Thursday, 6 March 2008

English and ankle

I'm a bit skeptical that the Angles were so called because they were from an area of land shaped like a fishing hook, but this theory is generally accepted. The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots says in the entry for ank-

ENGLAND, from Old English Englaland, "land of the Angles," from Engle, the Angles (< the shape of their original homeland, the Angul district of Schleswig)

The OED says of Angle

one of a LG. tribe that settled in Britain. XVIII. - L. Anglus, pl. Anglī, in Tacitus Angliī - Germ. *Aŋgli- (whence OE. Engle; cf. ENGLISH) the people of Angul district of Slesvig so called from its shape (mod. Angeln), the same word as ANGLE1.

ANGLE1 is "fishing hook".

The Proto-Indo-European root is *h₂enk- "to bend". The suffixed form *h₂enk-ula- (I assume with no stress on the initial syllable) became Proto-Germanic *anǥ-ul- becoming both angle "fishing hook, to fish" and Angle, England, English (AHD). Wordorigins has more.

The variant *h₂eng- became ankle from Old English anclēow and Old Norse *ankula "ankle", both from Proto-Germanic *ankulaz (AHD).

The other angle, "figure formed by two lines diverging from a common point," is from Latin angulus "angle, corner", also from *h₂eng-.

My question is: how did the Angles know their peninsula was shaped like a fish hook? Is it even shaped like a fish hook? (Angeln is to the right of the G of Schleswig.) There is an alternate theory: Angle might be from *h₂enǵh- "tight", as in German eng, Frisian ing "narrow" - since it is a peninsula. On the other hand, I'm not about to argue with the OED without more evidence.

Other cognates include Greek ἄγκυρα (as in anchor), and Old Church Slavonic ѫкотъ ǫkotǔ "hook", which uses one of those cool obsolete Cyrillic letters.


Kris said...

Hi, I've been enjoying your blog for quite a while now. Anyways, as for Angeln, is usually taken by people in Schleswig-Holstein to refer to the part between two inlets of the Baltic Sea, the Flensburger Förde and the Schleswiger Schlei. Perhaps that was somehow reminiscent of a hook? But nevertheless, sea-faring people were usually quite keenly aware of how their shores were shaped, so I wouldn't be surprised if that's how Angeln got its name...

goofy said...

Here's another map of the area between the Flensburger Förde and the Schleswiger Schlei. The tip is hook-shaped.

David Marjanović said...

BTW, German Angel refers to the fishing pole, not to the hook, which is Angelhaken. Just to contribute an example of a small but rather counterintuitive semantic shift.