Sharing again… thrang as Throp’s wife!

I went to my Saxish group the other day, and when I came home I was looking at some blogs i’d posted before, and this seemed to fit very well with what we had jsut done:

I went to my Saxish group today, and as usual the time flew past with so many interesting things talked about and discussed. Although we are mainly interested in the language the Saxon tribes spoke her in Somerset a millennium ago, we end up talking about all sorts of things, the beginning of language, the roots of common words, the movement of peoples, vowel shifts, pagan temples, mangelwurzels…

We had just had coffee when Bob, our group leader, suddenly asked if any of us knew what ‘thrang as Throp’s wife‘ meant… well I for one certainly didn’t! Others vaguely remembered hearing it said and there was a lot of laughter and discussion about it… but when I got home, I wasn’t sure we actually had a definitive answer but Bob did mention that Throp was sometimes Throop, Thrap or Thorp

I came across an article in the Spectator’s archive which was written in 1931 about this very saying, although sometimes it was ‘As flirting as Throp’s wife‘ – flirting here meaning to go from thing to thing rather than anything romantic (like flitting in fact). Whether it was thrang or flirting, the end of the saying was that she hanged herself either with a cloth or a garter – but the actual meaning of the complete  saying was someone who busied herself but never actually got anything done… sounds like me! However, somewhere else thrang was explained as ‘being over-ears in work’ – I think we’d say ‘up to our necks in work’..

I explored some more and discovered that thrang or sometimes throng means very busy, so anyone can be thrang (I must remember this!)

I found a couple of examples from two different dialect poems from Yorkshire:

Wheer men grind their hearts to guineas,
An’ their mills are awlus thrang,
Turnin’ neet-time into day-time,
Niver stoppin’ th’ whole yeer lang.

(Where men grind their hearts to guines
And their mills are always thrang
Turning night-time into daytime
Never stopping the whole year long.)


Good wheat and wuts and barley-corns
My mill grinds all t’ day lang ;
Frae faave ‘o t’ morn while seven o’ t’ neet
My days are varra thrang.
(Good wheat and oats and barley-corns
My mill grinds all the day long;
From five in the morn until seven of the night
My days are very thrang)


      1. simonjkyte

        I did some lessons under Michael Swanton at Exeter Uni although I was supposed to be studying economics. Later I joined something called Tha (with a thorn) Egliscan gesithas (with an eth). They had a postal course with St Andrews Uni – was OK, a bit ‘anglian’!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. simonjkyte

        I have very controversial ideas about the nature of different ethnic groups in Britain at the time of teh Roman empire and the mix of languages southern england was speaking at the time and the role the atrebetans played in this

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Lois

        Controversial sounds interesting! Does that include what’s now Friesland? Or is that further north (my geography is a bit erratic!)


      4. simonjkyte

        We have a well-developed chronology for the development of the early English language. It is so well-engrained that it is never challenged. Old English has its roots in the development of Western Germanic languages and is especially close to Old Saxon and Old Friesian. There are two other sub-groups of Germanic – the extinct Gothic, which is recorded in translations of the Bible and what was to become the Scandinavian languages.
        Those who have challenged this chronology have tended to be ridiculed and confined to the margins. Then came Stephen Oppenheimer, who main thesis was to discredit the simplistic genetic studies of who was of Saxon descent and who was Celt. It was time to listen to this very maverick fringe.
        The standard logic is that English arrived here with the invasion of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the fifth century A.D. The dialects, although slightly different from one another, were all ‘Ingvaeonic’ – that is to say, bearing the mark of the tribes who lived up against the North Sea coast in Continental Europe.
        Friesian occupies an awkward position here and, whatever line is taken, this issue ultimately has to be addressed. Old Friesian and the main dialects of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ England are closer to one another than Old English is to Old Saxon. There might be relatively simple explanations for that. Friesian’s direct descendent, Frysk, still survives in several dialects today.
        The central problem for the development of early English is that, if the Anglo-Saxons invaded an island that was essentially Celtic speaking then, even allowing for the fact that they might soon have formed an elite group in society, one might have expected some words of Celtic to have been imported. Far later, England would spend about three centuries with an official dialect of French as its first language.
        We do know that the language which eventually emerged out of French domination was a very changed one with literally thousands of French and Latin-rooted words in it. Anglo-Saxon inherits a handful of words such as ‘bin’ and ‘gull’ and the odd dialect word such as ‘brock’ for badger – and that’s it!
        Linguistically, that might be seen to support the ‘total wipeout’ hypothesis: that the Saxons arrived and either killed everyone or very rapidly caused them to flee to Wales and the West Country.
        But the archaeological evidence shows no sign of this. Rather, it indicates considerable continuity.
        And yet there are words all over the place in English which have no sensible root.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Lois

        Very thought provoking… I don’t know enough about it, but it jsut seems nonsensical that everyone would just run away, surely they’d hunker down, say ‘yes sir’ ‘no sir’, get on with their lives with their new masters – and from what little I know, and what you say, there is such little actual evidence of mass slaughter.


