Methods and Conventions

The Gersum database is designed to provide detailed information about each lexeme in a concise and consistent format in order to facilitate complex searches and to allow users with diverse interests to access the data effectively. The systematic and summary format of the entries necessarily involves some simplification and pragmatic selection and restriction of the information included. The following notes on editorial practice describe how we have selected or rejected items for inclusion and populated each database field.


Database entries are based on the standard modern scholarly editions listed below. The forms of the lexeme and references to poem line numbers follow these texts, with two exceptions:
Anderson, J. J. ed., Patience, Old and Middle English Texts (Manchester, 1969)

Anderson, J. J. ed., Cleanness, Old and Middle English Texts (Manchester, 1977)

Duggan, H. N., and Turville-Petre, T. eds., The Wars of Alexander (Oxford 1989)

Gordon, E. V., ed., Pearl (Oxford, 1953)

Peterson, C. ed., St Erkenwald (Philadelphia, 1977)

Tolkien, J. R. R. and E. V. Gordon eds., Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 2nd ed. rev. Norman Davis (Oxford, 1967)

Contested readings and etymological notes from other editions are summarised in the Discussion by Text and Etymology fields.

The text search function reproduces the following out-of-copyright editions:

Gollancz, Sir I., ed., St. Erkenwald (Bishop of London 675-693): an alliterative poem, written about 1386, narrating a miracle wrought by the bishop in St. Paul’s Cathedral (London, 1922)

Morris, R., ed., Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight: an Alliterative Romance-Poem (c. 1360 AD), 2nd edn. (London, 1869)

Morris, R., ed., Early Alliterative Poems in the West-Midland Dialect of the Fourteenth Century, 2nd edn. (London, 1869)

Skeat, W. W. ed., The Wars of Alexander: an alliterative romance (London, 1886)

Users of this function should therefore be aware that the readings in these texts do not always match those of the editions preferred for the database. 

Criteria for the inclusion of lexemes

The Gersum Project is fundamentally a lexicographical study, and the scope of the database is therefore limited to the identification of potential Old Norse input in the development of individual lexemes. For our purposes, an individual lexeme is defined as a free morpheme, and excludes every instance where an Old Norse element occurs only as an inflectional ending, prefix or suffix. This is in no way intended to suggest that the impact of Old Norse on medieval English was confined to the lexical level. The productivity of the verbal suffix –en in English, for example, demonstrates the far-reaching scope of (probable) Old Norse influence, but represents evidence of a different order and would not be admitted as a criterion for identifying loan-words by any definition. It is not always possible in practice, however, to distinguish between levels of influence in such a clear-cut way. The absence of palatalization of /ɡ/ in South-West Midland variants of words like ME gest, for example (see spellings like <gist> and <gust>), could be interpreted either as evidence of direct loan, or, more likely, of Scandinavian influence on the pronunciation of native variants of the West Saxon type with palatal diphthongization. Such examples are included in the database.

When a case for loan has been made with any degree of plausibility, a lexeme is included. It does not follow that loan is the most likely explanation in every case, and our assessment of the plausibility of borrowing for each lexeme is given in the etymological discussion and summary category. As we indicate, there is often genuine scope for varying conclusions. In such cases, our aim is to present the evidence as fully and transparently as possible. Some suggested loans are excluded, however, when there is no plausible case to be made, either because the cited evidence has been convincingly refuted, or, more frequently, because the suggestion has been made in passing by a commentator with no supporting rationale, and none is readily apparent. Editorial practice in offering etymological commentary varies widely, and loan from Old Norse or Low German is sometimes offered as a speculative possibility without any clear grounds. We have omitted these items in the absence of any supporting evidence according to our Summary Category criteria.   


Practice in populating individual database fields

In populating the individual fields of the database our aim is also to be summary and systematic rather than exhaustive, with information selected for inclusion based primarily on its relevance to the etymological discussion. In the following fields in particular, our practice in limiting the information should be noted:

Spelling: Spelling variants are provided when they indicate potentially relevant underlying phonology or represent distinct morphological forms. 

Modern English: Modern English forms are only provided when an attestation of the word is cited in either OED or EDD from a sourced dated after c. 1850.

Proto-Germanic ancestor: Where possible, a Proto-Germanic source for each lexeme is suggested based on the etymological discussion below. It should be noted that the confidence with which such forms can be reconstructed varies considerably. Where the case is particularly speculative we preface the form with ‘?’. In some cases we suggest multiple alternative sources and in some cases no form at all. Our practice in reconstructing Proto-Germanic forms is conservative and on the whole follows the practice of Dance (72), with some modifications. For example, the decision to reconstruct noun stems varies by lexeme, depending on the evidence available and the relevance in each case to the etymological discussion.

Attestation: The attestation field indicates when the lexeme is first recorded in English and any additional information, such as medieval or modern dialect distribution, which could be taken as circumstantial evidence for or against an origin in Old Norse. The information here is largely drawn from the citations in the DOE and its Corpus of Old English, OED, MED and EDD.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus: The first three occurrences of each lexeme in each work of the Gersum corpus are listed here. Some common lexemes, e.g. ME take or þay, are very frequent and so will have many more occurrences than those listed. A better impression of the saturation of the texts with the lexemes in the database can be gleaned by searching the electronic Texts.

Bibliography: The bibliography contains references to the standard reference works and dictionaries that were drawn upon for each entry, and thus the list varies for each lexeme. The works that are included, however, are listed in a standard order and links to the relevant entries in the MED, OED and HTOED are included wherever possible.