Why is a swallow called a swallow?

ANTHONY APPLEYARD a.appleyard at btinternet.com
Tue Sep 11 22:13:37 UTC 2007

--- "Frye, David" <dfrye at umich.edu> wrote:
> The OED shows no connection between the verb/action "swallow" and the
> bird "swallow" in English. Both words go back to Old English, when
> the bird was "swealwe",  "swalwe," "swalu," etc; the verb was
> "swelghan", "swilhdh", "swealgh", etc. (with many more forms in the
> various conjugations, notably the ppl. "forswoleghed"), and the
> related noun (now meaning "a gulp" but originally meaning "a pit")
> was "swelh" and variations. Note the different vowels in the first
> syllable, which (not knowing an iota about Old English) I must assume
> is relevent to concluding that these clouds of words are different. 
> The OED helpfully notes:  "The encroachment of the o of the pa. pple.
> and the a of the pa. tense upon the pres. stem is evidenced from the
> 12th and 13th centuries respectively; it was perhaps furthered by
> association with SWALLOW n.1 [=the bird]."

The original Common Germanic forms were presumably [swalw-] for the
bird, and [swelg-] for the verb; the rest is Anglo-Saxon vowel-breaking
and umlauting and the [gh] sound gradually changing to [w], and
suchlike. The [gh] spellings above are likely someone's transcription
of the Anglo-Saxon way of writing lowercase g, which in Common Germanic
was pronounced as a fricative [gh].

About Nahuatl [cui:cui:tzcatl] for "swallow" (the bird): there is also
[cui_ca] = "to sing", and swallows sing sometimes.


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