Tracking lexical and semantic change in OE and ME

(with thanks to student ‘A.D.’ and her fine project on pig and pork that anticipated the OED’s draft revisions in 2006!)


Find a problem and some data:


One set of questions that covers many of the final papers you might write:


What are the PDE near-synonyms for a particular concept? (ghost & spirit; pig & pork)

(How) is the structure of the PDE semantic field clarified by a historical explanation?

(How) does the structure of the semantic field in and after the ME period illuminate the relationship between speakers of English and of French?

-you can’t answer all of these questions in your paper, but they’ll give you an idea of what you might find or look for


“[T]he animal in the field or on the hoof retained its Anglo-Saxon name, but when slaughtered for the overlord’s table it was transmogrified into Norman” (Hughes)

-examples include pig and pork


1. Does surviving/codified written evidence help us understand how this process happened, and how long it took?

2. And is this statement really accurate?


You might start by checking semantic fields

-         familiarizing yourself with the data

-         seeing what’s changed between OE and PDE


Semantic field of “pork”

·       OE thesaurus: swín, swínflaesc, swínnes (and cuts)

o      nb: the TOE is not wildly reliable (if you look up pig in the OED you’ll see why), but it’s a good first source

·       PDE thesaurus: pork, pig, suck(l)ing pig (and cuts)

o      so, pork is post-OE

o      Q:  how current/widespread is pig “something you eat”?


Semantic field of “pig”

·       OE thesaurus: includes swín, pecg, hogg .. (etc etc).

o      “young pig” will be important: picga, fearh

§       Q: so did pig originally mean “piglet”?

§       a bit disingenuous: I had already learned that because I’d looked up pig in the OED before I did all this...

·       PDE thesaurus: includes swine, pig, hog, porker, hyo-, -choerus ...

o      “young pig”: piglet, pigling .

§       Q: when was piglet coined to mean “young pig”? around the time when pig stopped meaning “young pig”?


You can also look at historical definitions and quotations that will help you understand when the words were used to denote key concepts

·       OED, MED, Anglo-Norman dictionary

·       NB: the OED has been updated since AD wrote her essay – the draft revisions of 2006 confirm her argument. It’s now a lot easier (but not as much fun).


Make a list of (relevant) facts that are new or interesting to you, e.g.

-looking up pork will give you its Latin etymon, porcus ‘pig, swine’

          -so, porcus meant ‘pig’ at one point: did pork?

-pig has meant ‘young pig’ for a very long time

          -piglet is really recent!

-pork and pig were interchangeable for a while

-flesh of swine used as food: pork, pig (boar)

          -esp when pig was small and whole

-the animal itself: pork and pig (and swine)

 PIG 3. The animal or its flesh as an article of food.
OED 2: Usually referring to a young or sucking pig; otherwise only humorous, the regular name for the meat being pork, dial. also pig-meat; cf. also bacon, ham, griskin, etc.
2006 revision of OED:
Pig was formerly used to refer to a young or sucking pig but is now chiefly restricted to an animal cooked whole. The more usual words for the meat are pork and (for particular types) bacon and ham. See also PIGMEAT n. 1. 

1381 Diuersa Servicia in C. B. Hieatt & S. Butler Curye on Inglysch (1985) 71 Nym pyggus and hennys & o{th}er maner fresch flesch. a1450 in T. Austin Two 15th-cent. Cookery-bks. (1888) 40 Broche {th}in Pygge. a1486 (c1429) Menu Banquet Hen. VI in Archaeologia (1900) 57 57 Pigge endored. ?1534 L. COX tr. Erasmus Paraphr. Epist. Paule vnto Titus II. i. f. xxix, They feare to be contaminate yf they eate eyther porke or pigge. 1586 T. BRIGHT Treat. Melancholie xxxix. 259 Pigge..farced with sage. a1616 SHAKESPEARE Comedy of Errors (1623) II. i. 65 The Pigge quoth I, is burn'd. 1684 J. BUNYAN Pilgrim's Progress II. Introd. sig. A5, Some start at Pigg, slight Chicken, love not Fowl. 1727 R. BRADLEY Family Dict. I. s.v. Galantine, A Pig may also be garnished with its Skin well breaded. 1773 O. GOLDSMITH She stoops to Conquer II. 28 To men that are hungry, pig, with pruin sauce, is very good eating. 1822 C. LAMB Elia 1st Ser. (heading) A Dissertation upon Roast Pig. 1894 Outing 24 355/1 Roast pig is a joy for ever to a Samoan. 1920 Times 15 June 11/1 (heading) The first roast pig. 1994 Mod. Maturity July-Aug. 42/2 At the resort's traditional Tahitian Feast..I porked out on the roast pig.


