v. (past pl.)


(Modern English tevel, tavel)


Probably from ON, two sources have been suggested for ME teulen (and the vbl. n. derived on it, see teuvelyng (n.)). The most likely is: (1) a word related to OE tæflian, tæflan formed on OE tæfl (tæfel-, tebl-, tebel-) ult. < Lat tabula and referring to several games with dice or tables (and to the die itself); cp. OIcel tafl, OS tabal, tabil (MLG taffel), OHG zabal.  (a) MED (s.v. teuelen) considers together instances of this v. spelt <teuel-> and <tauel->, with meanings incl. both (sense (c)) 'to struggle, do battle' and (sense (b)) 'to compete verbally, argue, debate; debate (sth.)', and derives all of these words from the OE v (see also Kullnick 11). In this case the KG sense 'to compete verbally' must be understood as a metaphorical development of the attested meanings of OE tæflian, and the senses in Gaw and Cl (struggling, labour more generally) could represent a further extension of the same usage. However, the vowel <e> in Gaw MS <teuel> is much more difficult to derive from OE tæfl-, which ought to give forms in <a> in this scribal dial (GDS Dialect §9), unless one supposes an OE wk. 1 *teflan (with i-mutation) formed on tæfl, for which there is no evidence.  (b) The related ON v. represented by OIcel tefla (a wk. 1 formation *tafljan- on the n. tafl) is therefore the most plausible source (thus Emerson 1922: 390, TGD, McGee (with reservations), GDS). The existence of a compatible VAN form has been doubted because ON tafl has been explained as a loan from OE or MLG (thus de Vries, Mag.), but hnefatafl (the boardgame denoted by tafl) probably originated in Scandinavia as early as the 9c. (Bayless 2005: 13), and so an independent borrowing into ON of Lat tabula or, more likely, a loan of tabula into common NWGmc which came to denote this specific game, is also plausible. ON tefla would account very well for the form of the late ME and Scots words, and their semantic development is closely paralleled by Norw tevla, Sw tafla 'to contend, cope, vie, rival, strive, struggle' (OED).  (2) OED suggests instead a link with tave (i.e. MED’s tāven v., ‘to move the limbs ineffectually, to sprawl; to strike out at random with the arms or legs; to throw oneself about, as a person in a passion, in a fever, etc.; to act violently in any way; to strive, toil, labour, or struggle in work, difficult walking, etc.’), which is attested from the mid 14c. onwards and usually explained as a loan from ON, cp. Norw dial tava ‘to toil or struggle without much effect, to fumble, be exhausted’. The etymological connections of the Norw word are difficult to make out and if (as Torp) it is related to OIcel þefja ‘to stir, thicken’ (cp. EFris dafen ‘to hit, pound’, OHG bi-debben ‘to suppress’), the VAN reflex of the word would contain /θ/, and it is not a possible source of ME teuel-. However, if it is related to Icel tefja (OIcel tefja ‘to hinder, delay’) (as Mag.), it would relate most closely to Far tava ‘to toil, struggle with’, and perh. more broadly to words like MHG zāven ‘to pull’ as well as Icel tóf ‘hesitation’, MLG tōven ‘to wait, hesitate’, MDu toef ‘reception, treat, nursing’. Although none of these words on its own is a very near match to ME teuel-, Far tava is appealingly close semantically and suggests the possibility of an i-mutated wk. 1 by-form (like OIcel tefja) which could conceivably have played some part in the evolution of the ME word.

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *tafljan-; (2) ?*þafjan- or ?*taƀjan-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(1b) tefla 'to play at tables or draughts'; (2) tefja ‘to hinder, delay’
(ONP (1b) tefla (vb.); (2) tefja (vb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(1b) Far telva, Icel tefla, Norw tevla, Sw tävla; (2) Far tava, Icel tefja, Norw tava

OE Cognate

(1a) tæflian, tæflan 'to gamble'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



The first of only a handful of ME citations comes from c1275(?a1216) Owl & N. (Clg A.9) in MED's sense (a) 'to place at dice, gamble'. Otherwise, the v. is only cited from the KG in MED's sense (b) 'compete verbally' etc. The only parallel for the sense here, MED's sense (c) (OED sense (2)) 'struggle' etc. is the teuelying (n.) in Gaw.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Cl 1189


MED tevelen (v.) , OED tevel, tavel (v.) , HTOED , Dance teuelyng; (1) de Vries tefla, Mag. tefla, OED3 tavel (n.1) , AEW tæfl; (2)  EDD tave (v.1, sb.) de Vries tefja, Mag. tefja, Torp NnEO tava; taava, Kroonen *tabjan-, OED tave (v.) , MED tāven (v.)