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Article

Old Frisian insults in cultural-historical perspective

Vestnik Samara University. History, pedagogics, philology. 2018. Vol. 24. No. 3. P. 122-126.

This paper discusses Old Frisian swear words used in the Medieval society to insult another member. These include 8 simplexes and compound words attested in the Old Frisian sources. The Old Frisian corpus can be characterized as a minor one, limited not only in terms of its volume, but also in terms of the genre spectrum. To be more precise, all Old Frisian texts, be that codices, charters or private letters, are related to the legal domain. As blood vengeance was widely practiced in the Middle Age Frisia, the continuous sequence of vendetta was limited through a compensation system covering a vast variety of illegal cases. The concept of honour was of great importance for the Frisians, and any offence was to be compensated in the court. At this, a person’s honour could be offended not only through causing bodily harm or property damage, but through verbal insults as well. The paper analyses four semantic groups of insults: insults related to or addressed to females; social status understatement; intellectual abilities understatement; comparison with animals. Each of the eight cases considered in the paper are discussed within a wider cultural-historical context. First of all, the female-related swear words are connected with, on the one hand, the pan-Germanic idea of female night spirits choking the sleeping person, or, on the other hand, emphasize the bastardly status of the addressee, which would negatively predetermine their position in the Frisian society. Secondly, the addressee could have been insulted by a direct statement of their limited or completely absent property, which would assert their low social status as well. Thirdly, and this case is still relevant for the contemporary world, an insult could have been based on a statement of the addressee’s limited intellectual capabilities. Finally, the fourth group includes designations of animals associated with aggression or indecency. An analysis of Old Frisian swear words and their functions as insults in a wider context allows to touch upon and reflect basic linguo-historical features of the Old Germanic data despite the minimal volume of the lexical selection.