Query re "wer"

Rudolph C Troike rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU
Wed Jan 9 09:06:50 UTC 2002

My learned Anglo-Saxonist colleague Carl Berkhout provides this
information in regard to the replacement of "wer" and "guma" by "man":

Predictably most studies of "wer" have to do with its IE cognates (Latin
"vir," etc.) or its use in compounds such as "wergeld," "werewolf,"
etc., but this item is of some limited relevance:

   J. P. Stanley and C. McGowan.  "_Woman_ and _wife_: Social and
Semantic Shifts in English."  _Papers in Linguistics_ 12 (1979),

The word pretty well died out in the course of the 12th and 13th
centuries, no doubt in large part because of the narrowed meaning of
"man" once the "-man" element in OE "wifman" had become weakened.  But
by this time the existence of so many monosyllabic words, both native
and Norman French, looking or sounding roughly like "wer," "were,"
"wher," "war," etc., might also have contributed to the word’s demise.

As for "guma," one really wouldn't want to say that that word was ever
replaced by "man," for it was almost exclusively a poetic word.  It
survived as such, usually in the form "gome" until about the end of the
Middle English period and occasionally thereafter as a deliberate


P.S. And of course "guma" survives in folk-reinterpreted form as the
second element of "bride-groom". --RCT

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