(Modern English headsman)


Forms of this compound with the first element in the genitive (as apparently at WA 441, see discussion by text) are sometimes derived from ON, cp. OIcel hǫfuðsmaðr 'chief, leader' (also hǫfuðmaðr) rather than OE hēafod-mann (with the same sense). It cannot be certain, however, that it does not represent a parallel native formation (see further SPS). Circumstantial evidence in favour of ascribing the ME forms to ON input is the N and E distribution of the handful of citations in MED and OED3.

PGmc Ancestor

*xaƀuđa- + *mannz

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

hǫfuðsmaðr 'chief, leader'
(ONP hǫfuðmaðr (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

OE Cognate

hēafod-mann 'chief, leader'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Late OE hēafdesmann is recorded once in the context of leaders of two hundred ships arriving from Denmark (see SPS), and the genitive compound in ME is cited by MED and OED3 from a handful of N and E texts in ME, incl. WA and AMA.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

WA 441

The MS reading at WA 441 is <heuysdman>, which is best explained as an error for *heuydsman, although *heuydman (as Skeat WA prints) is also possible.


MED hēdes-man (n.) , OED3 headsman (n.) , HTOED , SPS 411-12, Bj. 12,