--- In norse_course@yahoogroups.com, "akoddsson" <konrad_oddsson@...>

> Yes, I think rúnar refers to letters here and above. I also incline
> toward the view that this was also the original, basic meaning of
> the word, and that secondary usages evolved therefrom - that things
> which could be represented by written runes, such as sayings, bits
> of lore, etc., or even a speaking companion (rúni/rúna), could be
> thus refered to. Compare Óðins use of 'fornir stafir' to refer to
> the knowledge of Vafþrúðnir jötunn. In runic inscriptions both the
> words rúnar and stafir refer to the inscribed characters themselves,
> and are widely attested. The secondary meanings are, of course,
> natural. One can see that even in an inscriptional instance where
> the literal meaning seems indicated, such as 'þórr uígi þessar
> rúnar', one can by extension assume that þórr is invoked to hallow
> the entire grave monument - in fact, þórr uígi þessi kuml does also
> occur in extant inscription. Fimbultýs fornar rúnar (Völuspá - end)
> is another example where the meaning seems to refer to events and
> tidings from the reign of Óðinn, and relating to him, rather than to
> Óðins alphabet as such, despite the fact that this god is also the
> inventer of the written runes. A complex word indeed ;-) Still, and
> despite the lack of attestation, I have no doubt that the Goths also
> called the characters of their native alphabet runes *rûnôs. Modern
> English also preserves the basic meaning, as well as the original
> use of 'read and write' (ON ráða and (v)ríta). Both ráða and (v)ríta
> occur in inscriptons in their original, basic meanings of 'to read
> and write', although (v)ríta is rare because runes were inscribed
> (ristnar, rísta) on rocks. Snorri 'lét ríta' in Heimskringla. ráð; þú;
> rúnar, ráð; rúnar þær reginkunnu, ráði sás kunni, etc. all occur in
> inscriptions, meaning 'read'. Lesa and skrifa are secondary in ON,
> the latter a foreign borrowing, the former an extended meaning from
> ON lesa (to collect, gather, etc.). Our forefathers, then, would
> both rísta and (v)ríta rúnar, as well as ráða rúnar (read runes).
> Not that all of this relates to your original qustion about how the
> 1st uses the word, but why not mention it for history's sake ;-)

Heill Konráð! The accented letters in your message got a bit garbled
at the Yahoo website, so I've filled in what I *think* you wrote; I
hope I haven't made any major mistakes; knowing our luck, they'll
probably just get garbled all over again :-) Yes, 'skrifa' is
ultimately from Latin 'scrîbere' "to write", and 'lesa' a loan
translation of Latin 'legere' "to gather" -- not part of the inherited
Germanic terminology for reading and writing. (Incidentally, I first
learnt that from a book that was published of the letters of JRR
Tolkien. In one he writes about how he mistakenly used the Gothic
cognate 'lisan' in one of his early attemots to write in Gothic,
before he learnt that Go. 'lisan' still only meant "to gather".) I
suppose they must have been taken into Old Norse from German
missionaries (compare Old Saxon 'scrîban', with crossed 'b', and
'lesan'). In this respect, English was more conservative than
Continental West Germanic and clung on to its native terms: 'read' and
'write'. On the other hand, Modern English 'rune' isn't a direct
descendent of Old English 'rún', but was reintroduced in the 17th
century from the Old Norse word. The native word survived into Middle
English as 'roun'; the last citations in the Oxford English dictionary
are from about 1400. If it had survived, we'd most likely spell it
'rown' and rhyme it with 'brown' < OE brún. The related verb 'rúnian'
"whisper, mutter, murmur; talk privately, give counsel" survived into
Early Modern English, eventually acquiring a 'd' to become 'round'
(not related to the word meaning "circular"!); it's now obsolete in
Standard English.

In Old English, the simplex 'rún' has the senses 'whisper; mystery;
secret' [ http://beowulf.engl.uky.edu/%7Ekiernan/BT/bosworth.htm ]. A
runic letter is 'rúnstæf', as in Béowulf: 'rúnstafas rihte gemearcod'
"runestaves marked aright" (on the hilt of a sword). There are a few
examples from late Old English and Middle English of 'rún' with the
meaning "runic letter", and I think it's been suggested that these
might be due to Old Norse influence, but I guess we can't be sure
about that. These include the collocation 'rúne wrítan', and the Old
English ltranslation of Bede's History renders 'litteras solutorias'
as 'alýsendlecan rúne' "loosening letters", magical characters
supposed to have the power of freeing someone from fetters. In some
other examples from late OE and ME, it even has the meaning "book,
writing, epistle".

In Old Saxon 'rûn' is "counsel, conference"; in Old High German
"whisper; mystery; letter" (which should make us wary of discounting
the possibility that letter was among the meanings inherited from very
early times). Gothic 'rûn' translates Greek MUSTERION "mystery";
BOULH "descision"; BOULH, SUMBOULION "counsel, plan, plot", either
consultation and planning made between people, or the secret plans in
people's hearts (in the sense of a consultation between people,
SUMBOULION, 'rûn' appears to be synonymous with 'ga-rûni'). Besides
this, there is the compound 'haliurunnas' = Lat. 'magas mulieries'
"witches" in Jordanes (i.e. *halja-rûnôs, cognate with Old English
'hellerúnan' "witches, wizards"; Old High German 'helli-rûna'

There are no examples of Go. 'rûn' used with the meaning "letter"
(which of course doesn't rule out anything, given the smallness of the
surviving corpus, and the fact that most regions where Gothic was
spoken are completely unrepresented); instead we have 'bôka' "letter
of the alphabet; document, deed, charter" and in the plural "book,
scripture". Greek ANAGNWSIS is translated in the Gothic Bibles as
'saggws boko', literally "singing of letters / book-singing",
ANAGINWSKEIN "to read" by 'siggwan bôkô' "to sing letters / to sing a
book or books". Go. 'us-siggwan' "read, recite" (literally "sing
out") corresponds to Greek ANAGNWNAI, Latin 'legere'. On English
'book', the OED comments: "The original meaning was evidently
`writing-tablet, leaf, or sheet': cf. Venantius Fortunatus Carm. vii.
18, 19 `barbara fraxineis pingatur runa tabellis', also OS. thia bôk
the writing-tablet, `pugillaris' Luke i. 63 (in Heliand 232, 235), OE.
bóc charter: in pl. tablets, written sheets, hence `book,' a sense
subseq. extended to the singular." And Old Norse 'bók' also has that
sense of fabric, textile: 'boekr váru þínar inar bláhvítu...'

All this seems to point to a native tradition of writing on bark,
which ties in nicely with the early Slavic birch bark inscriptions we
mentioned recently. The OED casts doubt on this idea, saying "there
are great difficulties in reconciling the early forms of the two
words, seeing that bôk-s `writing-tablet' is the most primitive of
all." Presumably the thinking there is that *'bôk-s' looks like the
more basic form, *'bôkjôn' the derivative, but I can't really see that
this is such a big problem that it disqualifies the idea. Maybe the
term for the tree became the regular word for a piece of bark used for
writing, then later a derivative was coined to refer more specifically
to the tree; any number of twists and turns in sense could have
happened, with words from the same root becoming more generalised or
more restricted:

"I saw some book in the forest today."
"What was it about?"
"No, I mean the still growing kind of book, you know, a book-tree, a