Tredegold (1273, Kent), Robert Dredegold (1328, Somerset), Edmund Thredgall (1674, Suffolk), Daniel Thredkill (ibid.), and John Thridgale (1681, Suffolk). The modern surname has forms ranging from Threadgold, Threadgould, Threadgill and Threadgall to Threadkell, Tridgould and Tre(a)dgold.

And thus we learn that one of my favorite Byzantine historians, Warren Treadgold, and one of my favorite jazz musicians, Henry Threadgill, have what is originally the same family name.


  1. And Peter Trudgill, I presume?

  2. Presumably!

  3. J.W. Brewer says

    “Trudgill” is perhaps the past tense, so a surname derived from retired members of the occupation?

  4. Stu Clayton says

    Jack and Jill trudged up the hill
    To fetch a pail of water.
    Jack fell down and broke his crown
    And Jill came trudgilling after.

  5. David Marjanović says

    Threadgold, cutthroat, all the same for a grammarian. At breakneck speed!

  6. I wonder if there were specific words for someone who embroidered fine clothes with gold thread in other languages, or if this is purely an English thing.

  7. (I mean, obviously there were people who did that, I’m just wondering about the lexical aspect.)

  8. For the typology of the surname, perhaps consider Abraham Goldfaden (who brought us the word schmendrick).

  9. Looks like a likely parallel!

  10. Stu Clayton says

    Schmendrick (שמענדריק) is Yiddish for an ineffectual, foolish, or contemptible person (OED), and may refer to: Shmendrik oder Die komishe Chaseneh (Schmendrik or The Comical Wedding), an 1877 play by Abraham Goldfaden.

    Schmendrick the Magician, wizard from the fantasy novel The Last Unicorn.

    Anybody remember that “animated fantasy film” ?

  11. I didn’t know that Schmendrick’s name (from The Last Unicorn) was this literal. I recommend reading the book also, but the film is also good. Some friends of mine translated it into Bulgarian in (checking) 2006.

  12. David Marjanović says

    To me, Goldfaden looks like just another surname Jews had to pay for. This one may have been in the upper middle price range: still gold, but a tiny amount of it.

  13. jack morava says

    Along with `The Last Unicorn’ I recall `The Secret of NIMH’, not to mention Fritz the Cat… There’s also `I See by my Outfit’, though a book rather than a film…

  14. John Cowan says

    The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland agrees that Trudgill is a variant of Threadgold. (h/t ancestry.{com,}) So Peter’s name is indeed /ˈtrʌdgɪl/.

  15. “In other languages”

    I know золотошвей/я.

    And I spotted Guldstickere/Guldstickerska in old Swedish dictionary…
    This (feminine agent noun suffix ) -ska is curiously similar to Slavic -ka. I wonder if there was any interaction with Slavic.

    By the way, it seems in recent years (as I was not watching) Western feminist fashions reached Russia, so now we have режиссёрка, contrary to the usual pattern where -erka are names of things (while -istka are names of people).

    I would support already existing -sha forms but not this.

  16. Western feminist fashions reached Russia

    I’ve learned about it only recently (not being personally able to breathe in the smoke of the fatherland is sometimes sweet as well) and got very surprised. Modern American thinking is that special feminizing suffixes ought to be dropped, “actress” should become gender neutral “actor”. Unless I am insufficiently breathing in the smoke of my new fatherland and things has changed since my latest inhalation.


    Right, but there isno surname based on this word. At least it is very rare.

  17. @languagehat: Translations of Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester might be a good place to look for translations. The English word does not appear in the story, but the title character is the right kind of artisan.

    @Stu Clayton: Of course I remember Schmendrick the wizard! One of my younger brothers was obsessed with the cartoon of The Last Unicorn for a while. I own it, and I just watched it recently, in honor of Alan Arkin’s passing. Like the cartoon of The Hobbit, the film of The Last Unicorn was made by Rankin-Bass, and while both films have a lot of stuff left out compared with the books, that was inevitable. Both of the films were clearly made by people who had a deep appreciation for the books as fantasy masterpieces. They have strong scripts, keeping a lot of the unique voices of the books; first-rate voice acting talent;* and animation done by Japanese artists from Topcraft, many of whom went on to work at Studio Ghibli a few years later.