OED2:{dag}1.    a. A swine, a hog, a pig. Sometimes distinguished from a pig or young swine. Obs. or Hist.

OED draft revision 2006: 2. a. A pig. Also fig. Now rare. In later use hist. and regional (chiefly Irish English (north.)).
Recorded earliest in PORK FLESH n.
  In quots. 1528 and 1598 distinguished from other types of pig.

?a1425 tr. G. de Chauliac Grande Chirurgie (N.Y. Acad. Med.) f. 144, Leue {th}ai recent fruytez..crude porc [?c1425 Paris swynes; L. porcinas] flesh, & fish. c1440 (?a1400) Morte Arthure 3121 Pouerall and pastorelles passede on aftyre With porkes to pasture at the price {ygh}ates. 1528 T. PAYNELL tr. Regimen Sanitatis Salerni sig. Fj, Porkes of a yere or .ij. olde are better than yonge pygges. c1540 (?a1400) Gest Historiale Destr. Troy 3837 Polidarius was pluccid as a porke fat. 1598 J. STOW Suruay of London 314 There were brought to the slaughter house..34. Porkes iij.s. viij.d. the peece, 91. Pigs vj.d. the peece. 1655 T. MOFFETT & C. BENNET Healths Improvem. viii. 69 Sausages, mingling the brawnes of Peacocks, with Porks flesh. 1682 J. COLLINS Salt & Fishery 83 Very large like Calves,..and as fat as Porks. 1713 C'TESS OF WINCHILSEA Misc. Poems 214 A Pestilential Sow, a meazeled Pork, On the foundation has been long at work. [1799 R. SOUTHEY Pig 24 Woe to the young posterity of Pork! Their enemy is at hand.] 1887 J. E. T. ROGERS Hist. Agric. & Prices V. 343 Hogs and porks, the word appearing to be used indifferently, are occasionally found. 1996 C. I. MACAFEE Conc. Ulster Dict. 259/2 Pork, a pig.


Using the definitions and dates in the OED, you might make a rough chart of


-the different/relevant concepts that these words could cover

-pigs generally, edible pigs, small edible pigs cooked whole...

-the subdivisions of the time period




pig generally

young pig

swine reared for slaughter

flesh of swine used as food

(subdivide: size? whole?)

early OE

swín, (fór)

*OE picga?



later OE

swín, (fór)

*OE picga?



early ME





later ME






pork flesh









pork flesh

US hog and hominy





swine  [‘lit., dial., zool.’]






Then start filling in the gaps in the data: Old English


Go back to the TOE and make a really good list of any other possible OE words in that field

 -what you’re really looking for are words that denoted ‘pork’, ‘pig you eat’ in OE

-and Latin words that were glossed by OE words

          -you can use the DOE’s Latin-Old English word wheel!


Go to a dictionary of Old English and look up the OE word(s)

-at this stage you’ll realize that a lot of the TOE’s words are dubious!!

-short: Clark-Hall (online; Robarts short-term loan)

          fearh (æ, e) m. gs. féares little pig, hog ... [‘farrow’]

 -longer: Bosworth-Toller 1898 (online; ref sections)

-[beginning of the alphabet: Toronto Dictionary of Old English

          -supposedly via U of T library homepage

-on microfiche]


Why? see if you can get more information than the OED and TOE give you


Bosworth-Toller has quotations that are translated

fearh, ... A little pig, a FARROW, litter; porcellus: -- Fearh porcellus Wrt. Voc. 78, 40. Fearas suilli vel porcelli vel nefrendes, Ælfc. Gl. 20; Som. 59, 35; Wrt. Voc. 22, 76.

You can try to decode the ‘short titles’ from the Explanation of References at the beginning: to me, they look mostly like OE ‘glosses’ of Latin rather than extended prose.

