Lass LASS (1300
Contrary to the belief that held out for several centuries, lad and lass are unrelated, that is, lass is not a contracted form of *ladess or *ladse. However, both words surfaced in English simultaneously in the same northern texts, and both are of Scandinavian origin. The two seem to result from a similar jocular usage (slang) that encouraged the transfer of the names of (worthless) clothes to children. The etymon of lad means 'woolen stocking; hose; old shoe,' while lass is traceable to Dan las 'rag' and its cognates in Swedish dialects and Old Norwegian. Lass never meant 'young unmarried woman' except by implication. Consequently, MSw lösk kona 'free woman,' a phrase cited in OED and repeated in most later dictionaries, is neither a possible etymon nor an analogue of the English word. The sections are devoted to 1) the rejected etymologies of lass (old and recent), 2) Bradley's etymology of lass, 3) the metaphorical origin of lass ('rag' → 'girl'), and 4) the interaction between the las- and lask- forms in and outside the Scandinavian area; lass and windlass.
1. According to the oldest etymological dictionaries of English, the originator of the idea that lass goes back to *ladess was George Hickes (Hickesius), but none gives an exact reference. From the point of view of the history of English ladess is a ghost word. Coined in 1768 by Horace Walpole, it has not taken root in the language (nor was it meant to). Skeat1-3 tentatively derived lad from *ladess, though the suffix -ess is said to be of Welsh rather than of French origin. Lad and lass were habitually regarded as borrowings from Celtic at that time (see, for example, Boase [1881:377]. Ritter (1910:478) explained lass as a substantivized comparative, that is, as the continuation of OE (se@o) læ¤°sse (f), literally 'the lesser one,' and cited as analogues OE ta¤ ieldran 'parents,' se ieldra 'father,' se geongra 'youth, disciple, vassal,' and a few others. We may add that Jünger is still the only German word for 'disciple,' and E elders has retained a meaning not too different from G Eltern 'parents.' Two arguments weaken Ritter's etymology. First, it is unclear who would call girls, and why only girls, 'the lesser one(s).' Eltern and Jünger presuppose a deferential attitude toward the parents and the teacher on the part of the followers and children. Lass belongs to a different style. Ritter cited G die Kleine (f) 'the little one' as a synonym for 'sweetheart.' However, lass is not a term of endearment typical of wooers' language. The parents might perhaps call their daughter 'the lesser one,' to distinguish her from the mother of the family when the division of property or inheritance rights were at stake (cf John Smith Jr.), but lass has never been a legal term. Secondly, it is preferable to have the etymology of lass that would take into account the word's northern provenance; lass understood as 'the lesser one' has no recorded counterparts in any Scandinavian language. The other hypotheses (except Holthausen's: see below) are worth mentioning only for completeness' sake. The same people who thought they knew the origin of lad often had something to say about lass. H.C.C. (1853:257) traced lass to OE *hla¤festre, the nonexistent feminine of OE hla¤fæ¤ta 'servant' on the analogy of lad, allegedly from hla¤fæ¤ta (see LAD for discussion). Makovskii (1977:63 and 1980:67) suggested that lass is the result of a misunderstood gloss: puluis, that is, pulvis 'dust, ashes,' was allegedly confused with puella 'maiden,' and the gloss l.asce 'or ashes' merged into lasce, whence the English word. He did not explain how lasce < l.asce became a common word and why it surfaced only in Middle English. (Shchur [1982:153] cited both of Makovskii's etymologies—of lad and of lass—approvingly.) Later he derived lass from the concept 'squeeze (milk)' and related it to L lac 'milk' or to Skt la≥s'ah 'resin' and lasˆ@ka¤ 'lymph, serum,' as well to Lith la~s‡as 'drop' (sb) ([1992a:52]; he did not mention a different opinion in KEWA III:94, 96). Finally, he said that lass was akin to words meaning 'battle' (lass 'warrior maiden'), such as L lˆ@s 'dispute, lawsuit' and Skt las 'move' (v), though Skt las 'appear,' he added, should not be ignored either (lass emerged as 'the producer of children'). As an afterthought, he mentioned OE læ¤s 'field' and E dial lash 'comb,' because fights play themselves out on battlefields, while the comb is a metaphor for the woman's genitals (1999:190-91). 2. Modern dictionaries call lass a word of obscure origin but often cite Bradley's etymology (1894) as tenable. This is how Bradley presented it in his article: "The feminine lass first occurs about the year 1300 in two Northern works, the 'Metrical Homilies' and the 'Cursor Mundi,' and in both passages is spelt lasce. This spelling suggests that the word is one of those in which
© 2006 Anatoly Liberman. All rights reserved. Kernerman DICTIONARY News • Number 14 • July 2006 http://kdictionaries.com/kdn/kdn14/kdn1402-etymolog-lass.pdf
