(1) ‘proud, bold’; (2) ‘hale, healthy’

(Modern English (1) feer, fere; (2) fere)


Potentially derived from ON if the occurrence at Gaw 103 (‘Þerfore of face so fere / He stiʒtlez stif in stalle’) is read as an instance of ME fere 'healthy' (rather than fer 'bold'): (1) The majority of editors and commentators since Madden (incl. MED, TGD)) identify the word with MED’s fēr adj.2, ‘of warriors: fierce, proud, bold; of facial expression: bold, proud; of an enterprise: worthy’, and hence gloss ‘proud’, ‘bold’ vel sim, in this sense derived from AN, OFr fer (feer, fier etc.) ‘cruel, harsh, hard, stern, unworkable; fierce, wild, ferocious, bitter, raging; violent, rushing, strong; grievous, dire; proud; powerful, strong, valiant’ courageous, bold, resilient; powerful, imposing; vehement; exuberant’, < Lat ferus ‘wild, untamed, fierce’. (2) Yet it could also be interpreted as an instance of MED’s fere adj., i.e. ‘in health, healthy, well, strong, cured, healed, safe, unharmed; in good condition, sound, unspoiled’. Its occurrences go back to a late OE fēre (‘able (to go); fit (for military service); of ships: serviceable, seaworthy’), which has conventionally been derived from the ON adj. represented by OIcel fœrr ‘able, capable, strong; fit for use, safe’, from PGmc *fōri-, formed on the ō-grade of the str. VI v. *faran-. Heid. defines the sense of the cognate WGmc adjectives OFris fēre ‘conducive’, OHG gifuori ‘appropriate, suitable’ and OE gefēre ‘accessible’ as ‘passive’ counterparts to the ‘active’ meanings found in ON, but given the existence of inherited OE gefēre, ON input into the development of late OE fēre, ME fere need not extend beyond the semantic; and even this is doubtful (OED, MED, SPS).

PGmc Ancestor

(2) *fōri-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(2) fœrr ‘able, capable, strong; fit for use, safe’
(ONP (2)  fǿrr (adj.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(2) Far førur, Icel fær, Norw før, Dan før, Sw för

OE Cognate

(2)  fēre (‘able (to go); fit (for military service); of ships: serviceable, seaworthy’), cp. gefēre 'accessible'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



(1) ME fere ‘fierce, bold’ (etc.) is first attested from the early 14c. and MED’s handful of occurrences seem relatively widespread.  (2) OE fere ‘able (to go)’ (etc.) occurs several times in late OE (see esp. SPS), and is fairly widespread in ME, beginning with the Lambeth Homilies (see Dance 2011: 96). PDE usage is Sc and N Cy. (see OED, EDD).

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 103


MED fēr (adj.2) , Dance fere; (1) OED feer, fere (adj.) , HTOED , AND fer (2), FEW fěrus; (2) MED fēre (adj.) , OED fere (adj.) , HTOED , EDD fere (adj.), Bj. 237, SPS 436–7, de Vries fœra, Mag. fær (2), Bj-L. føre, Seebold far-a-, Heid. fōri-, Orel *fōriz, Kroonen *fōri-, DOE fēre (adj.); gefēre (adj.)