n. (pl.)

'splinters' (Modern English )


Always explained as a loan, this n. had two distinct senses in ME: 'drawing of lots, lots drawn' and 'splinter, fragment' (only WA) which (so MED, TPD 922) are usually explained respectively by comparison with MDu cavele 'piece of wood used to throw lots' (also MHG kavel 'lot') and OIcel kafli 'cut off piece', kefli 'cylinder, stick, piece of wood'.
The etymology of the root is uncertain. The OIcel kafli 'cut off piece' and WGmc words are usually connected, with the MDu assumed to represent a sense extension of an original meaning 'piece of wood' (so Kroonen and, by implication, Orel). Its ulterior connections are more difficult to explain. Some input from the i-mutated form represented by OIcel kefli 'cylinder, stick, piece of wood' (and various formations on it), which are not attested outside Scandinavian languages (incl. Shetl.), also cannot be ruled out. It was perhaps conflated with OE cæfl 'muzzle, halter, bit' < Lat capulus 'that which is grasped, handle, holder' (see DOE, AEW s.v.) in ME kevel 'bit for horse or mule' (cp. OIcel kefling 'gagging'), which reflects the vocalism of the ON and is also attested once from Havelok, in the sense 'gag' (see OED s.vv. kevel n.1, cavel n.2, MED s.vv. kevel n.1 and n.3 and EDD s.vv. kevel sb.1 and vb.1). Note that Bj. derives it more confidently from the ON because of the absence of palatalization of /k/, which does not apply here.

PGmc Ancestor


Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

kafli 'cut off piece', kefli 'small piece of wood, club, round stick'
(ONP kafli (sb.), kefli (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far kalvur, Icel kafli, Norw kavl, kavle, Dan kavl, kavle, Sw kavle, Sw dial kavel; Icel kefli, Norw kjevle, Sw dial kävle

OE Cognate

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



A handful of attestations in MED, all from N/EM.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

WA 799

The A MS of WA instead has the reading clyftez.


MED cavel (n.) , OED cavel (n. 1) , Bj. 142, de Vries kafli, kefla, Mag. kafli, kefli, Orel *kaƀlōn, Kroonen *kabla/ōn-