v. (past)

(1)  ‘muttered (in sleep)’; (2) ‘drawled’

(Modern English dravel)


A Gmc word with a number of plausible but uncertain connections, the form and meaning of draueled as it occurs in Gaw  (‘In dreʒ droupyng of dreme draueled þat noble’) could be accounted for in various ways, depending in large part on how the medial consonant is interpreted: (1a) Almost all editors and commentators assume that <u> the here stands for the fricative /v/, and thus identify it with a handful of words for muttering (in sleep) spelt (mainly) <drauel-, dravel-, dravil-> (see MED, OED). The etymology of this word has been explained with reference to OIcel drafa ‘to mumble, say (something) indistinctly’ and the related n. drafl ‘nonsense, foolish talk/conduct’ (Mätzner, followed by MED, McGee 326, TGD etc.). These words are only cited by ONP from the 15c. (but cp. further Icel drafla ‘to talk nonsense’, Norw dravla (Mag.)) and usually explained as connected to OIcel draf ‘refuse, swill’, ME draf ‘refuse of grain, chaff, husks (etc.); refuse, rubbish, garbage, filth’ (prob. < an OE *dræf), MLG draf, OHG trebir (pl.), supposing a PGmc *drab-; and thence by Ablaut to the PGmc adj. *drōƀa- and its derivative vb. *drōbjan-. Loan from ON drafl or *drafla (or survival of an unrecorded native cognate) would explain both the form and meaning of the ME. (b) But there is also another word group in English containing variants which are identical in form with ME drauled and overlap in meaning. With a basic meaning ‘to slaver, slobber, drool’ (etc.), the majority of these show the stem drevel- which goes back straightforwardly to OE dreflian ‘to sniffle, drool’ (attested just once), presuming a wk. 2 v. formed on a PGmc *drabil- derived on the same root *drab- referred to under (1a) above.  Alongside the drevel-, drivel- forms, however, dictionaries also attest several spellings implying a vowel /a/, viz. <drauel-, dravel-> and as well as the 'slaver' meaning, they cite instances of the sense 'to speak foolishly, drivel'. It is conceivable that this ME dravelen ‘to speak foolishly’ and the ME dravelen ?‘to mumble, mutter (in one’s sleep)’ discussed at (1a) above were always distinct words, in which case we can (as OED) derive the former from an unmutated OE variant *draflian (< PGmc *drabulō(j)an-, a by-form of *drabilō(j)an- > OE dreflian as above) and explain its sense as an extension of the 'slaver' meaning. Even if the two words are etymologically distinct, speakers likely associated them in practice via the 'talk nonsense, mumble' senses, and it is equally possible either that the dravel- variants of drevel- owe their existence to confusion with dravelen ‘to mumble’ (perh. < ON drafl-, as above), or else that dravelen ‘to mumble’ was always simply a by-form of drevelen (in which case there is no need to invoke ON drafl-). (2) It has been argued that <u> in Gaw draueled stands instead for <w>  (though this is less likely given the evidence for ME and Scots <dravel> with medial <v> discussed above (1)), and is to be identified with PDE drawl via a ME *drawlen ‘to drag out, linger, be slow’(Emerson 1922: 397). The closest analogues of PDE drawl are EFris draueln, draulen, LG draueln ‘to loiter, linger’ (etc.), next to Du dralen (with the same sense), and OED suggests loan from Du or LG, ‘an intensive derivative from the root of draw v.’, while Emerson derives from OE dragan ‘to draw’ (etc.) . The ulterior etymology is opaque, however, and it is far from clear that Du dralen etc. stem from such a source.

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *draƀ-; (1b) *draƀil- or *draƀulō(j)an-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(1a) drafl (n.) ‘nonsense, foolish talk/conduct’, cp. drafa ‘to mumble, say (something) indistinctly’,
(ONP (1a) draf (sb.), drafa (vb.), drafl (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(1a) Icel drafl, Dan dravel, Sw dravel; Icel drafla, Norw dravla 

OE Cognate

(1b) dreflian ‘to sniffle, drool’ 

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



(1) (a) For ME dravelen, MED otherwise cites only c1350 Cmb.Ee.4.20.Nominale (Cmb Ee.4.20) 84 <drauelith>; OED’s further citations are all from Douglas. (b) MED has citations for drevelen from the mid-14c. onwards, inc. c1390 PPl.A(1) (Vrn) in sense (b) (‘fig. to speak foolishly, drivel’) with the form <drauelen>.  (2) PDE drawl is first recorded by OED from the late 16c.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 1750


MED dravelen (v.) , OED dravel (v.) , HTOED , Dance; (1a) de Vries draf (2), drafl, Mag. draf, Bj-L. drav, Orel *ðraƀan, Kroonen *drabiz-, OED draff (n.) , MED draf (n.) ; (1b) MED drevelen (v.) , OED drivel (v.) , AEW dreflian, DOE drefliende; (2) OED drawl (v.) , de Vries/Toll dralen