Christian and Related Terms Used in Interlinear Glosses in the Old English Period

by Michiko Ogura (Author)
©2022 Monographs 1094 Pages


This monograph presents Old English renderings of Christian words found in interlinear glosses, especially the Gospels and the Psalter glosses. Nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs in biblical contexts are included through dialectal (Northumbrian, Mercian, and West Saxon) diachronic (early and late West Saxon) and idiolectal (i.e. scribal) comparison. By using interlinear glosses, the correspondence between the original Latin word and the Old English rendering can be recognised more clearly than in ordinary prose, and at the same time, a flexible choice of renderings can be seen in some contexts. The author tries to show which Old English words were chosen as renderings, while some Latin words were accepted without translation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 MacGillivray (1902) and Wiesenekker (1991)
  • 1.1. MacGillivray (1902)
  • 1.2. Wiesenekker (1991)
  • Chapter 2 Terms for Lord, God and Christ
  • 2.1. Findings So Far
  • 2.2. God
  • 2.3. Drihten, hlaford, hælend
  • 2.4. Crist, hælend
  • 2.5. Summary
  • Chapter 3 Major Christian Terms Found in Interlinear Glosses
  • 3.1. Disciples
  • 3.2. Devils and Angels
  • 3.3. Bishop, Priest, and Ealdorman
  • 3.4. Church
  • 3.5. Baptism, Baptise
  • 3.6. Mercy
  • 3.7. Soul and Spirit
  • 3.8. Sacrifice
  • 3.9. Sin and Guilt
  • 3.10. Might and Main
  • 3.11. Bliss and Bless
  • 3.12. Wise or Unwise
  • 3.13. Deepness
  • 3.14. Tabernacle
  • 3.15. Pride
  • 3.16. Word and Speech
  • 3.17. Evil
  • 3.18. Reproach
  • 3.19. People
  • 3.20. Refuge
  • 3.21. Manna
  • 3.22. Shame
  • 3.23. Sing, Song
  • 3.24. Let loose
  • 3.25. On weg adrifan
  • Chapter 4 Lexicalisation of ‘Christian’ Expressions
  • 4.1. Early Old English
  • 4.2. Cædmon’s Hymn
  • 4.3. More examples from Bede
  • 4.4. Genesis
  • 4.5. Poems
  • 4.6. Late Old English
  • Chapter 5 Miscellanies
  • 5.1. Ceder
  • 5.2. Næddre, etc.
  • 5.3. Gim
  • 5.4. Preposition + Noun
  • Conclusion
  • Select Bibliography
  • Index of Examples
  • Appendices
  • Appendix A Tables
  • Appendix B Variants of Christian and Related Terms in the Gospels
  • Appendix C Variants of Christian and Related Terms in the Psalter Glosses
  • Series Index

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This research limits itself in two ways: (1) Old English renderings of Christian words (2) in interlinear glosses. Native words tend to have Christian meanings metaphorically, as long as the theme and the scribe are Christian. Without defining the term ‘Christian,’ I examine words and expressions used regularly and frequently in the text and context, so that I may note exclude delicate shades of meaning. Interlinear glosses are considered basically literal, but the Lindisfarne version often shows glosses independent from the original word and the Lambeth Psalter is famous for double and triple glosses with possible interpretations. To identify which rendering corresponds to which original word is the most reliable way of lexical investigation, and it would be suggestive if the correspondence is not one-to-one but multiple and complicated.

The Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edition (OED3), is now updated at a regular pace, with detailed etymological explanations and research results, and the Dictionary of Old English, Web Corpus (DOEC) is indispensable for lexicological research. I have collected my own data for half a century and made corrections consulting these dictionaries. I always thank the DOE staff for answering my questions, especially Editor Emerita Antonette dePaolo Healey. I dedicate this monograph to Yoshio Terasawa, Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo, who invited me to the medieval world fifty years ago and led me to the real way of philological studies.

Summer 2021
Michiko Ogura

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In general, it is difficult to define words semantically, because the meaning comes from each context. When two different languages correspond each other as the original and its rendering, the meaning of the original word can be defined and interpreted to the people who need the translation, even though the definition cannot be precise. Interlinear glosses in the Old English period give us modern people some hints of finding how to reach the meaning of each word through the interpretation of the Latin original.

