bale (2)


(1) 'disaster'; (2) 'conflagration'

(Modern English )


Two different identifications have been proposed for the bale which Lot's wife sees when she 'blusched' back at the burning chaos as Sodom and Gomorrah descend into hell in Cl 980 ('blusched byhynden her bak þat bale for-to herkken'): (1) The most common reading is bale 'disaster' < OE bealu, balu, possibly reinforced by its ON cognate bǫl (see further bale (1)(n.)). (2) Menner suggests instead ME bale 'conflagration' < ON, cp. bál ‘fire, funeral pyre, blaze’ (< PGmc *ƀēlan, cp. OE bǣl ‘fire, flame’; ult. related to a PIE adj. *bhel ‘white’) (see bale (3)(n.)). Because influence from (MED) or confusion with (Bj. 88) bale (1) is evident in some instances, it is difficult in practice to rule out semantic input from either word, whichever reading is preferred.

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *ƀalwan; (2) ƀēlan

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(1) bǫl ‘misfortune, woe, malice’; (2) bál ‘fire, funeral pyre, blaze’
(ONP (1) bǫl (sb.); (2) bál (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(1) Far bøl, Icel böl; (2) Far bál, Icel bál, Norw bål, Dan bål, Sw bål

OE Cognate

(1) bealu, balu ‘woe, harm, destruction; malice; pain, suffering, torment’; (2) bǣl ‘fire, flame’

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



(1) see bale (1)(n.); (2) A primarily N word in ME and MnE dial (MED, OED, EDD, Bj.)

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Cl 980

Most editors (incl. GollCl and Anderson) identify bale as at (1), though there is evident disagreement over what it refers to depending on how the v. herkken is read (cp. GollCl and Anderson); against Luttrell's (1955: 207) identification of bale with the ʒellyng at Cl 971, see Anderson 980n. Menner reads bale 'conflagration' as at (2) above, and McGee (385) notes that either sense may fit the context.


(1) MED bāle (n.1) , OED bale (n.1) , HTOED ; see further bale (1)(n.). (2) MED bāl(e (n.2) , OED bale (n.2) , HTOED ; see further bale (3)(n.).