"axe" for "ask"

FRITZ JUENGLING juengling_fritz at SALKEIZ.K12.OR.US
Mon Jan 6 22:13:07 UTC 2003

Both 'acsian' and 'ascian' were found in Old English.  There are cognates in Old Saxon, Old High German, Old Frisian as well as other non-Germanic languages.  All of them point to an original /sk/; hence OE 'ascian.'  Middle English has reflexes of both forms: asshe, asche, axy, axe among others.  The real question is where the modern standard form, 'ask',  comes from, because WGerm /sk/ usually went to /sh/ in OE.  The ODEE says, "The standard form ask (c . 1200) resulted from the metathesis of aks-, ax-."
If this is correct, we have  WGerm *aiskojan >OE ascian (but this form dies out, leaving only relics) > OE acsian (with metathesis, which comes down to us as 'aks') > ME 'ask' (with re-metathesis) > mod Eng 'ask'.
I can't help wonder whether there was some OE dialect in which there was no metathesis and no assibilation of /sk/ which could have provided the modern form.
Fritz Juengling

>>> prichard at LINFIELD.EDU 01/06/03 08:44AM >>>
I think Ol' Noah had it right. OE acsian seems to be at the base of it
all--although one (especially one without a competent dictionary at hand
at the moment)  wonders whether there's an unbroken chain from OE aks- to
ModE aks, or whether the metathesis to ask already took place in MidE. In
fact, is there a double showing metathesis already in OE (i.e. ascian,
acsian)?  That could account for both forms in ModE. If not, who might be
the culprit who is responsible for spreading the gospel of ask?  Is our
old friend Bishop Lowth lurking in the woodpile, perhaps?


On Fri, 3 Jan 2003, Frank Abate wrote:

> There is a recording of this pron and some explanation in Noah Webster's
> (yes, the man himself) A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language
> (1806), in the Preface, page xvi, paragraph near the bottom, in the
> facsimile edition.
> So it's been in American English for nearly 200 years, from people of all
> colors.  Noah W says, "ask, which our common people pronounce aks".  In
> fact, Noah goes on to say that the "aks" pron is the "true pronunciation of
> the original word".  Well, I don't know about that, but Noah makes an
> interesting point.  The "Saxon verb", as he cites it, is "acsian or axian".
> Frank Abate

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