(1) ‘(headless) trunk (of the body)’; (3) (*blenk) 'gaze'

(Modern English (1) block; (2) bulk)


There have been several interpretations of this word and the choice between them depends on whether the MS reading <bluk> (in the context ‘He brayde his bulk aboute’) is accepted or emended: (1) If it is accepted, it is usually explained as a form of ME blok(ke) in MED's sense (1c) 'the trunk of a tree; the headless body of a man' and derived from OFr bloc 'log, tree-trunk'. The OFr itself is a borrowing from the Gmc word represented by OFris blok, MLG block, MDu bloc, OHG bloch; the ulterior etymology is unclear, but most authorities suggest a connection with PGmc *balk-, *belk-. The extension of the sense to a human torso at Gaw 440 would be unique, but plausible, however the spelling in <u> is more problematic: o/u variation is to be expected in this scribal dial, but only in the case of etymological /u/ and mainly before /r/ or a nasal (PS 440n, see GDS Dialect §20). There are plausible grounds therefore for emending the word. (2) Thus Onions (1924: 244, followed by TGD, Barron 1974) identifies it with ME bulk, which is attested elsewhere with reference to (human) bodies, derived formally from ON, cp. OIcel bulki 'cargo that is secured (amidships)'. The ulterior etymology is obscure, but it is usual to relate it to one or both of OIcel bolr 'tree trunk; body (without a head), torso, trunk' (de Vries) and OIcel balkr 'balk, partition', bjalki '(wooden) beam, balk' (Mag.). In this case, semantic influence from ME bouk (< OE būc ‘a vessel of some sort, earthen pot, flask, bottle etc.; trunk of the body, the bodily frame; specifically: the stomach, belly’) is probable (OED). (3) Alternatively, McGillivray reads the MS as either <bluk> or <blnk>, and prints a word <blenk>, glossing ‘gaze’ (the Green Knight ‘turns his head by the hair, finally (line 445) directing its gaze to the dias’). This is an ingenious solution, but it is harder to see how the form in the MS (however it is read) could be an error for *blenk than for *bulk; and there is otherwise no ME blenk clearly recorded in the right sense (though see Attestation), the closest being DOST s.v. blenk n. (‘a glance of the eye, a look, esp. a pleasant or cheerful glance; a glance, a brief look, at something’; also ‘a bright or short gleam of light; a gleam of comfort, bliss, etc.’), to which McGillivray refers. This *blenk is a n. formed on the v. ME blenken < PGmc *blankjan- (ult. a derivation prob. on the adj. *blanka- ‘shining weakly’), which could have descended to ME via the (rare) OE blencan (attested only with the sense ‘to deceive, cheat’) and/or the ON v. represented by OIcel blekkja ‘to deceive, betray, seduce’ < *blenkja (the literal sense is witnessed by NNo blekkja ‘to glisten, shine’), perhaps with influence from the etymologically-related ME blinken (PDE blink); see the discussion under blenk (v.).

PGmc Ancestor

(3) *blankjan-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(2) bulki 'cargo that is secured (amidships)'; (3) blekkja ‘to deceive, betray, seduce’
(ONP (2)  bulki (sb.); (3) blekkja (vb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(2) Icel búlki, Norw bulk, bolk, Dan bulk, Sw bulk

OE Cognate

(3) blencan ‘to deceive, cheat’

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



(1) MED has a range of citations of blok(ke from (1323) Sacrist R.Ely 2 onwards. (2) ME bulk is first attested in an AFr text (a1350 Ipswich Domesday(1) (Add 25012)), and MED then has a range of late 14c. and 15c.citations (incl. Pat 292 in sense (2), ‘the hold (of a ship)’). (3) MED has <blenk-> (and <blink->) variants s.v. blench n. in a range of senses (all N/EM), but none matching that proposed for Gaw 440.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 440

Gaw MS 440 reads <bluk>; on the arguments for emmendation, see Etymological discussion.


MED blok(ke (n.) , Dance *bulk; (1) OED block (n.) , MED blok(ke (n.) , FEW (Germanismes) blok, DEAF bloc (m.), de Vries/Toll blok, Lloyd and Lühr bloh, bloc, Kluge-Seebold Block; (2) de Vries bulki, Mag. búlki, OED bulk (n.1) , MED bulk (n.) , Bj. 231; (3) MED blench (n.) , OED blenk (n.2) , HTOED , Dance *bulk, de Vries blekkja (1), Mag. blekkja (1), Heid. blanka-, Orel *ƀlankjanan, Kroonen *blanka-, AEW blencan, DOE blencan