      6. simonjkyte

        He is the most objective source we have with regard to the population of Britannia in the first century B.C.. This is where the Celticist thesis runs into its biggest road bump. It is huge, actually. I should say at this point that Latin was changing and small subtleties could go unnoticed in Caesar’s statements.
        The man himself famously stated that Gaul was in ‘three parts’. Etymology does suggest that the Belgae may originally have had Celtic roots. However, their proximity to Germania had evidently resulted in some cultural distinctiveness from the remainder of Gaul. Either that or we should take Ceasar’s more detailed comments literally: the Belgae were from Germania and had crossed the Rhine and settled in Gaul on account of its fertility. It may well have been the case that the Belgic elites adopted the Celtic language but there are also signs that many did not, even that they may have represented a now-lost branch of the Teutonic languages, separate from West Germanic, Scandinavian and Gothic. And it fits a little with the WestBloc Hypothesis too.
        OK so the Atrebates might not have been Celtic speaking in Gallia Belgica. But in England the same tribal name occurs: Atrebates. And next to them either another tribe the Belgae or the Romans carved out a civitas there to keep warring Atrebates / Dobunni, Durotriges apart. The Atrebates had clearly expanded into Verica’s shire (Berkshire) and into an area of West Sussex the Regni.
        So however inconveniently for both Anglo-Saxonists and Celticists the Belgic tribes clearly invaded Southern England at some point. And that point in time is evidently before the Roman occupation. Indeed, it was a ‘Belgic’ tribe, the Atrebates who asked for ROME’s help in the first place.
        But Caesar says something else as well. He says that the people of Southern Britannia speak the same languages as those opposite them in northern Gaul. Now he has already said that Northern Gaul is separate in language from the rest of Gaul.
        If S England was effectively bilingual and already had a Germanic language present, even if fairly different from the tongues of Angles saxons and Jutes, could that not explain why Brythonic did not exactly infiltrate ‘English’?


      7. simonjkyte

        hahah yes. Generally animal names are close between languages on the same IE branch. But English has a bunch of them that are all etymologically dodgy. They include words like bird andbadger. But most of them bizarrely end in g. ‘I saw a dog, a hog, a pig, a stag, a frog and an earwig’ looks far more different between english and other germanic languages than it should do.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. simonjkyte

        Frogs is the least unusual but the sounds don’t change rel to other languages in the same way, some of the rest are very difficult. The very fact that what I would call a pig and an american friend calls a hog has no logical etymology is worthy of attention. And this G ending has to be something else.


      9. Lois

        In some areas teh ‘g’ has a very hard ending (I don’t know if that is the correct terminology) – so its dog-gga, pig-gga _ I guess that’s just regional and not significant?


      10. simonjkyte

        I also don’t think that the similarities between early settlements on teh east anglian coast at the feodorati ‘west saxon’ settlements around here are great enough to talk of any anglo-saxon invasion or even infusion.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. simonjkyte

        In the eighteenth line the name Beowulf is introduced but it is not the eponymous hero of the story. Was this just a mis-rendering of names by careless scribes or did they want to conflate this ‘Beowulf’ with the hero of the tale. Whatever the logic, if this poem was really meant to be read in a mead hall such as have now been discovered at Yeavering in the north of Northumbria or Lyminge in East Kent, then, after a couple of glasses of mead the introduction of a second character of the same name before the main character could have been rather confusing, especially to a Saxon audience.
        Him þæs liffrea,
        wuldres wealdend, woroldare forgeaf;
        Beowulf wæs breme blæd wide sprang,
        Scyldes eafera Scedelandum in.
        This is the Bee-Wolf, the hunter of honey, the bear. But it is not clear that he was not originally the Boew-wulf, the hunter of barley, agricultural symbol and source of hallucinations. Bjorkman (1918) identifies a companion to Barley in Lokasenna, the Icelandic saga, Beyla (Bee). Scyld Schefing also falls into this agricultural tradition etymologically. Beowa is inserted as the son of Scyld and the grandson of Sceafa, in lineages carried back to Adam in royal family trees. This is Norse legend connected with the harvest deity. Freyr. Whether or not this poem was ever really read in some mead-hall, the audience was expected to have some reasonable background knowledge of such things.

        Liked by 1 person

      12. simonjkyte

        I am afraid I think 19th century interpretations may have been nearer the spot than what is going on at the moment. There is a concept in Anglo-Saxon poetry: the kenning. A kenning (connected with the word ‘to know’) is a word used in circumlocution for another word. For alliterative poetry these are usually compound words. Interestingly, kennings are not actually a common feature of Germanic poetry being only attested in Old English outside Scandinavian sources with one exception in the Old Saxon Heliand. Beowulf is full of them.

        Liked by 1 person

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