v. (pp.)

Cl pp. kyldeWA pp. killid

'kill; strike' (Modern English kill)


(1) Derivation from ON (cp. OIcel kolla ‘to hit in the head; (metaph.) to harm’, Norw kylla ‘to cap, cut the top off; harvest a fruit-tree’) was more popular with early commentators (e.g. Skeat 1882, followed by Knigge 1885: 79; on other more problematic recent attempts, see further Dance). However the only medieval attestation of Icel kolla occurs in Sturlunga saga, and vocalically it is not a good match for the late OE /y/ required by SWM spellings of ME killen. An i-mutated etymon like Norw kylla (< PGmc n. *kullaz) is a better fit formally, but would require a semantic generalization unparalleled amongst the medieval members of this word-family. (2) A native etymon is now generally accepted, viz. a late OE *cyllan < PGmc *kwuljan- (a derivation on the zero-grade of the st. IV v. *kwelan- (as in OE cwelan ‘to die’, OS quelan ‘to suffer torture, die’, OHG quelan ‘to suffer, struggle, mourn’), but parallel with the a-grade causative *kwaljan- (OE cwellan, OS quellian, OHG quellen ‘to kill’, OIcel kvelja ‘to torment’))(thus Skeat 1899: 281, 1901: 151-2, OED, ODEE, MED TGD, GDS). Yet difficulties arise from the lack of other unambiguous instances of derivations on the zero-grade of PGmc *kwel- (though OE -colla and Icel kola are possibilities), and from the sense of ME killen, whose original meaning seems to be 'to strike, hit' rather than 'to kill'. But if the earliest sense of PGmc *kwelan was 'to suffer', a causative 'to make suffer' (cp. Olcel kvelja 'to torment') could possibly develop > 'to assault' > 'to strike'.

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *kull-; (2) *kwuljan-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

kolla ‘to hit in the head; (metaph.) to harm’
(ONP (1) kolla (2) (vb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(1) Far kolla, kylla, Icel kolla, kylla, Norw kolla, kylla, Sw dial kolla, kulla

OE Cognate

(2) *cyllan 'to kill'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Widespread in ME from LB and AW onwards.  By the 14c. MED’s sense (1) (‘to strike’ (etc.)) is esp. frequent in alliterative verse, but sense (2) (‘to inflict death, kill’ (etc.)) shows no such restriction.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 2111; Cl 876, 1252, 1267; WA 2377


MED killen (v.) , OED kill (v.) , HTOED , ODEE kill, Dance kylled; (1) de Vries kolla (2), Mag kolla (2), Torp NnEO kylla (1), Orel *kullaz; (2) OED quele (v.) , OED quell (v.1) , de Vries kvelja, Mag. kvelja, Bj-L. kvele, Seebold kwel-a-, Orel *kwaljanan; *kwelanan, Kroonen *kwaljan-; *kwelan-, AEW cwelan,