    @jack morava: On the other hand, while The Secret of NIMH has a lot of wonderful moments, it totally blows the ending by inserting magic into story that, while clearly fantasy, has not featured an magic up to that point. The novel, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, is not as dark as Watership Down, but they are in similar veins. (They were also published just a year apart, which is probably just coincidence.)

    * Supposedly, up until their deaths, Angela Lansbury and Christopher Lee both wanted right of refusal for reprising their roles as the villains, if a life action version of The Last Unicorn was ever made. Lee, in particular, was a huge fan of the book (Peter S. Beagle wrote an admiring obituary for Lee), and apparently showed up for rehearsals with a heavily annotated copy, having marked many of King Haggard’s that he felt should definitely be in the script. (And is there any actor who has ever played as many different kinds of evil wizards as Christopher Lee did? Dracula, Saruman, King Haggard, Lord Summerisle, Darth Tyrannus… and plenty of others less iconic.)

  18. PlasticPaddy says

    Mandrake, Schmendrake!

  19. D.O. I was not surprised. It is possible to support gender neutral language whenever a langauge has gender (but not in languages with sexism without gender)), but it is unlikely that a Russian speaker will want to abandon grammatical gender based on ideological grounds.

    Meanwhile Russian is full of recent loans whose feminine form is colloquial. When both forms are common, e.g. -ель /-ельница there is a perception that (capitalised) Real Teacher must be masculine even if it refers to a woman.
    I think -ka is used for this purpose in South Slavic.

  20. January First-of-May says

    is that special feminizing suffixes ought to be dropped

    IMHO dropping feminizing suffixes only works as truly gender neutral if the normal masculine form also has a suffix (or at least a different one from the result). Otherwise it’s just treating the masculine form as if it was gender neutral, which (in my not-very-culturally-steeped opinion) is surely not feminist.

    So, theoretically, if there was a word “bazor” meaning “one who bazes”, feminine “bazoress”, masculine “bazoren” or something. IIRC some conlangs work like that, but offhand I can’t think of a natlang example (though surely they exist).
    Something that’s more of a plausible natlang thing is (with the same example root) masculine “bazer”, feminine “bazess”, neutral “bazen” or something, where all three forms use additional morphemes. (Spanish tries to use -o/-a/-e, respectively, but AFAIK the last option is a fairly recent coinage.)

    I do enjoy the ingenuity of (colloquial) Russian балерун “male ballerine”. (If there’s an English word for this I don’t recall it offhand.) I think there’s a few others like that…

  21. A couple of the variant spellings listed–Threadkill and Thredkell for example–put me in mind of another surname, Threlkeld. (there was a well known journalist Richard Threlkeld).
    Wikipedia gives a rather different etymology for this (to me) similar sounding name.
    “The name is of Norse origin and is a combination of thraell, meaning slave or serf, and kelda, meaning a spring or well.”


    “Madame la ministre s’il vous plaît, l’a-t-elle coupée. Permettez-moi de vous dire que lorsque M. Aubert dit ‘Mme le président’, on peut en penser ce que l’on veut mais c’est conforme à la langue française. Lorsque vous dites “M. la rapporteur”, c’est une provocation et je ne veux pas la laisser passer.”

  23. David Marjanović says

    Modern American thinking is that special feminizing suffixes ought to be dropped, “actress” should become gender neutral “actor”.

    That works* in languages where such forms are the exception, but not where they’re the rule like French and German. There, the idea is Frauen sichtbar machen “to make women visible”.

    * On the surface at least. There was once a study that found the first reaction of native English speakers to sentences like The surgeon prepared herself for the operation is the same as to a grammatically incorrect one.

  24. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Standard Danish does not have masculine and feminine genders since 500 years ago or so, and it doesn’t feel like words like læge or betjent are masculine-as-default. (For those two words, there is no serious “feminine” form except by preposing kvindelig).

    There used to be a suffix -inde which could be tacked on to almost any occupational noun, though for euphonic reasons it fits very badly on læge [lɛ:]. These days you will only find it in words like grevinde and hertuginde. (Des, come back! I’ll send you some juicy prinsessor from Billedbladet [“Danmarks royale ugeblad”]!)

    Also for occupations in -er, the feminine version was sometimes in -erske. (Syerske, but lærerinde. I think it depends on when women started being accepted into the job. A skrædder = ‘tailor’ was a man, a syerske = ‘seamstress’ was a woman. I don’t think there even was a single word for a [male] seamster, and I’m not sure if that’s a real word in English either).

