Fee, feudal
Posted: 04 June 2007 07:26 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Once did she hold the gorgeous East in fee.

Wordsworth from an ode on Venice. The line set me thinking about the word fee, and, unsurprisingly I suppose, if one gives it a little thought, it’s from the same root as feudal. The etymology for the former (and hence the latter) is as tangled as it is obscure, but OED has fun speculating.

The mutual relation of the various Romanic and med.L. forms is somewhat obscure. According to some scholars, fief is a vbl. n. f. fiever to grant in fee, f. fieu, which, as well as the other forms of the n., descends from feodum or its Teut. source. The ultimate etymology is uncertain. A prevalent view is that the word is f. OHG. fehu cattle, property, money (= FEE n.1), + ôd wealth, property. This must be rejected, because such an etymology could directly yield no other sense than that of ‘movable property’, which is very remote from the sense of feodum as used in early records, viz. usufruct granted in requital of service (often opposed to alodis, originally meaning ‘inheritance’); cf. the synonyms, Ger. lehen, OE. l{aeacu}n (the same word as Eng. loan), and L. beneficium, i.e. something granted to a subject by the kindness of his lord. A more tenable theory is that the OF. fiu is an adoption of the Teut. fehu in the contextual sense of ‘wages, payment for service’; the Rom. word certainly had this meaning (see branch II below), and it is conceivable that the feudal sense is a specific application of it. The d of the L. forms, feudum, feodum, however, is left unexplained by this hypothesis; some regard it as a euphonic insertion (comparing It. chiodo nail from vulgar L. *clo-um from clavum); others think that it is due to the analogy of allodium; and others suppose feudum to be a vbl. n. f. feudare = feum dare; but each of these views involves serious difficulties. It is not impossible that two originally distinct words may have been confused. A conjecture proposed by Prof. Kern, and approved by some German jurists, is that feodum represents an OHG. *fehôd, related to the vb. fehôn, which is recorded only in the sense ‘to eat, feed upon’, but is supposed on etymological grounds to have had the wider meaning ‘to take for one’s enjoyment’. This would account fairly well for the sense, but involves too much hypothesis to be accepted with confidence. It is curious, if the word be of Teut. formation, that there is no direct proof of its having existed in any Teut. language, nor is it found even in the L. text of the Frankish laws.]

BTW the word feudal has no relationship whatsoever with feud (that’s the feudin’, fussin’ and fightin’ feud), which has an equally tangled etymology, although here at least we get to a root word in the end, Old Teutonic faiho, enmity. (The word foe is a cognate).

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Posted: 04 June 2007 09:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Very interesting as ever, aldi.  Thanks.

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Posted: 04 June 2007 01:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Phew!

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Posted: 04 June 2007 10:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Anyone who owns ‘freehold’ land in England still holds it in fee: ‘fee simple, absolute in possession’.

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Posted: 05 June 2007 05:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I think that OED quote is an example of bad etymology writing; it’s as if they deliberately set out to be as confusing as possible.  Whatever the details, the word almost certainly goes back to the PIE root *peku- ‘wealth’; the etymology should include in the first, regular-size part (which aldi doesn’t quote) a line about the word probably being from that PIE root before going into the small-print details he quotes, hopefully written somewhat more clearly and perhaps even more concisely.

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Posted: 05 June 2007 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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My apologies. As lh says, I neglected to put in the first part of the etymology for fee.

a. AF. fee, fie = OF. fé, fié, *fiet (app. implied in fiez pl.), fief, fieu, fiu, Pr. feo, feu, fieu, It. fio (prob. from Fr. or Pr.; the Langobardic Lat. faderfium is a compound of Teut. fehu FEE n.1), med.L. feodum, feudum (first cited by Du Cange from a charter of Charles the Fat, A.D. 884), also fevum, feum, fedium, in Sicily fegum.

And yes, nothing about peku. One wonders if there are many instances of modern scholarship (I assume that’s the case here?) making OED etymologies incomplete, misleading or just plain wrong.

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Posted: 05 June 2007 05:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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24450239 - 04 June 2007 10:36 PM

Anyone who owns ‘freehold’ land in England still holds it in fee: ‘fee simple, absolute in possession’.

“Fee simple” is still used in United States real property law.

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Posted: 05 June 2007 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The OED rarely traces words back to the Indo-European. This appears to be an editorial policy. So the absence of an Indo-European root in this case is unsurprising and unrevealing.

But I agree that this is bad writing. What is the relationship between the OHG. fehu, meaning cattle and the Germanic (Teutonic) fehu meaning wages? Are these not examples of the same root and the OED is splitting hairs and demanding precision on an issue where we can never be precise? I’m not sure when this etymology was written. The entry was apparently updated sometime since initial publication (there is at least one 20th century citation in there), probably in one of the supplements. If anyone has access to the OED1, it might be worthwhile to look it up and see what it says there.

Anatoly Liberman plumps for the root from fehu meaning cattle. So, there is at least modern etymologist who doesn’t buy the OED’s explanation on this one.

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Posted: 05 June 2007 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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’Langobardic Lat. faderfium’: fee, fie, fo, fum?

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Posted: 05 June 2007 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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The OED rarely traces words back to the Indo-European.

Not so—they just call it “Old Aryan” in good 19th-century philological style.  From the etymology for father, for instance:

OTeut. fader, ?fadēr:—OAryan pə’tēr (pə’ter-, pətr-). whence Skr. pitr, Gr. patēr, L. pater, OIr. athir.

And the etymology for fee ‘livestock, cattle’ (fee number 1) says:

OTeut. *fehu:—OAryan *péku-, whence also Skr. paçu masc., L. pecū neut. cattle (cf. L. pecūnia money).

As for the etymology aldi quotes (for fee number 2), it’s the same in OED1; the fascicle Fanged-Fee came out in April 1895, so the etymology was written at some undetermined time before that.

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Posted: 06 June 2007 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The OED rarely traces words back to the Indo-European.

Not so—they just call it “Old Aryan” in good 19th-century philological style.

There are a total of 61 entries in the OED that trace a root back to “Old Aryan.” Given that there are over 291,000 entries in the second edition, I’d say that’s pretty rare.

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Posted: 06 June 2007 10:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Very true!  I didn’t do any statistical analysis, just checked a couple of obvious words, found “OAryan,” and leaped to conclusions.

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