Old English Electricity

By Timothy Patrick Snyder

Old English is a fantastic language.  There is a large selection of literature, with poetry and prose, we have an Old English lexicon that includes several thousand words (although spelling and dialectal variants also take up a decent amount of entries).  There is definitely enough in the lexicon to speak it and compose new literature.  

However, new concepts and inventions could make daily speaking difficult. That’s where neologisms can fill in the lexical gaps.  Some may just be a newly minted meaning to an old word, which is not an uncommon practice in modern languages.  Some may even just require new endings to existing words.  Others maybe be conceptual compounds that combine to make a new meaning. In languages such as Old English, compounding was already common practice, so this can actually feel more authentic.  Although I use from all three of these styles for new Old English words.

Someone might ask why I just use loan words.  That’s a legitimate way to introduce new words. Even the Anglo-Saxons were known to borrow a few words from Latin (like planeta).  It’s true, and one can borrow words, but loanwords lose a bit of the original linguistic flavor.  However I see no reason not to have them, or both a neologisms and loanword.  Some words perhaps should only be loanwords, like some animals or plants, and obviously brand names.

For this article, I’d like to introduce terms related to something we use every day in the modern world but didn’t exist to the Anglo-Saxons, and that’s electricity.   Electricity is a necessary part of our lives and powers our world.  Its usage has lead to millions of new inventions which many of us cannot live without.

I present three terms for electricity, with a fourth as a shortened form of two of them.  The first approach I took to this was to determine the origin of electricity.  The word is rooted in Latin electrum amber, and the new word electricus like amber, was coined by William Gilbert in 1600.  This was then loaned into various languages, including English.  http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=electric&allowed_in_frame=0

With that in mind, I present glærlīcnes electricity and glærlīc electrical, electronic derived from glær amber.  It’s a pretty straightforward neologism.

The next two are compounds which have their own logic.  The first is spearcstrēam electricity, which is a compound of spearca spark and strēam stream, current.  The adjective to match this term would be spearcstrīme electrical, electronic. In the same vein is the word līgetstrēam, which is a mix of līget lightning and strēam stream, yielding the adjective līgetstrīme electrical.  These also can double as meaning electrical current.  This leads to the most obvious short form strēam electricity and strīme electrical, which also corresponds to the German word Strom, which can mean electricity, power, stream, current, etc.

My primary source was the Bosworth-Toller Dictionary, which can be found digitally at http://www.bosworthtoller.com/ .  

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