How old is English?


[1] In French, the modern word which is directly derived from frangere is frange (fringe) .

[2] Germanic words starting with w- were often pronounced ghw- (soft g, a blown w-). Traces of that in English are the words what, where, and others. In Beowulf what is written hwaet. Later writers inversed hw- into wh-, as the ghw- pronounciation faded into simple w-. The word war was initially pronounced *hwerra (a Frankish word < Flemish) and meant 'confusion'. The French picked up the word as guerre (1080 poem of Roland). The modern Dutch word for the English war is oorlog, related to the German word erlegen (to kill, to put down). In Dutch war still means 'confusion'.

[3] Roman legionnaires along the Rhine were partly paid in salt. The idea was to sell this to the locals. Salt and especially Mediterranean salt was a highly praised and priced commodity in Germany, not the least because it contains jodine. The Bataves needed a lot of salt to preserve their fish.



The origin of the word 'Frank' is not clear.

Most authors will give 'free man' as the meaning for the word. This is however probably not the original meaning. The word 'Frank' in the sense of 'free man' was first used in 596 AD in a decree of Childebert II. That's 386 years after the name 'Francus' was written by Roman authors for the first time (in 210 AD). The meaning must be considered in its context: in 596, the Franks were exempt of (some) duty, the Gauls compelled.

Another possibility is that the proto-German (pgm) word *franka is a nasalised form of the pgm word *frek-, *frok-, meaning 'brave, courageous, wild'. Roman and Greeks authors often described Franks like that. The nasalation is possible, but not proven. The word is also not very specific as Julius Caesar used similar words to describe the Gauls. There nevertheless is a relation with *frek, *freker.

A third explanation is that the word 'Francus' could be derived from the Latin word 'frangere' 'to break'. 'Francus' would then mean 'he who broke (with), the breaker, slayer, destroyer'. So the word would be Latin in origin and not German.

Frangere: to break, to cut in pieces, to smash, to fracture, to wreck, to destroy. But also to vanquish, to defeat, to win, to impose change. The word had a very broad meaning in Latin. [1]

The relation with the Franks is as follows: There is a known Frankish word *wrakjo (-o is aphonic). *Wrakjo means: little soldier, apprentice. It's the diminutive of *wraker: slayer, soldier, mercenary. The word is related to the English verb to wreck. *Wraker is translated in English as wrecker (destroyer). *Wrakjo was according to the French Larousse dictionnaire Etymologique et Historique introduced by the Franks into proto-French [2], along with many other francique words like jardin (garden). Proto-French was the Gallo-Roman language spoken in Gaul in the 6th century by half the local population (the others, mainly the more remote farmers, still spoke the ancient Brythonic language). The word *wrakjo evolved into the modern French word garçon, boy, lad, young person. Wraker is stronger than legionnaire or warrior and fits the description of elite troops, more specifically, the soldiers of the proto-German speaking Nervian cohorts (for more click here). They were a part of the regular Roman Army.

Wrakers is most probably how those troops called themselves. Wrak(er) is the same word as *frek, *frok, *freker (wreker). The basic meaning of *frek wasn't 'brave, courageous'; that was its connotation! The meaning was : killer, destroyer, pursuer. But the word wasn't nasalised into 'Frank'. The word was simply translated. Francus is the literal translation in Latin of wrecker.
In modern Dutch the verb wraken means: to challenge a jurymen, a witness, evidence. The verb wreken means to avenge. Wraak means revenge. Wrak means (ship)wreck. All those words are related. In modern German, similar words exists: Wrack (wreck), Rache (revenge), Rächer (avenger) etc. The oldest meaning is : to pursue with the intention to kill.

Several Nervian cohorts were stationed along the Rhine. Once those soldiers were pensioned, they settled on the German side of the Rhine (the right bank) where they enjoyed freedom of Roman law and taxes. There they started a trading business (Salic Franks: salt was the most profitable commodity, and as former Roman officers they probably had insider information concerning the arrival of a 'salt ship' [3]). They continued to bear their name: Francus. Anyway, the salt trade is a good explanation for the money the Franks apparently disposed of. War costs a awful lot of money, and Clovis seems to have had an ample budget.

However, Salic could refer to a very different fact. Once the Franks had made a personal fortune with trade, many of them invested that money in their Belgium homeland. I imagine that they bought a farmstead preferably close to their family. Then they could remind their brothers of how successful they had been. These investments explain why there never was a reaction to the alleged Frankish invasion.
Such domains had most of the time tenant farmers. The landowner himself then lived in a 'sele', a Germanic word derived from 'to saw'. A sele was a building made with square beams. Such a construction method had the advantage that much bigger rooms could be build. Tenant farmers lived in much smaller roundhouses, made with the much cheaper round wood. The word 'sele' was transferred into the French language as salle (big hall). So, it is also possible that Salic Franks meant "the Franks with the huge houses, the seles." The word would then refer explicitly to the elite farmers-landowners and former soldiers. The word 'sele' is still to be found in many Belgium place-names, such as 'brook-sele', Brussels; Melsele; Belsele; Oosterzele; Herzele; Londerzeel; etc.

Actually, Salic could refer both to the elite farmer as to the former salt trader.