v. (3 sg.)

Gaw pres. ptcp. whyrlande; WA pres. ptcp. quirland

'to whirl'

(Modern English whirl)


Derived ultimately on the root of the PGmc str. III v. *xwerƀan- (which gives OE hweorfan ‘to turn, change, move, go (etc.)’, Go hwaírban, OIcel hverfa, OFris hwerva, OS hwerƀan, OHG (h)werban), the mostly likely source of the ME v. is the ON n. represented by OIcel hvirfill ‘circle, ring; crown of the head; top, summit’ with -l suffix and the appropriate Ablaut grade (< PGmc *xwerƀ-il-, cp. OHG wirbil ‘whirlwind’; and esp. the compound hvirfilvindr ‘whirlwind’), and in particular its verbal derivative OIcel hvirfla ‘to whirl’. Although the latter is attested only once in the OIcel prose corpus, it has a modern Dan reflex hvirle whose simplified medial consonant cluster is an especially good match for ME whirl-. There are nonetheless (near-)cognates in OE which can also be entertained as etyma: (1) It is conceivable that late WS hwyrfel ‘circuit, exterior, higher part’ and its various derivatives was formed on the e-grade of the root (and thus supposing an Angl. v. *hwirflan, exactly cognate with OIcel hvirfla), but it more likely represents the a-grade (i.e. with hwyrf- < *hwierf- < an i-mutated reflex of hwearf-) cognate with the alternative WGmc derivation seen in OFris hwarvel, OHG hwerbel, Du wervel etc., indicating an Angl. v. *hwerflan, which is more remote from the vocalism of ME whirlen. (2) OE hwyrftlian ‘to revolve, turn round’ could be a formation on OE hwyrft ‘turning, circuit, motion, way out’ (rather than the a-grade of the root, as OED), which is clearly a formation on the zero-grade of the root *xwurƀ-. In that case, a Midl. ME form *whirftlen would be entirely regular and, though the medial cluster is slightly more remote from ME /rl/ than the alternative starting point in ON hvirfla, it is a plausible simplification.

PGmc Ancestor

*xwerƀan-, *xwerƀ-il-, ?*xwurƀ- 

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

hvirfla ‘to whirl’
(ONP hvirfla (vb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far hvirla, Icel hvirfla, Norw kvervla

OE Cognate

cp. hwyrftlian ‘to revolve, turn round’; ?(Angl.)*hwirflan, *hwerflan

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Widespread (Chaucer, Lydgate, Trevisa etc.); not attested in literary texts before the late 14c., though MED cites it earlier in surnames (earliest in (1256) Assize R.Nhb.in Sur.Soc.88).

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 2222; Cl 475; WA 5297


MED whirlen (v.) , OED whirl (v.) , HTOED , Dance whyrlande, de Vries hvirfill, Mag. hvirfill, Seebold hwerb-a-, Orel *xwerƀilaz; *xwerƀilōjanan, AEW hwierfel