(1) (*bi-laggid men) ‘men spattered with dirt’; (2) ‘last or hindmost person’ (lad … bi lagmon = ‘led astray’); (3) ‘lawyer’ (lad … bi lagmon = ‘cunningly led astray (as if by a lawyer)’ (Modern English (1) belag; (2) lag; (3) law)


The first element of this compound is most likely derived from ON, but the interpretation of the word in context (‘And ʒe he lad hem bi lagmon, þe lorde and his meyny, / On þis maner bi þe mountes quyle myd-ouer-vnder’) has been debated as well as the etymology of lag-: (1) Some early commentators accept M(G)'s emendation to *<bi-laggid men>, which must then be associated with ME bilaggen, attested twice as a pp. glossed by MED as ‘Miry, muddy; bespattered, soiled’ next to the equally rare simplex laggen ‘To soil (sb. or sth.), make dirty’, and further with EDD lag (v.4 and sb.8) ‘to draggle in the mud; to bedraggle or cover with mud’, ‘a dirty mess or smear or coating of mud on the bottom of a dress etc.’ The etymology of this lag(g)- is, however, deeply obscure. It is possible to connect it with EDD's lag (sb. 2) 'a long, narrow, marshy meadow, usually by the side of a stream' (attested from Sus. and Som.) and thus with the toponym late OE lacge- (Wor., Sur., Wil.; see EPNE). OE lacge- has no manifest ulterior etymology, unless it is derived from a Celtic word represented by Corn lagen, Ir lagan 'pond, pool, small lake' (MED, apparently in large part because EDD's lag (v.4 and sb.8) is confined to Cornwall). (2) Most editors since have instead accepted Menner's (1931) defence of the MS reading (comparing a similar construction 'Lykyng of flesche..ledys ʒoue be lagmon be lyus' in a1450 ?Audelay An a byrchyn bonke (Dc 302) 222/114 (prob. Shr.; LALME LP 189 localises the dial of this text to Stf.)) and gloss leden bi lagmon 'to lead...astray'. The first element lag- is very plausibly identified with OED's lag (n.1 and adj.) 'the last or hindmost person (in a race, game, sequence of any kind) (etc.)', ‘last, hindmost, belated, lingering behind lagging, tardy (etc.)', first attested in the 16c.; note lag-man in Nashe (1599), and cp. further the dial. usage in EDD, which includes (sense 4.7) a compound in -man, ‘an epithet applied to the last of a gang of reapers or mowers’. MnE lag could be derived from (a) ON (Menner, followed by most subsequent scholarship), cp. Sw dial lagga 'to wander aimlessly', Norw lagga 'to go slowly and gradually' (explained by Torp as an intensive formation on ON liggja 'to lie', presumably on the pret. stem lag), which are a good fit in form and sense. (b) Less likely alternatives include derivation from a Celtic word (ult. *laggó-s) (rejected by OED and Menner), and even more speculatively (by OED) an alteration of PDE lack adj. or v. (cp. Dan lakke 'to go slowly') or 'an arbitrary distortion' of last. (3) Matthews (1975, not followed by any subsequent commentators) identifies lagmon with ME laue-man ‘one of a number of local magistrates administering justice in a borough or town’, i.e. late OE lahmann, formed on OE lagu probably < ON *lagu, cp. OIcel lǫg ‘law; law community, law-district’ (see lawe), or direct from an ON compound represented by OIcel laga-maðr or lǫg-maðr. He reads lad … bi lagmon as ‘cunningly led astray (as if by a lawyer)’, though without adequately explaining the construction of the ME idiom. The ME spelling in <g> would be peculiar (Vant 1729n), moreover, although influence by a loan into medieval Brit Lat, viz. lagamannus, lagemannus (see MED, OED) is conceivable.

PGmc Ancestor

(2a) *lag(g)-; (3) *lag-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(2a) cp. liggja (v.) 'to lie'; (3) lǫg ‘law; law community, law-district’, cp. laga-maðr, lǫg-maðr
(ONP (3) laga-maðr (sb.), lǫg-maðr (sb.), lag (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(2a) cp. Norw lagga, Sw dial lagga; (3) Far lóg, Icel lög, Norw log, Dan lov, Sw lag

OE Cognate

Phonological and morphological markers

[absence of palatalization of */ɡ/] (possibly diagnostic) (may not be applicable)

Summary category



(1) MED cites bilaggen only from a1325 Gloss.Bibbesw.(Arun 220) and (1440) PParv.(Hrl 221);  the unprefixed variant is found in the latter and a1325 Gloss.Bibbesw.(Cmb Gg.1.1).  For onomastic and PDE dial. evidence see EPNE and EDD. (2) English lag ‘last or hindmost person’ (etc.) is not attested before the 16c. For PDE dial. use see EDD, which attests this word-family as far south as Oxf. and Brks.  (3) Late OE lahmann is first attested in the 11c. (see esp. SPS 142); in the ME period it is found mainly as a loan in Brit Lat texts  and in personal names (usually surnames) (see MED, OED). See further lawe.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 1729


Dance lagmon; (1) MED bilagged (ppl.) , MED laggen (v.1) , OED belag (v.) , OED lag (v.1), EDD lag (sb.2); lag (v.4 and sb.8), EPNE *lagge; (2) OED lag (n.1 and adj.) , EDD lag (adj., v.2 and sb.6), Torp NnEO lagga, Hellq lagga (2); (3) de Vries lǫg, Mag. lög, Orel *laʒan, MED laue-man (n.) , MED laue (n.) , OED lawman (n.) , OED law (n.1) , AEW læg; lagu (3), Bj. 249, SPS 84–6, 307–14