adj., n. ((if n.) pl.)

(1) (adj.) ‘shoeless’;  (2) (n. pl.) ‘shoes with long pointed toes’; (3) (n. pl.) ‘thin plates (part of the horse’s armour)’; (4) (n. pl.) ‘protections under and inside the thighs’; (5) (n. pl.) ‘supports covering the sole of the foot’.

(Modern English (1) shoeless; (2) soles)


The word <scholes> at Gaw 160 (‘And scholes vnder schankes þere þe schalk rides’) has been repeatedly discussed with an array of different identifications proposed, several of which involve Scandinavian comparanda, but only one really compelling interpretation of the form and sense: (1) The most obvious fit is an identification with ME sholes ‘shoeless, without shoes’, i.e. a compound on ME sho (< OE scōh (scēo-) ‘shoe’; cp. Go skōhs, OIcel skór, OFris scō, OS scōh, OHG scuoh, scuah, < PGmc *skōhaz). An OE *scōh-lēas is not recorded, and ME sholes is otherwise attested only once; but the compound seems an obvious and transparent formation which the Gaw-poet could easily have coined for the occasion.  OIcel skólauss is more frequent (ONP cites it twelve times, from the mid-13c. onwards), and has been adduced as a comparandum (Magoun 1928: 81, TGD); it could be viewed either as an analogue or as the model for a loan-translation. More problematic proposals include: (2) Thomas (1913–14: 312) interprets scholes as a n. in the pl., and derives it from a supposed variant cholet of a medieval Fr soulet (solette, a suffixed form of OFr sole < Lat solea ‘sandal, shoe’) , i.e. a kind of shoe or slipper (also Jones, and TG noting the MS illustration). However, there are no attested medieval variants of this Fr word spelt <ch-> (GDS 159–60n) and even assuming a medieval Fr variant of solette with initial [tʃ], such a form still seems unpromisingly distant from Gaw scholes; though for other instances in the manuscript of etymological [tʃ] spelt <sch> cp. shere (Gaw 334) for chere (see TG 160n, McLaughlin 121), and for the loss of [t] before [z] in words of Fr origin cp. braches, brachez (Gaw 1142, 1563, 1610) for brachetez (TG 1603n). (3) Skeat (1905: 366–7) takes it instead to refer to some part of the horse’s armour, being thin plates ‘to keep the leg-armour from galling the horse’, comparing Sw skolla ‘a lamina, a thin plate, usually of iron’, which is cognate with Ger Scholle, Du schol ‘flake, clod, slice’ (cp. the earlier forms OHG scollo, scolla, MLG schulle, MDu sc(h)olle, apparently < a PGmc *skullōn). ME shol- would then have to be cognate with the Ger and Du words (or conceivably loaned from them, as indeed Hellq explains Sw skolla as a loan from MLG), and to have been used in the same sense as the Sw one. However, there is no other evidence for the existence of such a word in English and the vocalism of the Gaw word (one would expect long /o:/) is also against this identification. (4) Brett (1915: 189–90) suggests instead that it ‘may be a corrupt or analogical form’ < ON skál (citing Bj.), denoting ‘some leather or other protections, under and inside the thighs, “where the man rides”, as in modern riding-breeches’; cp. OIcel skál ‘bowl, hollow; scales’ < PGmc *skēl- (cp. OHG scāla and perh. OS skala, MDu schale and the Ablaut variant with short vowel as in OE sc(e)alu ‘shell; cup, scale’, OHG scala). This would account well for the vocalism, and this ON word seems almost certainly to have been borrowed into English as ME scole, with early ME /a:/, later /ɔ:/ < ON /a:/ (see scole). The initial <sch-> of the Gaw word would then have to be explained by sound-substitution, and/or by influence from ME shale, which can also denote cups, bowls etc. and which is apparently the reflex of the native near-cognate OE sc(e)alu with /ʃ/. However Brett never addresses how a group of words with this meaning could be applied to a type of thigh-protector and this theory has no followers. (5) GDS (159–60n) concludes that the Green Knight is probably wearing ‘some kind of sock of silk embroidery’ and covering the sole of the foot ‘he wears supports called “scholes”, a word nowhere else recorded’. It is perhaps to be connected to shole, a word used in ship-building and recorded by OED from the 18c. to refer to a timber foundation, but whose etymology is entirely opaque. 

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *skōhaz; (3) *skullōn; (4) *skēl-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(1) skólauss 'shoeless'; (4) skál ‘bowl, hollow; scales’
(ONP (1) skór (sb.), skó-lauss (adj.); (4) skál (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(1) Far skógvur, Icel skór, Norw sko, Dan sko, Sw sko; (3) Sw skolla; (4) Far skál, Icel skál, Norw skål, Dan skål, Sw skål

OE Cognate

(1) scōh (scēo-) ‘shoe’

Phonological and morphological markers

[ON /ɑ:/ < PGmc */e:/ (1)] (may not be applicable)

Summary category



(1) ME sholes ‘without shoes’ is otherwise attested only in a1500(c1410) Dives & P.(Htrn 270); OED’s earliest citation is from 1627. The n. sho ‘shoe’ is very commonplace. (2)  No English word shol- or chol- in such a sense is otherwise known; the (ult. related) solleret is not attested before the 19c. (3) No English word shol- in an appropriate sense is otherwise known. (4)  ME scole in the sense ‘cup’ is securely attested in MED only in AW.A, LB.Otho and Cl 1145. ME shale in MED’s sense (d) ‘a drinking cup, goblet, or bowl’ is cited only from LB.Cal, AW.Cleo and a1400(c1300) NHom.(1) Gosp.(Phys-E). (5) OED records shole only from the 18c.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 160


MED shōles (adj.) , Dance scholes; (1) OED shoe (n.) , OED shoeless (adj.) , de Vries skór, Mag. skór, Bj-L. sko, Orel *skōxaz, Kroonen *skōha-, AEW scōh; (2) FEW sǒlea (section 2a), OED sole (n.1); (3) Hellq skolla (1), Orel *skullōn, Kluge-Seebold Scholle (1), de Vries/Toll schol (1); (4) MED scōle (n.1) , MED shāle (n.) , OED scale (n.1) , OED shale (n.1) , de Vries skál, Mag. skál, Bj-L. skål, Orel *skēlō, Kroonen *skēlō-, AEW scealu (1), Bj. 92–3; (5) OED shole (n.)