Pe, Pat past swepe

'to rush; swoop; sweep (in)' (Modern English sweep)


The vocalism of ME swepen does not derive straightforwardly from OE swāpan 'to sweep' < PGmc *swaipan- (cp. (relic strong forms of) OIcel sveipa 'sweep, stroke, wrap' and OHG sweifan 'to sway, swing, sling', and ME swōpen), and as OED notes, can be accounted for either as an entirely native development or derived from ON. The former is perfectly plausible: the mutated stem swǣp-, influenced by past tense swēop, could have been assimilated to /e:/ (OED compares sleep and creep). Alternatively, ME /e:/ could < /i/ in an open syllable (Jordan-Crook §36), in which case OE swipian 'whip, scourge, beat' is the most likely source (though sometimes the ON v. represented by OIcel svipa 'to swoop, flash, move swiftly' is cited instead: e.g. McGee, OED). Semantically, input from one of these wk. verbs could explain the sense 'rush' as in Cl (see OED's sense 22, MED's sense 3). The N/EM distribution of ME swepen may be the reason that the ON v. is sometimes posited as etymon rather than the OE. Kroonen and Orel identify the ME instead with the causative derivative PGmc *swaipjan- represented by the usual OIcel wk. v. sveipa 'to sweep, stroke, wrap' and OHG gi-weifen 'to sweep', MHG sweifen 'to roam, wander'.

PGmc Ancestor

?*swaipan-, *swipjan- or *swaipjan-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

svipa 'to swoop, flash, move swiftly'
(ONP svipa (2))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Icel svipa, Norw svipa, Dan dial svippe, Sw dial svepa, svipa

OE Cognate

cp. swāpan 'sweep', swipian 'whip, scourge, beat'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category




Forms with this vocalism occur in a variety of texts from the early 14c. onwards. The instance in Cl 1509 is the earliest of MED's citations in its sense 3, all of which come from the N or N/EM.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Pe 111; Cl 1509; Pat 260, 341


MED swẹ̄pen (v.) , OED sweep (v.) , HTOED , de Vries svipa, Mag. svipa (2), Orel *swaipanan, *swaipjanan, Kroonen *swaipan-, *swaipjan-, AEW swipian