Pat, Erk wyterly; WA witirely

'clearly, surely; truly' (Modern English )


Late OE witter, ME witter is almost always derived straightforwardly from ON, cp. OIcel vitr ‘wise’, and the adv. vitrliga ‘wisely, with wisdom’. It is a formation on the commonplace Gmc root wit- as in OE wita ‘wise man’, wittig ‘sagacious’ etc., which is ultimately the zero-grade of the pret.-pres. v. represented by OE witan ‘to know’ (Go witan, OFris wita, OHG wizzan, OIcel vita). No adjectival -r derivatives are otherwise known outside Scandinavia, but the occurrence of an early OE v. witro (glossing ueror, at CorpGl 2 19.84), lends plausibility to the idea of a native adj. in -r, as in other OE deverbal adjectives (see SPS), and casts doubt on the need for ON derivation (thus SPS, Seebold, Orel; see also Dance 2003: 442–3). The ME sense ‘clear, certain’ is not shared by the medieval Scandinavian reflexes of the word, and has been plausibly explained as owing to the influence of OE witod, witodlÄ«ce (so d’Ardenne 172).

PGmc Ancestor


Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

 vitr (adj.) ‘wise’, cp. vitrliga (adv.) ‘wisely, with wisdom’
(ONP vitr (adj.), cp. vitrliga (adv.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far vitur, Ice vitur, ODan witær, OSw viter, Sw vitter

OE Cognate

cp. witran (v.) 'verare, to speak the truth'; wita (n.) ‘wise man’, witan (v.) ‘to know’

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



The adj. is first attested in late OE (see Hofmann §386, Peters 98, SPS); it is attested in the SWM in early ME (LB, AW), but in the later period it is mainly N/EM. The adv. is relatively widespread in early ME, though thereafter esp. frequent in alliterative texts (inc. PP).

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 1706; Cl 171, 1567; Pat 330; Erk 183; WA 422

The beginning of this word is difficult to make out at in the MS at Gaw 1706, but it is read thus by all editors (and see Knott 1915: 103, who regards the <w> as clear from the offset).  The GDS translation ‘skilfully’ is probably the source of MED’s treatment of the word under its sense 1 ‘knowingly, skilfully, cleverly’ (which it notes is ‘sometimes difficult to distinguish from sense 2.(b)’, i.e. ‘truly, undoubtedly, certainly, indeed’); but TGD ‘clearly’ accords better with MED’s sense 2(a), ‘plainly, evidently, manifestly (etc.)'. While the line may be plausibly interpreted either way, most editors agree with TGD (thus e.g. Vantuono  Burrow, AW, Barron, PS).  Madden (‘eagerly? fiercely?’) and Morris (‘savagely, fiercely’ were evidently unsure what to make of this word. 
Skeat WA prints witrely at WA 422.


MED witterlī (adv.) , OED witterly (adv.) , HTOED , Dance weterly, Bj. 258, SPS 465, vitrliga (adv.), de Vries vitr (1), Mag. vitur, Heid. witri-*, Seebold wait, Orel *witriz, AEW witter