(Modern English bowline)


The compound bawelyne occurs in English before the n. bow itself, which is only attested from the 17c. onwards. Both relate ultimately to a PGmc n. *ƀōg- 'shoulder' (cp. OE bōg 'arm, shoulder; bow, branch (of a tree)', OIcel bógr 'shoulder (of an animal)', OFris bōg 'bow, branch', MLG bōch 'joint, shoulder, hip', OHG buog 'joint, shoulder, hip'). The sense 'bow' is found elsewhere in WGmc (e.g. Du boeg) and NGmc (e.g. Dan boug, bov) alongside similar senses, but does not occur for English bough < OE bōg (MED s.v. bough). Both MnE bow and ME bawelyne are thus explained as borrowings from elsewhere in Gmc, perhaps separately. An ON bóglína is attested in a mid-15c Icel diploma and a þula (see further Falk 1912: 65-6), but most likely represents a parallel borrowing as de Vries concludes this is a 'junges wort' < MDu boechline (OED is similarly sceptical of the antiquity of the ON word). The evidence for a sense 'bow' earlier in ON is tenuous, but one possible instance is worth noting: in a fragmentary travel poem attributed to the 11c. poet Hofgarða-Refr Gestsson, quoted in Snorra Edda, a ship is imagined as a beast of burden (hógdýr), and its bógu 'shoulders' are thus the bows. The use of this metaphor could be coincidental - bógr is most commonly used in connection with laden animals in early Norse poetry - but some play on a dual sense of the word is also conceivable. Derivation from ON is therefore the less likely explanation for the ME n., but impossible to rule out.

PGmc Ancestor


Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(ONP bóg-lína (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

OE Cognate

OE bōg 'arm, shoulder; bow, branch (of a tree)'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category




The literary attestations of this word in ME are mostly N/EM, but it occurs more widely as a technical term as well in nautical contexts from the 13c. onwards.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Cl 417; Pat 104


MED bou(e-līne (n.) , OED bowline (n.1) , HTOED , OED bow (n.3) , Orel *ƀōʒuz ~ *ƀōʒaz, Kroonen *bōgu-