è if a word mostly occurs in glosses, does that mean that

o      -it wasn’t used much in everyday OE?

o      it wasn’t written about much in the kinds of OE texts that were written/survived?

Nothing detailed under picga or pigga

Tons of citations for swín –Latin porcus or sus – any subdefinitions about their flesh? (no)


 Then there’s the Middle English Dictionary – pretty recently completed!



-in the reference sections of reputable university libraries (Robarts PE ...)

-online: from the library homepage, select 'e-resources' and type in 'Middle English Compendium'



-infer the ME headword and look it up: pigge, pork(e, swín(e


Any more info? Nothing earthshattering...


Pig could mean ‘young pig’ (a1250-) and ‘pig regardless of age or sex’ (1322-) and ‘a pig as food’ (1355-)


Pork could mean ‘flesh’ (c1300), ‘a swine, hog’ (a1425), ‘a hog carcass’ (a1425)


Swine could mean ‘domestic pig’ but also ‘a domestic or wild pig or part of a pig used as food’ (a1225)


But the MED gives more quotations to confirm OED:


Pig and pork were overlapping with each other in late ME and early ModE.


Less surprising: pig ‘animal or its flesh as an article of food’. In this sense it usually seems to refer to a ‘young or sucking pig’ (i.e. its formal integrity is preserved during the cooking process).


More interesting: pork did not lose the meaning of ‘animal on the hoof’ for quite some time.


Next question: what did it mean when it came into English?

OED etymology: “a. F. porc = Pr. porc, It porco, Sp. puerco:-L. porc-us swine, hog.]


Things to think about


-historical dictionaries of French (Robarts reference section)

(I haven’t done this here)


-Anglo-Norman dictionary (in various libraries: at Robarts, it’s in the stacks)


porc, por, por(c)k; porke (pl. poirs Dial Greg 88rb) s.

 pig, swine: ... vaches, berbis, et porkes Anon Chr. 138.15;

boar: En la forest un grant sengler troverent. Lesserunt i les chiens, sur le p. les huerent Rom Chev ANTS 4421


Decoding it

-there’s a list of short titles at the beginning (with bibliographic info)

-Anonimalle Chronicle 1333-81

-Le Roman de toute chevalerie


But general conclusion


porc meant ‘pig, swine’ in Anglo-Norman!


And there were lots of other porc words: porcel ‘pig, swine’; porcelet ‘piglet’, the verb porceler ‘to farrow’....

Next stages


Interrogate the dictionary quotations:


When pig means ‘a pig as food’, does it refer to a whole pig or to something unrecognizable in slices?


What sorts of texts does the word occur in?


(1425) Arun. Cook. Recipes Take vell or pyggus or capons or hennus ... and sethe hom wel togedur a longe tyme in watur and wyn.


(a1486/c1429) Menu Banquet Hen. VI  Pigge endored.


Does your ‘English’ word gloss a Latin word that has a definite meaning?


Does the quotation show signs of translators or editors not being sure about what the right word is?


?a1425 Chauliac(1) Leue þai recent fruytez ... crude porc [Ch(2) swynes; L porcinas] flesh, & fish.


Does the quotation show that the writer thinks the word is ‘old’?


1887 ROGERS Agric. & Prices V. 343 Hogs and porks, the word appearing to be used indifferently, are occasionally found.] 


Does your word occur in a suspicious literary context: rhyme or alliteration? (of course, pig begins with /p/ too...)


(?a1400) Morte Art.(1): Poveralle and pastorelles passede one aftyre With porkes to pasture at the price 3ates.


c1400 Destr. Troy Polidarus was pluccid as a porke fat.


Do your quotations show contemporary writers making a distinction between words in your field?


1528 Paynel Salerne’s Regim. Porkes of a yere or .ij. olde are better than yonge pygges.


1598. Stow Surv. There were brought to the slaughter-house ... 34 porks, 3s. 8d. the piece; 91 pigs, 6d. the piece.



Look at useful primary sources – cookbooks




tak Freysshe broþe of Beff, & draw mylke of Almaundys, & þe Piggys þer-in


cowche thi pigge in disshes ... and serve it forth


And finally...


Select and organize some of this data that you’ve collected into an argument that helps to clarify or solve a problem!