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“Aluen swiðe sceone”: How Long Did OE ælfen/elfen Survive in ME?

“Aluen swiðe sceone”: How Long Did OE ælfen/elfen Survive in ME? English Language Notes Volume XLI ♦ Number 1 ♦ September 2003 “ALUEN SWldE SCEONE”: HOW LONG DID OE AELFEN/ELFENSURVIVE IN ME? The MED lists a word elve(n) that it defines as “An elf or fairy (of either sex).” The corresponding entry in the OED is for elven, defined as “Originally, a female elf, but in later use applied to both sexes.” Both dictionaries refer the word to OE celfen/elfen ‘female elf’, which is attested in the plural form aelfinniglossing nympha and as both singular and plural in compounds.1 Both cite their earliest ME examples from Layamon’s Brut. The latest citation in the OEDE from Guy of Warwick, dated “c. 1314,” but the MED carries its citations down to the latter half of the fif­ teenth century. On closer examination, however, Layamon emerges as the only ME writer who clearly used the OE word and the evidence that it was ever extended to both sexes appears doubtful at best. All the other supposed examples can be explained as variants of the much commoner word elf. We can eliminate four of the MED’s citations at the outset. Two are glosses: “Elfe, spryte: Lamia” in the Promptorium Par- vulorum and “An Elfe http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png English Language Notes Duke University Press

“Aluen swiðe sceone”: How Long Did OE ælfen/elfen Survive in ME?

English Language Notes , Volume 41 (1) – Sep 1, 2003

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Copyright
Copyright © 2003 Regents of the University of Colorado
ISSN
0013-8282
eISSN
2573-3575
DOI
10.1215/00138282-41.1.1
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

English Language Notes Volume XLI ♦ Number 1 ♦ September 2003 “ALUEN SWldE SCEONE”: HOW LONG DID OE AELFEN/ELFENSURVIVE IN ME? The MED lists a word elve(n) that it defines as “An elf or fairy (of either sex).” The corresponding entry in the OED is for elven, defined as “Originally, a female elf, but in later use applied to both sexes.” Both dictionaries refer the word to OE celfen/elfen ‘female elf’, which is attested in the plural form aelfinniglossing nympha and as both singular and plural in compounds.1 Both cite their earliest ME examples from Layamon’s Brut. The latest citation in the OEDE from Guy of Warwick, dated “c. 1314,” but the MED carries its citations down to the latter half of the fif­ teenth century. On closer examination, however, Layamon emerges as the only ME writer who clearly used the OE word and the evidence that it was ever extended to both sexes appears doubtful at best. All the other supposed examples can be explained as variants of the much commoner word elf. We can eliminate four of the MED’s citations at the outset. Two are glosses: “Elfe, spryte: Lamia” in the Promptorium Par- vulorum and “An Elfe

Journal

English Language NotesDuke University Press

Published: Sep 1, 2003

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