Phonesthetics and the Etymologies of Blood and Bone

Abstract : Citation : Online Sources : Other Notes

View this article on the English Language & Linguistics website, read online (downloading disabled), or download the accepted manuscript (pdf).


The bearded woman of Limerick, from a manuscript containing Gerald of Wales’ Topographia Hiberniae (c. 1196–1223), displays numerous body-related b– words, including bare, body, brow, beard, breasts, belly, and buttocks. Image: Public domain via British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts (British Library MS Royal 13 B VIII, f. 19r)

The etymologies of English blood and bone are obscure. Although their cognates are well represented in the Germanic family, both lack clear cognates in other Indo-European languages. Various explanations of their origins have been proposed, including that they may be non-Indo-European (e.g. Hawkins 1987). Blood and bone, and their cognates, share an initial /b/ with numerous body-related words (e.g. beard, breast, bosom) throughout Germanic. This initial /b/ constitutes a phonestheme. Phonesthemes – ‘recurring sound-meaning pairings that are not clearly contrastive morphemes’ (Bergen 2004: 290) – are present in many Germanic languages, but their role in lexicogenesis is little understood. I suggest that blood and bone were formed by blending the initial /b/ phonestheme with two preexisting lexemes: Proto-Germanic *flōda– ‘something that flows’ and *staina– ‘stone.’ Phonesthetic blending may be a fruitful avenue for future etymological research.


Pentangelo, Joseph. 2021. Phonesthetics and the etymologies of blood and bone. English Language and Linguistics 25(2), 225–255. [Online: March 2020]

Online Sources

Many of the sources that I refer to in this and my other works are publicly available online for free. This section provides links to all such sources. (It’s not the complete reference list for this paper.)

Abelin, Åsa. 2015. Phonaesthemes and sound symbolism in Swedish brand names. Ampersand 2, 19–29. (doi:10.1016/j.amper.2014.12.001)

Arthur, Ross G. 2002. English–Old Norse Dictionary. Cambridge, ON: In Parentheses Publications. (In Parentheses’ website)

Boutkan, Dirk & Sjoerd Michiel Siebenga. 2005. Old Frisian Etymological Dictionary. Leiden: Brill. (Brill Online — Subscription required. NYPL members have access.)

Cameron, Angus, Ashley Crandell Amos, & Antonette diPaolo Healey (eds.). 2018. Dictionary of Old English: A to I Online. (DOE — Registration required; free membership available.)

Cleasby, Richard & Gudbrand Vigfusson. 1874. An Icelandic-English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (

Dingemanse, Mark. 2018. Redrawing the margins of language: Lessons from  research on ideophones. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 3(1), 4.1–30.(doi:10.5334/gjgl.444)

Elsen, Hilke. 2017. The two meanings of sound symbolism. Open Linguistics 3(1), 491–499. (doi:10.1515/opli-2017-0024)

Feist, Sigmund. 1914. Indogermanen und Germanen: Ein Beitrag zur Europäschen Urgeschichtsforschung. Halle: Niemeyer. (1919 edition available at

Fick, August, Hjalmar Falk, & Alf Torp. 1909. Wörterbuch der Indogermanischen Sprachen: Dritter Teil: Wortschatz der Germanischen Spracheinheit. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. (Scans and transliteration by Sean Crist here)

 Gollancz, Israel (ed.). 1895. The Exeter Book, an Anthology of Anglo-Saxon Poetry. London: Early English Text Society. (

Hough, Carole & Christian Kay (eds). 2017. Thesaurus of Old English (TOE) Online. (TOE)

Joseph, Brian D. 1997. On the linguistics of marginality: The centrality of the periphery, 19pp. (PDF)

Kroonen, Guus. 2013. Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic. Leiden: Brill. (Brill Online — Subscription required. NYPL members have access.)

Lawler, John. 2006. The data fetishist’s guide to rime coherence, 16 pp. (PDF)

Liberman, Anatoly. 2006. Review of Dirk Boutkan and Sjoerd Michiel Siebinga, Old Frisian Etymological Dictionary. Trefwoord, 15pp. (PDF)

Magnus, Margaret. 1998. Phonosemantic Dictionary. (Website)

Oxford English Dictionary Online. (OED Online — Subscription required. NYPL members have access.)

Pereltsvaig, Asya. 2010. Blending in. Languages of the World. (Website)

Skeat, Rev. Walter W. 1887. Principles of English Etymology, Vol. I: The Native Element. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (

Tappenden, Graham. 2009. Teuro. (Website)

Wallis, John. 1653. Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae. Oxford: Leon Lichfield. (

Other Notes

  • This paper won the 2018 Richard M. Hogg prize from the International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE), and will be presented at the ISLE6 conference at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu, Finland, in June 2021.
  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Word-Formation Theories III & Typologies and Universals in Word-Formation IV conference at Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Slovakia, in 2018.
  • The earliest version of this paper served as my second qualifying paper in graduate school, earning me an en route M.Phil in February, 2017.