When we study Old English starting from poetry, we will inevitably face the problem of Christianisation of the Anglo-Saxon verse. We remember the days of fights between academics, maintaining the Christian-basis on the one hand and the Germanic-basis on the other, which have never met a perfect happy ending. Most prose texts are biblical or homiletic pieces, and the words used in these texts are quite likely to attain Christian meanings. Texts of law, medicine, charters, etc., use different senses from ordinary prose.

I choose interlinear glosses as my database to show which words are used as renderings of Latin, whether these words present one-to-one correspondence or multiple relationship, or whether they are the set of words different from other texts, or the like. The aim of this study is to clarify the influence of Christianity on Anglo-Saxon culture through the choice of renderings.

As renderings there are three ways of choosing words: Latin as they are, Anglo-Saxon words, and both Latin and Anglo-Saxon. Biscop is a good example of the first type, as the word was borrowed at a very early stage. God is a typical example of the second, since it is a native word chosen in the process of conceptual borrowing. Discipul and þegn are the third type that shows multiple relationship of the two languages, as þegn can be used in a wider sense of ‘servant.’ When interlinear glosses are examined, it often happens that many Anglo-Saxon synonyms are chosen as renderings of one particular Lain word. Moreover, multiple renderings can be used for more than two Latin words; for example, generatio(n-) and natio(n-) can be rendered by mægð and þeod.

Some Latin words were already borrowed into Old English: altar (OE alter), apostle (OE apostol), archbishop (OE arcebiscop), hymn (OE ymen), mass, martyr, monk (OE munuc), Paradise (OE paradis), passion, priest (OE preost), psalm (OE (p)sealm), psalter (OE (p)saltere), etc. Some words were used in abbreviation, like S. and bisc.1 Many more came in after the transitional period and in the Middle English period: (years are those of the first quotation of each word in the OED) c1315 ascension, 1297 baptise, 1377 baptism, a1300 (c1250) Christianity, c1390 creation, 1275 cross, c1320 crucify, 1649 crucifixion, c1275 (? a1200) hermit,? c1225 (? a1200) heresy, 1340 innocence, a1340 innocent, a1225 (c1200) ministry, a1425 monastery, c1440 pagan, c1300 resurrection, 13.. sacred, c1175 saint, a1250 (? a1200) trinity, etc. This means that the Anglo-Saxons were never satisfied with just adapting Latin words and, even after choosing Old English words, they kept some Latin words among the renderings.←11 | 12→

As Old English has numbers of synonyms in verbs as well as nouns and adjectives, one of the notable features of my investigation is to include verb synonyms. For instance, exultare, gaudere, iubilare, etc. were translated by blissian, dryman, (ge)feon, gladian, hyhtan, winsumian, etc., sometimes rigidly but often overlappingly. Many people have an image that Old English poems express sadness or strong emotion of lamentation, while biblical texts emphasise comfort or heavenly joy. Verb synonyms found in interlinear glosses in my data show the choices peculiar to each version as well as common contextual uses. I exemplify the actual choices of such synonyms by comparing the same context of several versions.

This pure philological survey may reveal not only the choice of the renderings common to most glosses but also the peculiarity of each manuscript. Words or phrases used as renderings are mostly ordinary ones of that particular period of time, because the meaning should be understood and shared by a certain number of people. There are slight differences in the choices of renderings in the Gospels and the Psalter, which may be based on the differences of contexts and scribes. These subtle differences are exemplified through numbers of examples in comparison with the same or similar contexts in multiple versions. Some findings are, I hope, new to this field of study.

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Chapter 1 MacGillivray (1902) and Wiesenekker (1991)

It is always difficult to define how “Christian” the meaning of a particular word is. Hlaford, for instance, is mostly used in the sense of ‘the Lord,’ but in some contexts it can be ‘a master’ or ‘a lord.’ It is not effective to exclude examples of the non-Christian meaning from the whole occurrence of the word. What is necessary to examine is which word can be selected, if not always, as a Christian term.

Cura Pastoralis, Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, Gregory’s Dialogues, and some homilies have many words of Christian meanings, which are quite likely to identify the original Latin terms. In this investigation, however, the data is restricted to interlinear glosses, in which the Latin–Anglo-Saxon correspondence is unavoidable. This does not mean that the renderings are always as reliable as appropriate translation of the Latin original, but the one-to-one or one-to-a few correspondences may reflect some regulation in the choice of words, compounds and phrases used as renderings. The comparison between the glosses and the ordinary prose can further be considered based on this research.

