Gaw derue; Erk, WA derfe

‘bold, audacious, doughty, stout; great, astonishing; grievous, severe’

(Modern English )


Usually derived from ON, cp. OIcel djarfr ‘courageous, aggressive, dauntless; heedless, impudent’ (< *derfʀ). Indigenous formations on the PGmc root *derƀ- appear in OE only as verbs, viz. the str. III deorfan (pret. dearf) ‘to work, labour; be in danger or trouble’ (cp. OFris far-derva ‘to labour’, MLG vor-derven ‘to come down, become bad’, MDu be-derven ‘to perish’, MHG ver-derben ‘to die, pass away’), and as the n. gedeorf ‘work, labour; effort, difficulty; trouble, hardship, toil, distress’. The OE wk. 1 v. (late WS) dyrfan ‘to torment; keep busy, engage in, be diligent about; bring into danger or peril etc.’, is apparently < *dearfjan- on PGmc *darƀ- rather than the e-grade (cp. early SWM ME deruen < OE Angl. *derfan). Adj. derivatives on *derƀ- comparable to ON djarfr (or to OS derbi ‘hostile, evil’, OFris derve ‘tough, strong, hostile, wicked’) are absent until late OE dearf ‘bold, audacious, presumptuous’, the sense of which matches the meanings recorded for ON rather than those known for the OE v. and n.  This, together with its early distribution (mainly in Nhb), mean that it is usually regarded as a loan from ON (see further Hofmann §239, Peters 96, SPS). 

PGmc Ancestor


Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

djarfr ‘courageous, aggressive, dauntless; heedless, impudent’ 
(ONP djarfr (adj.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far djarvur, Icel djarfur, Norw djerv, Dan djerv, Sw djärv

OE Cognate

cp. deorfan (pret. dearf) ‘to work, labour; be in danger or trouble’ 

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category




For occurrences in late OE (mainly Nhb), see DOE, Peters, SPS. MED’s senses (1) and (2) (‘bold (etc.)’, ‘strong (etc.)’) are predominantly N and E; (3) (‘fierce, dreadful, cruel’) is also found in the AB group (see further McGee 505–7). Attested in MnE Sc. dial.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 558, 564, 1000, etc.; Cl 862; Pat 166; Erk 99; WA 1024, 1211, 1811, etc.

Gaw 558 derue is read thus by TGD and AW (see TGDn), but some other editors have preferred derne ‘secret’ (thus Madden, GDS; and see Vant 558n, PS 558n).  Madden also prints derne at Gaw 1047, but Morris suggests a correction to derue and all subsequent editions have this reading  (see further PS 1047n).


MED derf (adj.) , OED derf (adj. and adv.) , HTOED , HTOED , HTOED[1233: inanimate?],EDD derf (adj.), Dance derf, Bj. 233-4, SPS 90–2, 288, de Vries djarfr, Mag. djarfur, Bj-L. djerv, Heid. derba-, Orel *ðerƀaz, Kroonen *derba-, AEW dearf, DOE dearf