About the root of _vargr_ meaning wolf versus outlaw. Am passing on a very
brief summary of a lecture from my Old English professor, Fred C. Robinson,
given Wed 24 Jan 2001. The related word in Old English is_wearg_, and it's
never applied to wolves, only outcasts, thieves, and other criminals. The
earliest written attestation of the word in the Frankish _Lex Ribuaria_
(which is in Latin but has Germanic loanwords) has _vargus_ as
"outlaw". What clinches it for me is that the Proto-Germanic tribes used
to be neighbours of the Finns, long before they split up to become Saxons
and Norse and Goths, etc., and the Finns borrowed quite a few words from
Proto-Germanic at that time. One of them is the stem _vark-_ 'thief'
(_varas_ in the nominative). So my professor concluded that it was
criminal before wolf.
By the way, I don't think looking at ON sagas would really answer the
question. I'm assuming you just dashed off that suggestion without
thinking too hard about it. For one thing, it would be perfectly possible
for a saga to use both words for wolf with not much differentiation in
meaning. The Old English had at least half a dozen words for "horse", and
at least a dozen for "man". Besides, the ON sagas are not the oldest
source of information about the root word in this case. But I do agree
that it would be interesting for the purposes of this course to know which
meaning of the word was primary at the time of the sagas we're
studying. Haukur and Oskar have glossed _vargr_ as "wolf", so I guess
that's what it usually meant in 12th(?) century Old Icelandic. The Old
Icelandic dictionary that my professor quoted does also give a second
definition, though - basically "outlaw" with a lot of frills - has that
ever cropped up in your experience, H & O?
being obnoxiously philological :-)
PS That was an awfully truncated version of Fred Robinson's lecture. If
you want the full-scale summary with quotations and everything, let me know
- I already typed it up for Oskar and Haukur a couple of months ago, so
it's no trouble to send it again.
At 03:05 PM 3/10/2001 +0200, you wrote:
> >varg(r) is a term which means both a dangerous wolf and an outlaw/outcast,
> >which referred to outlaws living as wolves and being just as dangerous. on
> >occasion, it's also used to refer to a shape-shifter in the form of a wolf,
> >as this concept overlaps with that of an outlaw living as a wolf. for the
> >best example, check out the portion of Völsunga saga where Sigurð and
> >Sinfjötli are living as wolves.
>Varg has a rich set of etymological entries. An interesting question is what
>came first: the meaning as criminal or the meaning as wolf? An interesting
>idea is also the proposal that "varg" may be etymologically related to a
>German word that means "to strangle".
>P.S. Why don't you give us the answer, if you have the Volsunga saga within
>reach: does it say vargr or ulfr?