bale (1)


WA pl. bales

‘destruction, death; misery; torment; sorrow' (Modern English bale)


From OE bealu, balu ‘woe, harm, destruction; malice; pain, suffering, torment’, most frequently attested in poetry (and a productive compound element), cp. OIcel bǫl ‘misfortune, woe, malice’, Go balwa-wēsei ‘malice, wickedness’, OFris balu-mon ‘unfaithful guardian’, OS balu ‘wickedness, misfortune’ and OHG balo (masc.) ‘disease, sickness’. OED alone suggests ON influence behind the 'fresh vitality' of the word in ME, noting that its alliterative collocation with bote 'remedy, relief' and bete 'to relieve' is paralleled in OIcel with the ON reflexes of PGmc *bōt-, but it is easily possible that the ME phrases arose independently.

PGmc Ancestor


Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

bǫl ‘misfortune, woe, malice’
(ONP bǫl (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far bøl, Icel böl

OE Cognate

bealu, balu ‘woe, harm, destruction; malice; pain, suffering, torment’

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



The majority of MED’s citations are in alliterative phrases (often in alliterative verse), but the word is nonetheless relatively widespread dialectally, inc. various early 13c. SWM texts and examples from Gower and Chaucer.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 2041, 2419; Pe 18, 123, 373 etc.; Cl 276, 980, 1256; Pat 276, 426, 510; WA 396, 1146, 1974, etc.

The instances at Cl 980 and WA 4160 are contested, see bale (2)(n.).


MED bāle (n.1) , OED bale (n.1) , HTOED , HTOED , Dance bale, de Vries bǫl, Mag. böl, Bammesberger 243, Orel *ƀalwan, Kroonen *balwa-, AEW bealu, DOE bealu (n.)