single. Not only Sw flicka 'girl' but also E brat. as Björkman (1912:272) suggested. In slang.' See some examples in Gebhardt [1911:1896]. weak. Pauli (1919:225-26) cites various Romance examples and endorses Björkman's derivation of lass (see p 225.' which has identical cognates in Swedish dialects and Old Norwegian. the suffix -ard need not have had a depreciatory meaning. packsaddle' (OED). and bastard was probably no closer to 'packsaddle son' (whatever it is supposed to mean) than le'barn.. Bradley suggested that lasce was the original form. However. Björkman's predecessor was Holthausen (1903b:39). seems to have had minimal currency in Germany. so that its Scandinavian origin is likely. its spread to England in this form would be hard to demonstrate. from brat 'ragged garments. if this explanation be correct. Nor is it necessary to reconstruct the substitution of ss for sk in this word. shred' ~ flicka 'girl. Since Bänkling. or from the practice of calling females after the clothes they wore (see the examples given at DRAB and GIRL). In other cases. Sometimes the path from 'piece of cloth' to 'child' was from 'diapers' or from the similarity between a baby and a doll (dolls were made of rags). and the Icelandic sense (. But lash 'make fast with a cord' surfaced in English only in the 17th century and is probably a borrowing from Low German. loose. he had an idea similar to Bradley's: lass. . All rights reserved. *laskw. baby in arms' corresponds to E bastard (< OF bastard). lass emerged from the metaphorical use of a word for 'rag. as Bradley pointed out. ultimately from 'old or unseemly.. darn' (1900:366). a borrowing. unmarried woman. the only unanswered question will be whether ME lass and lasce are related. from Bank 'bench' ('a child begotten on or under a bench'). Initially. Sc buss for bush (Scandinavian buskr). the feminine of an adjective meaning unmarried. Their recorded Middle English meanings developed in the northern dialects of England. due to their accidental similarity in sound. he suggested. Although Thomson. the transfer of the name followed more circuitous routes. which first occurs in Fischart (the same example in DW [Bänkling] and HDGF [Bank]). In a way. cited several unidentifiable forms. the old derivation from *band-ling 'one wrapped in swaddling bands' may be correct. words for 'rag' frequently acquire the jocular meaning 'child' and especially 'girl. OI le'barn 'infant.' whence the meaning 'vagrant. barn means 'child' (AEW le'barn. did not exist (Ekwall [1938:259]).' The association of the words lad and lass is. Middle Swedish lösk kona. cf. as in ass for ashes (Scandinavian aska). though the usual idea is that brat is a clipped form of bratchart). the d ~ t problem notwithstanding. strictly speaking.The original sense of the adjective (which is etymologically akin to the verb to let) is 'free from ties. shoe'). with sc
© 2006 Anatoly Liberman.löskr) 'idle. note 5). If this reconstruction is acceptable. Lass.pdf
.' has a similar origin (Sc bratchart may be an extension of brat.' with reference to a word that looks like OI lo§sk.' also found in Middle Swedish. consisting of a woolen blanket. or worthless garment' ('hose. see N dial ljo 'padding for a pack saddle. who compared lass and E lash and referred to his earlier etymology of Sw flicka 'girl' from Sw flicka ~ G flicken (v) 'mend.' Holthausen wanted to correlate his conclusion with Bradley's and suggested that lass was the development of the northern form lash (< *lask). the presumed etymon of lass.Lass Northern dialects represent a Scandinavian sk by ss.com/kdn/kdn14/kdn1402-etymolog-lass. Despite the guarded support by OED and Skeat of Mahn's idea that E bantling 'illegitimate child' is a "corruption" of G Bänkling. but neither is. a straw cushion and a skin'.' Both are words of Scandinavian origin." OED and ODEE repeated Bradley's etymolog in an abridged form.. held to be from bastum 'bat. as usual. was first recorded in northern texts. and it is current mainly in northern and north midland dialects. Elmevik [1986:84]). With regards to le'barn. Likewise. Hence the etymology of the word may be sought in the Scandinavian *laskw. and compare the history of dud (if it is from dud 'coarse cloak').. The most probable etymon of lass is. like the analogous Scandinavian words discussed at the end of this entry. 3. for they do not mean 'youngster' and 'girl' in any Scandinavian language. Kernerman DICTIONARY News • Number 14 • July 2006 http://kdictionaries. Old designations of illegitimate children were not always coined as terms of abuse. and the like (see FUCK). while the verbs G flicken ~ Sw flicka belong with flip. a word like (O)Dan las 'rag. OF coitrart (from coite 'quilt') and LG Mantelkind 'mantle child' that ODEE cites (bastard) do not sound offensive. means 'free. sock. flop. '(piece of) cloth' served as the foundation of a word for 'child. In all those cases. The sought for similarity at the semantic level is between las 'rag' ~ lass 'girl' and flicka 'patch.' Like LAD.
