‘extraordinary, unusual, marvelous; exceedingly, thoroughly’ (Modern English ferly)


(1) The form and sense of the ME word is usually (and most easily) accounted for as a continuation of OE fǣrlic ‘sudden, unexpected; sudden, rapid (action); accidental’, a derivation on OE fǣr (Angl. *fēr) in its original sense ‘sudden or unexpected danger; peril, calamity’ < PGmc *fēr- (so e.g. OED, MED, Kullnick 5). (2) Some input from ON ferligr ‘monstrous’ is also sometime suggested (TG, GDS and entertained but ultimately excluded by McGee (327–8, 476–7)). Its etymology is somewhat obscure, but it is usually explained as representing a PGmc *fera, as seen also in OE firen ‘wicked deed, violence, torment’, OFris firne, ferne, OS, OHG firina, OIcel firn ‘abomination, shocking thing’, Go faírina ‘fault, offence, reproach’. (3) TGD maintains the reference to ON ferligr as in (2), but instead of OE fǣrlic as possible native input suggests the hypothetical *feorlic ‘strange’, implying a derivation on the adj. OE feorr ‘far removed (etc.)’ (originally an adv., cp. Go faírra, ON fjarri, OFris fēr, fīr, OS, OHG fer (next to ferro)).

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *fēr-; (2) *fera; (3) *fer(e)r-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

 ferligr ‘monstrous’
(ONP ferligr (adj.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

OE Cognate

(1)  fǣrlic ‘sudden, unexpected; sudden, rapid (action); accidental’; (2) cp. firen ‘wicked deed, violence, torment’; (3) feorr 'far, removed'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Widely attested in MED in the senses ‘strange, wonderful, terrifying (etc.)’, from c1225 Wor.Bod.Gloss.(Hat 113) onwards

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 716; Pe 1084

Parsed as a n. at Gaw 716 by some commentators, notably GDS, PS (glossary), McGillivray (716n).


MED fērlī (adj.) , OED ferly (adj. and n.) , HTOED , Dance ferly (adj.); (1) Orel *fēran ~ *fēraz, AEW fǣrlic, DOE fǣrlic, OED fear (n.1) ; (2) de Vries ferligr, Mag. fer- (1), Bj-L. fare (2); (3) Orel *fer(e)rai ~ *fer(e)rōt, Kroonen *ferrai, AEW feorr, DOE feorr (adj.); feorr (adv.), OED far (adj.) ; OED far (adv.)