spenne (2)


(1) ‘fence, hedge’;  (2) (a) ‘thorn-hedge’;  (b) ‘thorn bush, thorn hedge, thorn thicket’ (Modern English (1) spen; (2) spinney)


(1) As most recent commentators (following TGD, MED) take it, spenne at Gaw 1709 (‘At þe last bi a littel dich he lepez ouer a spenne’) and 1896 (‘As he sprent ouer a spenne to spye þe schrewe') is most likely the same word as spenne (1), which they derive from the ON n. represented by OIcel spenni ‘clasp’ and translate here as ‘fence, hedge’ (see spenne (1), etymological discussion (1c)). (2) Those who attempt to account for these two occurrences as distinct suggest the following: (a) OED (followed by TG, CA, Jones, AW; and apparently also Madden and Morris) regards spenne here as etymologically identical with the later English n. spinney, occurring here in an otherwise unknown sub-sense ‘?A thorn-hedge’ and prints <spenné>, in keeping with a derivation from AN/early Fr espinee, espinei, espinoie (etc.) ‘cluster of thorns’, a formation on early Fr espine ult. < Lat spīna in the sense ‘thorn, prickle’. OED’s next citation of spinney (in the more familiar sense (2), ‘A small wood or copse’ (etc.)) is from 1597, but there is ME evidence for the word in place- and personal names (see Attestation). Far more problematic is the vocalism of the root syllable of spenne, which an implies an /e/ that it is hard to account for as a reflex of ME /i:/ in this environment. (b) Similarly, Elliott (1984: 83–4, 127–9) identifies spenne in all three Gaw instances with ME spīne in the sense ‘thorn bush, thorn hedge, thorn thicket’ (i.e. MED’s spīn(e n.1 sense (1a) ‘A thorn; a thorn bush, bramble’), i.e. < AN/early Fr espine ‘thorn, thorn-bush; spine (of hedgehog); thistle’ (directly < Lat spīna), arguing that this sense fits the contexts in Gaw better and suggesting some possible occurrences in local place-names. The same problem of vocalism applies here; Elliott refers to similar /i/ > /e/ lowering in other words in the Gaw MS (without specifying examples), but none of the instances of this change cited at GDS Dial §17 is before /n/, an environment which one would usually expect to favour raising.

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *span(n)-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(1) spenni 'clasp'
(ONP )

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far spenni, Icel spenni, Norw spenne, Sw spänne

OE Cognate

(1) cp. spannan ‘to join, link, fasten, attach’

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



(1) These two Gaw occurrences are MED’s only citations of spenne with the specific sense ‘?A fence; ?a hedge used to enclose land’. It gives the word in the meaning ‘?a piece of land enclosed by a fence’ twice from the Lan. text (a1265) Deed Norris in LCRS 93 163, plus from Gaw 1074 and WA 4162, and without specific denotation from personal names in three 14c. N documents. (2a) OED’s earliest citation of spinney meaning ‘a small wood or copse’ (etc.) is from 1597, but there are instances of place-names formed on this element in ME records (e.g. Burthonspynay, Yks., 13c.) and a 12c. Yks. surname (see EPNE). MED (s.v. spīnē n.2) cites late 14c. and 15c. occurrences in the sense ‘a sweet dish made with hawthorn flowers’. (b) MED’s earliest citation of spīn(e) in the sense ‘thorn, thorn bush’ (etc.) is a1450(c1433) Lydg. St.Edm.(Hrl 2278). There are no compatible forms given in EPNE.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 1709, 1896


MED spenne (n.) , OED spinney (n.) , HTOED , Dance spenne (2); (1) CV spenni, Fritzner spenni, de Vries spenni, Mag. spenni, Seebold spann-a-, EPNE *spenn(e); (2a) AND espinee, FEW spīna, EPNE spinney; (2b) MED spīn(e (n.1) , OED spine (n.1)