'destroy' (Modern English swelt)


Formally this v. continues OE sweltan 'die, perish', and no further etymon is usually cited. Menner, however, lists both the OE and ON svelta. Alongside the cognate st. v. svelta 'to die (a sense perhaps borrowed from WGmc, see Thorvaldsen 2016: 79); starve, suffer hunger', OIcel also had a causative wk. form svelta 'to put to death (by hunger), starve (a person)' < PGmc *swalt(j)an-. It is conceivable that the sense 'destroy, kill' in ME owes something to the latter (as OED tentatively suggests), although it is better explained as a parallel native development: cp. the hapax poetic v. forswelan 'burn up' from the Phoenix (DOE s.v.) and ME forswelten 'to be in agony, perish; to torture, make perish' (Dance 2003: 393 rejects the suggestion of ON input here) with OE forsweltan 'to die; die away'. PGmc *sweltan- (cp. also Go swiltan 'to die', OS sweltan 'to die', OHG swelzan 'to burn slowly, smoulder') is usually derived from *swelan- (cp. OE swelan 'to burn'; OHG causative swellen < *swaljan- 'to burn').

PGmc Ancestor

*sweltan- or *swalt(j)an-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

svelta 'to put to death (by hunger); starve (a person)'
(ONP svelta (3) (vb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far svølta, Icel svelta, Norw svelta, Sw svälta

OE Cognate

sweltan 'die, perish'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Under its sense (b) 'kill, strike dead', MED otherwise cites two Midlands texts and one S with noted Midland and N influences: a1425 KAlex. (LinI 150), ?a1450 Add.Mir.Virg. (Add 39996), a1500(?c1400) Song Roland (Lnsd 388). EDD cites attestations with this sense from N dial.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Cl 108, 332; Pat 427


MED swelten (v.) , OED swelt (v.) , HTOED , EDD swelt (v.1 and sb.), de Vries svelta (2), Mag. svelta (3), Orel *sweltanan, *swaltjanan, Kroonen *sweltan-, AEW sweltan