    But these are not used any longer either. The exception is sygeplejerske = ‘nurse’ because there was a more menial (and unisex) job called sygeplejer that they didn’t want to be conflated with.

    Of course there used to be an assumption that plumbers, brick layers, truck drivers and so on were men, so just dropping the suffixes did not make a job ad gender neutral. For a few years the use of M/K was widespread, and it may still be mandated by law. But my impression is that women feel free to apply to any job these days, and the law only gets involved if there is an actual gender bias in the selection process.

    (Danish, having proper reflexive pronouns, is a bit shielded from examples like David’s. Kirurgen forberedte sig på operationen does not reveal the surgeon’s gender. You have to interpose a different grammatical subject and I don’t know if that can get the same reaction: Kirurgens chef forberedte hende på operationen).

  25. “The exception is sygeplejerske = ‘nurse’ ”

    Marked as exceptional for Swedish:

    -erska c

    making a female agent noun (role or profession) from a verb, e.g. sköta (“to care for, to nurse”) → sköterska (“a nurse”)
    Usage notes
    In recent decades, sköterska is used for care takers of both genders, just like some male titles apply to women. This generally accepted policy in Sweden is the opposite of that in Germany, where different -er/-in titles are created for each profession.


  26. A skrædder = ‘tailor’ was a man, a syerske = ‘seamstress’ was a woman. I don’t think there even was a single word for a [male] seamster, and I’m not sure if that’s a real word in English either).

    Same here.
    портной tailor швея seamstress.
    As far as I know “швей” is limited to “золотошвей”.

    There is “швец”, known from a certain rhyme, but I never heard it used for a male seamster (but if there are any male seamsters, perhpaps that’s how they call them, I don’t know).

    There were Soviet profession names like швея-мотористка lit. “motorist seamstress” (as opposed to швея-ручница) but I don’t know if there was/is a male variant.

  27. What is the origin of this Danish -a Swedish -e in -ske/-ska?

    -e and -a are either gender markers or are associated with feminine gender in French and various IE languages respectively, but I don’t understand them in North Germanic :/

    (feminine/neuter weak declension -a nominative in Old Norse?)

  28. Otherwise it’s just treating the masculine form as if it was gender neutral, which (in my not-very-culturally-steeped opinion) is surely not feminist.

    I don’t know. There is an inherent tension between “make women wear pants” and “increase prestige of skirts” (two other options are “devise an unisex/androgynous outfit” and now also “we can have more genders than just two”).
    Gender neutral masculine is in line with the former, and the former idea was popular when all new toys were found in hands of men – and remains the mainstream, I think, among ordinary people.

    But also importanly, it is language. Maybe a feminist may think anything about language.
    I would not claim that it grammatical gender does not affect our thinking, but this influence must be studied and understood…. (we understand that it – I mean the class of words in question, not gender per se – reflects our former thinking).

    There is a concept of “respect to women” from what we imagine as “traditionalist” culture (I don’t know how old this phrase and if it existed among 19th century nobilty which is in many ways the source of what we imagine as tradition – but I heard it from Russians in Russian and even from Arabs in English, when those were objecting to the western image of Arab gender roles)).

    There is a tendention to see masculine forms as more respectful, and feminine as “unserious”.

    There is modern feminism.

    I can’t call all of them feminism (unless feminism strives for comfortable life of women in segregated and restrictive society – in which case I would want to know its position on restrictions: do not restrictions (e.g. limited access to education) decreace comfort too? If so, don’t any restrictions do that?). If I call all of them “some random ideologies”, then I can find myself hostile to modern feminism (if it is limited to its methods and people and disattached from the idea of equality, women’s rights etc.).
    I can’t call modern feminism just “feminism” as well, because it is arbitrary – movements for rights of women elsewhere have different goals, different methods and deal with different issues.

    Now the question is how I should classify the second position (“feminine sounds unserious”), and I don’t know. I disagree with it:) And I don’t even value seriousness.

    Also (speaking about the confusion with defining feminism) I know what I want. I want a person to be happy (would be silly not to mention it, becasue people want it:)), free from pressure and realise her talents/inclinations.

  29. Trond Engen says

    drasvi: What is the origin of this Danish -a Swedish -e in -ske/-ska?

