(1a) ‘wild, i.e. licentious, amorous’, (1b) ‘cruel’ (~ werke ‘cruel act’);  (2) ‘choice’ (~ werke ‘choice handiwork’);  (3a) ‘guileful’ (~ werke ‘intrigue’), (3b) ‘skilful’

(Modern English wild)


Several different identifications have been proposed for the adj. at Gaw 2376 (‘Bot þat watz for no wylyde werke, no wowyng nauþer, / Bot for ʒe lufed your lyf’), including, though perh. less likely, the derivation or input from ON: (1) The identification made by early commentators with ME wild(e), PDE wild < OE wilde ‘wild, untamed, uncontrolled; uncultivated, desert’ (cp. Go wilþeis, OIcel villr, OFris wilde, OS wildi, OHG wildi < PGmc *welþja-; see further wylle) is now mainly discarded. (a) Thus Madden (glossing 'wild, amorous') is followed by Morris and OED under its sense (7b) (‘Giving way to sexual passion; also, more widely, licentious, dissolute, loose’). This identification is supported by the occurrence elsewhere in ME of the collocation werkes (…) wilde (cp. Gaw <wylyde werke>); MED attests it from four different sources (under its sense (2c), ‘perverse, immoral, sinful; lascivious, wanton’), and in one of these (c1390 Disp.Virg.& Cross (Vrn) 17) the adj. takes the form <wyled>, with a second syllable confirmed by rhyme. In terms of both form and phrasing this is strikingly similar to Gaw 2367, but it is nonetheless surprising to find an epenthetic vowel in this position in a Gaw-manuscript spelling if wylyde really is a form of ME wild(e). Of course the Vernon form <wyled> given above might equally be interpreted as another instance of the same (different) word as represented by Gaw wylyde, and not a reflex of wild(e) either. (b) Vant (2367n) also identifies the Gaw word with ME wild(e), but in OED’s sense (8) ‘fierce, savage, ferocious; furious, violent, destructive, cruel’ (cp. MED’s sense (2a), ‘unrestrained, undisciplined; unmanageable, uncontrollable; also, rowdy, riotous; impulsive, rash, reckless; also, recklessly determined (to do sth.)’) and translates no wylyde werke as ‘no cruel act’. (2) GDS (2367n) instead derives wylyde here from ON (cp. OIcel vildr (vilðr) ‘chosen, choice, good’) and takes the phrase wylyde werke to mean ‘choice handiwork’, referring to the girdle. The ON adj. vildr has no agreed etymology. The positive form (vildr) is sometimes explained as secondary, a back-derivation on the comp. vildri, which ultimately continues a form *vilri < *wel-iz-a (cp. We gwell ‘better’), or alternatively it could descend from *wel-ð-ia-, with the same dental suffix as in the abstract n. OIcel vild ‘will, liking, goodwill’. In either case, the ult. source is the PGmc root *wel- as in the v. *weljan- (OE willan, OIcel vilja etc., ‘to wish’). If this is the case, Gaw wylyde would be the only instance of a loan of ON vildr known in ME and the problem (as in (1)) of explaining epenthetic /i/ in the second syllable remains. (3) The best way of accounting for the form of wylyde is probably to take -yde as a form of the commonplace ME -ed(e) suffix (originally the wk. ppl. adj. ending) (thus TG and TGD) and to identify wyl- with ME wile ‘deceit, guilefulness’ (etc.) (for etymology and the possibility of ON input, see wyles). Thus (a) TG (glossary) offers the translation 'guileful' (followed by e.g. CA and Jones), and (b) TGD prefers 'skilful' (followed by most subsequent editions).

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *welþja-; (2) *wel-; (3) (1) *wīl-, wīgel- or ?*wihl-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(2) vildr (vilðr) ‘chosen, choice, good’; (3) ?vél ‘wile, device, trick’
(ONP (2) vilðr (adj.); (3) vél (1) (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(2) Icel vildur, ODan vildh, MSw vilder, Sw dial viller; (3) ?Far væl, Icel vél, Norw vēl, MSw väl

OE Cognate

(1) wilde ‘wild, untamed, uncontrolled; uncultivated, desert’; (3) ?wīl ?'cunning'? or wīgle ‘divination’

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



(1) ME wild(e) is common and widespread throughout the period in the relevant senses. For the phrase werkes wild(e), see esp. MED sense (2c). (2) No other instance of a ME wild(e) ‘choice’ < ON vildr is known. (3) No other instance of a ppl. adj. wiled formed on ME wile ‘wile, wiliness’ (etc.) is attested. The simplex n. is attested earliest in EM texts (ChronE s.a. 1128 and Orrm), and for the 13c. is cited by MED only from SK.T and a1300(a1250) Bestiary (Arun 292); but by the later 14c. it is in use across England.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 2367


MED wīlide (adj.) , OED wild (adj. and n.) , Dance wylyde; (1) MED wīld(e (adj.) , Heid. welþja-, Orel *welþjaz, Kroonen *welþja-, AEW wilde; (2) de Vries vildr, Mag. vildur, Heid. welizan-; (3) MED wīle (n.1) , OED wile (n.) , ODEE wile (n.) (and see further wyles)