214). All rights reserved.' Dutch wife (in tropical countries) 'open framework used in bed as a rest for the limbs'.' L lacer 'torn. Consider Scavenger's daughter 'instrument of torture. Gmc *laska is possible. and that is why it is believed to be a borrowing from Middle Low German. KS). maiden. laski means 'crack in the wood. see Hubschmid [1953:84-85]).and lask.is typical of the word for 'rag' far beyond the Scandinavian area. KrM. Some of these senses must have developed on Scandinavian soil. E dial lassikie (EDD) is a formation parallel with it or a continuation of ME lasce. among other things.' ME dalke 'small valley (dale). one of whose meanings is 'guillotine'. slip of dry ground between two streams. flap of a pocket. it was felt to be wind + lass. See gun in Weekley (1921) for many more examples of the same type. a Middle English diminutive of las. Although ModG Lasche means. patch.Lass later simplified to ss. patch' (the same in Nynorsk). whereas forms like la(s)ka 'rag. Dan lask is a doublet of las 'rag. in all likelihood.com/kdn/kdn14/kdn1402-etymolog-lass. held to be the first syllable of Gunnhild(r). 'loop. section of an orange. but borrowing and chance are the probable causes of the similarity that would otherwise be natural to ascribe to common heritage. It may have been influenced by some word like ME windle 'winnowing fan. lask 'metal plate' occurs. Humorous and grim references to females in the names of tools and weapons are not rare. but its origin and the relationship between the Germanic and the Romance form are unknown (in addition to etymological dictionaries.' and OFr tenk 'small pail' (Kluge [1926: sec 61a]. tongue of a shoe. chip. Las 'rag' seems to be akin to Go lasiws 'weak.' Russ loskut 'shred. ME lasce was. but the interplay of las. patch. *laska) repeated Gröber's opinion to the contrary (1886:510) without comment. Kernerman DICTIONARY News • Number 14 • July 2006 http://kdictionaries. for lask(e) appeared in the Scandinavian languages only in the 18th century. etc' (A'BM). We seem to be dealing with a European word traceable to an ancient etymon. gusset' (KM. Meyer-Lübke rejected Gmc *laska as the etymon of the Spanish and Portuguese word in all the editions of his dictionary (ML 4919).' MHG lasche and MLG lassce (with several variants) meant 'rag. loop in knitting. top of a glove. and it is strange that Holthausen (1929a:108 and GEW. its etymon is OI winda'ss. Gmc *laska and Dan las may be unconnected despite the near identity of sound and meaning. In Swedish.' and many others.
© 2006 Anatoly Liberman.' but regardless of whether this etymology is correct. while in Icelandic. splinter.' Sp and Port lasca 'piece of leather. G *las has not been recorded. as well as Big Bertha and Katyusha (cannons).' OFr dönk 'small dune. 4. others may have been taken over with the German word. The technical senses of the Middle Low German word contributed to its popularity in other countries. gun.pdf
. Windlass (1500) has nothing to do with lass. shred' are known over a large territory: such are Gk λακι'ς 'rag. Lasce must have been a word like ME polke 'small pool.' but once windlass came into existence.