• Jeffrey Brian Flood

Some Anglo-Saxon Words for "Body"



Old English, written until about 1066, was a rich, sing-long language filled with descriptive compound nouns. Since people used these compound nouns because they were descriptive, analyzing them might give us an idea of how Anglo-Saxons perceived the world. Here are some words for BODY, mostly compound.


BODIG. Trunk, the direct ancestor of Modern English’s BODY. It would be the equivalent of calling the entire human body a TORSO, referring only to the part essential for containing life. A trunk can also be where something is held or stored. This means that using this word to describe the BODY was indirectly saying that it was a trunk that held life. According to official sources it bears no relation to BODEGA, although the meaning and the pronunciation are similar.


LÍC. This can be a body, dead or alive, but most often dead. It would be like referring to somebody’s body in Catalan as CADAVER. It’s another word that contained an allusion to death.


LÍCHAMA. CHAMA in Anglo-Saxon is COVER, or a COVERING. LÍCHAMA refers to the skin covering the body, suggesting that they perceived the body as being under the skin, as the skeleton, or bones. Again, another indirect reference to death.


FLAESCHAMA. FLAES was FLESH, and it was MEAT. Here the word refers to the body as skin covering meat, like a wrapper, another indirect reference to death, especially the hunt, people being made of the same stuff as other animals.


BANHUS. Bone-house, house of bones. Since this was also the word for tomb, this was an allusion to the body as a tomb.


SAWELHUS. Soul-house, house of the soul. Here we have the first instance of the body as represented in the worldview of Christianity, possibly the first reference to a belief in life after death.


FEORHHUS, FEORHBOLD. Life-house, life-hold, life-trunk. Another reference to the body as a house, as holding something, like a trunk, or meat.

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