1.1. MacGillivray (1902)

Pure philological studies left reliable results in previous centuries. MacGillivray (1902) is a pioneer piece of work in this field, with full of examples and notable suggestions about the different choice of renderings according to the schools of Christian religion. As I mentioned in Ogura (2017: 81, fn. 1), the new version of this work, published in 2012, looks quite different from the first edition and unfortunately unreadable. I refer, therefore, to the first edition through this research. According to the list given by MacGillivray (1902: 148–158), elements in frequent use are:

A:The Foreign Element: cirice, deofol, biscop, munuc, mynster, preost, etc.

B:The Native Element: original material, but influenced by Christianity: ældo-mann (pharisaeus), ða aldo, ældo (pharisaei, seniors), aldra (senior, pharisaeus), andettere, ondettere (confessor), ærendwraca (apostolus), boda (propheta), cniht (discipulus), cyðere (martyr), cynna (gentiles), ðegn (discipulus), ðeoda (gentiles), ðingere (priest), ðrowere (priest), ðrowung (passio), eadig (beatus – properly ‘wealthy’), eald-fæder (patriarcha), eald-wita (presbyter; senior), ge-ferrædenn (congregatio, ecclesia; congregatio monasterii), folgere (discipulus), fostring (discipulus), (ge-)gadering (congregatio, ecclesia; congregatio monasterii synagoga), gastlic (spirituals), gingra (discipulus), hæl (salus; salvatio), heah-fæder (patriarcha; archimandrita; pater excelsus, Deus), hieremonn, hyrigmonn (discipulus; parochianus), hirde (pastor), (ge-)laðung (ecclesia), leornere (discipulus), lioda (gentiles), ge-sælig (beatus – properly ‘fortunate’), (ge-)somnung (ecclesia), songere (cantor, precentor), uðwuta (pharisaeus; scriba), under-ðeodda (discipulus), etc.

C:New Formations, a) Native: godspell (evangelium), halig (sanctus), hæðen (paganus); fulwian, fullian (baptizare), haligdom (sanctitas; sacramentum, etc.), lar-cneht (discipulus), learning-cniht (discipulus), tungol-witga (astrologus), etc.←13 | 14→

The presentation of Latin words in brackets in the list is helpful, especially when multiple relationships are illustrated, because I confine myself to choose the words and elements used in interlinear glosses. Sometimes we need comments; for example, eadig is chosen as a rendering of beatus, but gesælig does not appear in interlinear glosses I use here in this study but occurs as a rendering of felix and fortunatus2, although they are both treated as native words influenced by Christianity.

1.2. Wiesenekker (1991)

Studies of psalter glosses have been made in the fields of paleography and dialectology. As the subtitle of Wiesenekker (1991) reads, he focuses on the “translation performance in the Old English interlinear glosses of the Vespasian, Regius and Lambeth Psalters.” His choice of the three glosses is quite appropriate; Vespasian is the earliest Mercian gloss, Regius the earliest West Saxon gloss, and Lambeth a unique, late West Saxon gloss including many Winchester words.3 Wiesenekker starts his Chapter 3 (Research in psalter glosses) by quoting Lindelӧf (1904):

Lindelӧf was one of the first to point out the close relationship between the Vespasian (A), Junius (B), and Cambridge (C) psalter-glosses (with A as the nucleus). And the important part played by the Regius (D) psalter-gloss, as the principal source for nearly all 11th and 12th century interlinear translations in Gallican psalters Stowe (F), Vitellius (G), Tiberius (H), Arundel (J) and Salisbury (K), and the independent position of the interlinear translation in Lambeth (I).4

In Chapter 4 he makes comparison of A, D and I using Psalm 21 (pp. 21–34) to illustrate the “working methods of their glossators” (p. 21). In the following chapters he uses other glosses with the three to show the lexical-semantic comparison. In my study I use 12 psalter glosses (from PsGlA to PsGlL). Based on Roberts (2017: 39) and dates on Ker (1957, 1977), here I give a table of the psalter glosses I have examined.

DOE abbreviation


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (August)
Old English interlinear glosses Christian terms renderings lexical comparison
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 1094 pp., 17 tables.

Biographical notes

Michiko Ogura (Author)

Michiko Ogura is professor emeritus, Chiba University, Japan. Her special field of study is Old and Middle English syntax and word study. Her noteworthy publications include Verbs in Medieval English (1996), Verbs of Motion in Medieval English (2002), and Periphrases in Medieval English (2018).


Title: Christian and Related Terms Used in Interlinear Glosses in the Old English Period
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