    You mean “Danish-e Swedish-a”. Danish reduced all unstressed suffix vowels to e early while Swedish have kept them to this day.

    You are right that it’s the inherited feminine ending, in this case presumably from the weak (definite) adjective declension, though that’s not all straightforward. -sk(a) is the same old suffix of association that is used to form adjectives of nationality. I think it first applied to the wife of a craftsman (skrädderskan = “the one (f.) of the tailor”) but soon came to be used for female professionals, maybe through widows continuing a business after the death of their husband. I think the indefinite forms ending in a vowel must have been backformed.

    The first use is -skan added to a surname in the meaning “Mrs.” is mirrored (or preserved?) in (very, I’m told) colloquial early 20th C. Swedish, most famously in the 1950 “folk comedy” Anderssonskans Kalle “Mrs. Andersson’s Charlie”.

    (No access to any literature right now, so more than the usual caution is advised.)

  30. Yes, dansk[<r?] -e svenska -a (languages for some reason are -a in swedish but not in Norwegian/Danish).

    No, I mean not inheritedness, just parallels in languages found around Germanic, where feminine is -e/-a.

    Can it be traced all the way down to old weak declension? Is it the same as modern definite -a as in grønne/grøne/gröna?

    If it is it is less than expected, I wonder if contact with Romance or Slavic has to do with it.

  31. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    What Trond said, basically. ODS tells me that -ske is a loan from MLG, where it was a (feminine) substantivization of -sch. I don’t know if it was adopted early enough to join the feminine gender as such, but in Swedish it’s clearly in the noun class where the old feminines are. (Kyrka, pl. kyrkor and so on).

    And yes, Swedish still distinguishes in names of nationalities formed in -sk: En dansk/danskar is male or mixed, while en danska/danskor is female. (Both common gender in the standard, though I don’t doubt that there are dialects that retain a feminine). You’d think Danish would have *en svenske for a Swedish lady, but no. Danish has no heuristics about the sex of the referents of nouns of different shape. If Sw danska for the language is short for det danska språket, it may absolutely be a remnant of grammatical gender concord.

    The weak declension is not “old,” it’s very much alive: ett stort hus vs det stora huset. I don’t know why and when Swedish generalized -a there, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the feminine gender. AFAIR, the weak declension was different between adjective classes in ON (though always simpler than the strong), but there are only so many full vowels to pick if you only want one (and a and e are very popular in Swedish).

  32. @Lars, thank you. So MLG:/ By “old” I meant exactly old weak declension with cases and genders: Old Norse has -a in weak feminine nominative.

    We say datchanka, norvezhka, shvedka* “a female Dane/Norwegian/Swede” in Russian, so it’s an interesting feeling, when you see this -ska in Swedish.

    * As I said elsewhere, words like iordanka or tuniska are funny: I never hear them (the weird things about Arabs is that Europeans imagine them as male…. or the weird thing about Europeans) so they sound like a name for a Tunisian garment and Jordanian dance.

    And generally, this sensation of forming a name (noun) naturally, following an intutive model, not for a new concept but for a well known concept as “a resident of a country popular among tourists” and realising after uttering it that you never ever heard it and that it sounds strange to your surpise is funny.

  33. Trond Engen says

    Thanks. I should have remembered the origin in L.G., which is especially natural in words related to trades.

    One word where this suffix is used broader is menneske “human”. It has been regularized to either neuter or feminine in different Scandinavian languages, but it always denotes humans of all sexes. Nynorsk distinguishes menneske n. “individual of the human species” from menneskje f. “humankind”.

  34. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Swedish människa is weird because -sk- is palatalized; it’s the only word where that happens before -a, so I guess it’s a conflation of människe and människa. (Also the -i- is elided: /mɛnʃɑ/, while Danish* keeps it trisyllabic. The second syllable may be assimilated into a syllabic n or just length on the first syllable coda, but it’s clearly there. [Phonemically, consonants don’t have length in Danish; phonetical length will often represent following phonemic syllable]).

    It’s utrum in Swedish, but neuter in Danish. Et menneske is an individual, humankind is menneskeheden but can also be mennesket in gnomic utterances. Mundus vult decipi is most closely expressed as mennesket vil bedrages.
    (*) I don’t presume to be oracular about Norwegian since I’ve never learnt it.

  35. John Evans says

    Here’s a link to an article about the use of interview transcripts to produce a recent Threadgill autobiography:

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