adj., v. (wk.)

Gaw past pl. sweyed; Cl swey, past sg. swe, past pl. swyed, pres. ptcp. sweande; Pat past 3 sg. sweʒed, sweyed, imper. sg. sweʒeWA pres. pl. swey, past pl. sweyd

'to speed, sink, stoop, collapse; fall, rush, swing' (Modern English sway)


Probably best explained as a native development: (1) Formally, ME sweʒe could continue the OE wk. 1 v. swēgan 'to make a noise, sound, roar, crash; import, signify' (Clark-Hall) < PGmc *swōgjan- (cp. Go gaswōgjan ‘to sigh’, LG swögen ‘to sigh’) (thus Knigge 44 and esp. Luttrell 1956: 291-301). Luttrell surveys the various uses of the ME and plausibly concludes that its senses can be explained as a direct continuation of some of those known for the OE v., specifically 'to make a noise...with the idea of movement, to move violently with noise, to roar, rush, crash' (B-T s.v.) and related words incl. compounds of -swōgan, where the idea of violent motion is often very prominent. (2) Early commentators preferred derivation from the ON v. represented by OIcel sveigja ‘to bow, bend’ (trans. and intrans.), sveigja-sk ‘to be swayed, sway, swerve’, formed on a root clearly attested only in the Scandinavian languages (thus Skeat 1882 s.v. sway and 1892: 464, Bj., MED, GDS, McGee 351–2, Harada 1961: 100, doubtfully by ODEE and input allowed by Knigge 44). However the underlying sense of the ON v. 'to (make) bend' is not congruent with the meanings attributed to ME sweʒe, and one needs to assume a certain amount of semantic generalization (perhaps occasioned by use in alliterative contexts) in order to account for the less restricted idea of quick movement applicable to the ME word (thus OED, Luttrell 1956). (3) OED (followed by TGD) posits an unrecorded OE str. V *swegan, parallel to wegan ‘to carry, support, move, wear, weigh’ (on which see e.g. Seebold weg-a- (1)), but there is absolutely no evidence otherwise of such a root *sweg in the early Gmc languages.

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *swōgjan-; (2) *swaigjan-; (3) *swegan-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(2) sveigja ‘to bow, bend’ (trans. and intrans.), sveigja-sk ‘to be swayed, sway, swerve’
(ONP (2) sveigja (vb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(2) Far sveiggja, Icel sveigja, Norw sveigja, Dan sveje, Sw dial sväig', sveia 

OE Cognate

(1) swēgan 'to make a noise, sound, roar, crash; import, signify'; (3) *swegan

Phonological and morphological markers

[ON /ei/ < PGmc */ai/] (may not be applicable)

Summary category



The majority of MED's citations come from N verse, with the main exception being  a1325 SLeg.(Corp-C 145). The instance at WA 2057 is found only in the D MS ('sweyd sleghtly'); the A MS reads 'seʒes sidlings'.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 1429, 1796; Cl 87, 420, 788, etc.; Pat 72, 151, 236; WA 2057, 3970

On the sense at Gaw 1429 see Savage 1944: 350, and on that at Gaw 1796 see Luttrell 1956: 300; the latter can be regarded either as a strong past. (thus TGD, GDSn, Vantuono n.), or as wk. with elision of final -d before the following word doun (see Emerson 1922: 398, Luttrell 1956: 290–1). Most editors (incl. Menner, GollCl, AW and Vant) interpret swyed at Cl 87 as an instance of ME sue 'follow', but Anderson takes it as a past pl. form of sweʒe.


MED sweien (v.2) , OED sway (v.) , HTOED , HTOED ODEE sway, Dance sweʒe, Bj. 59, 62n, DP 15; (1) Orel *swōʒjanan, AEW swœ̄gan; (2) de Vries sveigja, Mag. sveigja, Orel *swaiʒjanan