11 words beginning with wl-
You might have thought that there aren’t any words in English that begin with the letters wl-. And, if you were thinking of those in common use today, you would be right. However, as a historical dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) also contains lots of words which are now obsolete – including a surprising number of words beginning with wl-. The w– stopped being pronounced at some point in the Middle Ages, and most of these died out by the end of the 16th century (some much earlier). Here are some of the more interesting ones…
The verb wlaffe means to stammer or speak indistinctly. Similarly, a wlaffer is someone who is prone to wlaffing. Although it might look very similar to the British use of waffle today, there is no evidence that the words share an origin; waffle was first as a synonym of ‘yelp’, being imitative of a dog saying ‘waff’.
Wlat, wlatness, wlating, and wlate
From as early as the tenth century, something wlat was nauseous or loathsome, and the verb wlate meant to feel loathing or disgust. This also gave us wlating: loathing, nausea, or detestation. And speaking of detestation, detest itself has an interesting origin. Originally meaning ‘to call upon to witness’ (similar to today’s testify), it comes from the Latin detestari, from de, ‘down’, and testari, ‘call upon to witness’. This may have the same root as ‘testicle’; a man’s testicles testified that he was male.
Wlench and wlonk
To wlench was to make proud or to pride oneself; something wlonk was proud or haughty or, sometimes, rich and magnificent. If you are proud, you could be wlonkful – or, if you prefer, inclined to wlonkhede and wlonkness.
Wlite and wliti
Not all wl- words are so negative, however. Wlite, denoting beauty or splendour, is related to the Old Norse litr, meaning colour or countenance, which gave us the dialectal lit – a colour, hue, or dye.
Wlite as a verb has a similarly cheerful definition: to pipe, chirp, or warble, perhaps imitative of a bird.
A wlo is a hem, a fringe, or a nap on cloth. Although no longer used in this way, nap used to refer to the woolly material removed from the surface of a cloth by shearing. Used for stuffing pillows, it is where we get nap sack (a sack for carrying nap), not to be confused with knapsack. This goes back to Dutch knapzack, probably from knappen ‘to bite (food)’ and zak, ‘sack’. It was first used by soldiers for carrying necessities such as food supplies.
And finally: wlisp is an older form of lisp (apparently the only survivor of these wl-words); it is probably imitative in origin – which helps explain why lisp is such a cruel word to say if you happen to suffer from one.