Cl pl. capelesWA (Dublin) capyll

'horse' (Modern English caple, capul)


Ulitmately from Lat. caballus ‘inferior riding or pack horse, nag’, but the medial /p/ in ME points to a loan via Irish (cp. Ir capall, capull, Gael capall) or ON, cp. OIcel kapall ‘nag, hack’ (only attested in Icel and from c. 1500 (ONP), and itself from Irish: Mag., de Vries) (so Kullnick 14, TGD, GDS, McGee 336, MED). Onomastic evidence supports the argument for loan from Hiberno-Norse (EPNE, Oakden II.191, followed by Harada 1961: 102–3). But OED, noticing the relatively late attestation of both the Ir and ON forms, is more cautious, and does not totally discount the possibility of a direct loan into ME from Ir (as is claimed by MacBain); and note especially the word’s occurrence in The Land of Cockayne, on the Irish origin of which see e.g. Bennett and Smithers 1968: 337.

PGmc Ancestor

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

kapall ‘nag, hack’
(ONP kapall (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Icel kapall

OE Cognate

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Distinctively N (esp. NW) in place-names. MED has a handful of 14c. occurrences (earliest in c1325 Of Rybaudʒ (Hrl 2253)); relatively widespread, inc. two citations from Chaucer and one from Cockaygne. Recorded in MnE Sc., Lan. and Chs. dial.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 2175; Cl 1254; WA 754*

On the word’s usage (though not in Gaw) with pejorative connotations, see Burnley 1983: 151–2.


MED capel (n.) , OED caple, capul (n.) , HTOED , EDD caple (sb.), Dance caple, de Vries kapall, Mag. kapall (1), EPNE kapall, eDIL 1 capall , LEIA capall, MacBain capull