n. (pl.)


(Modern English drift)


A nominal derivation using the *-t suffix on the zero grade of PGmc *drīƀan-, as in OE drīfan ‘to drive’); cp. OIcel drift (only recorded in the particular senses ‘driven snow; snowdrift; pollen; dust, ashes’, but with a wider range of meanings in the modern Scandinavian languages, e.g. Dan drift ‘running, instinct, service’ (etc.)), and WGmc cognates inc. OFris ur-drift ‘driving out’, MLG drift id., OHG ana-trift ‘influence’. As in the case of draʒt, the lack of a recorded OE *drift, and perhaps also the appearance of the sense ‘snowdrift’ in both ME and ON, led earlier commentators to derive the ME word from ON (so TGD, GDS, and McGee 327 without comment) while more recent authorities (e.g. OED, MED) allow for a native origin.

PGmc Ancestor


Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

drift ‘driven snow; snowdrift; pollen; dust, ashes’
(ONP drift (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far drift, Icel drift, Norw drift, Dan drift

OE Cognate

drīfan (v.) ‘to drive’

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category




Fairly widespread, in a range of disparate senses in ME (including MED's sense 2 (b)  ‘falling of rain or snow … a snowdrift’.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 2005


MED drift (n.) , OED drift (n.) , HTOED , Dance dryftes, de Vries drift, dript, Mag. drífa, Orel *ðriftiz, Kroonen *drifti-, Seebold dreib-a-