Etymology of the words `network', `net', and `work'
Etymology of the words network, net, and work
© 2004 Keith Briggs
This word is rather strange - what exactly is a network? Obviously, a work
or construction reminiscent of a net, but when was the word first used in this
form? Although the two component words are from common Germanic stock, the
juxtaposition network seems to be a uniquely English coinage, later
imitated by the Germans with Netzwerk. However, we must not forget the
well-known Latin term opus reticulatum, a type of brickwork with the
bricks placed at π/4 to the horizontal, so that the
pattern of mortar lines resembles a net. Since this term means literally `net
work', perhaps it is the prototype of the English word? The earliest
occurrence in print of English network is in the Geneva bible of 1560
(the 1599 edition seems to have changed the spelling to network):
And thou shalt make unto it a grate like networke of brass (Exodus xxvii
Spenser wrote in his poem Muiopotmos (1590):
Not anie damzell, which her vaunteth most
In skilfull knitting of soft silken twyne;
Nor anie skil'd in workmanship embost;
Nor anie skil'd in loupes of fingring fine,
Might in their diuers cunning euer dare,
With this so curious networke to compare.
According to the OED, the word is recorded in 1658 referring to reticulate structures in animals and plants. From 1839 it is used to refer to rivers and canals,
and from 1869 to railways. In 1883 a distribution network of electrical
cables is first referred to, and in 1914 a wireless broadcasting network.
What about the two component words? Net is the more interesting word.
This word is first recorded in English in the writings of King
Ælfréd, in his translation of Boethius from about the year 888.
It was also used in Old English for a spider's web.
Here are the complete nett and nette entries
from the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary.
Note that some of the æ characters should have macrons, but
these cannot be represented in html, so I just left them off.
The additions [in blue] are my own attempts at translation.
nett, es; n.
I. a net (for fowling, fishing, or hunting) :--
Wrt. Voc. i. 285, 16. Nyt, 73, 41.
Ned cassis, [net,web,trap] ii. 14, 3.
Hyra net wæs tóbrocen [their net was broken], Lk. Skt. 5, 6. Úres fisceres nett nostri piscatoris rete, [Our fish-net]
Ælfc. Gr. 15; Som. 19, 57. Feallaþ on nette his cadent in
retiaculo ejus, [falling in his net] Ps. Spl. 140, II. Ic mín
nett út læte laxabo rete, [I shall let out my net] Lk.
Skt. 5, 5: Mt. Kmbl. 4,18. Lætaþ ðæt nett on ða swíðran healfe. [release the net on the right side] Jn. Skt.
21, 6. Ic bréde nett plecto, [I plait] Ælfc. Gr. 28; Som. 32, 8. Óþ ðæt ðe hig
(wildeór) cuman tó ðám nettan ... Ne canst ðú huntian búton mid nettum? Coll.
Monast. Th. 21,15-21: 22, II. On feala wísan ic beswíce fugelas, hwilon mid
nettum, 25, II. Hí forléton hyra nett (netta, Lind.) [they were preparing their nets] relictis retibus,
Mt. Kmbl. 4, 22: Homl. Th. i. 578, 21.
mosquito-net:--Nette, fleógryfte conopio, Wrt. Voc. ii. 19,18.
III. net-work, web: -- Swá tedre swá swá gangewifran nett, Ps. Th. 38, 12.
Donne hió (the spider) geornast biþ ðæt beo áfære fleógan on nette [that she may frighten flies into her net],
89,10. Folc gescylde hálgan nette (with a net-work of clouds), Cd. Th.
182, Ii; Exod. 74. [Goth, nati: O. Sax. netti, (fisk-)net: O.
Frs. nette: Icel. net; gen. pl. netja : O. H. Ger.
nezzi rete.] v. æl-, boge-, breóst-, deór-, drag-, feng-, fisc-,
fleóh-, here-, bring-, inwit-, mycg-, searo-, wæl-nett, and next
f. The net-like caul :-- Nette (under the heading de
membris hominum) disceptum i. reticulum (cf. hoc reticulum, pinguedo
circa jecur [fat around liver], 704, 7), Wülck. Gl. 293,6. Nettae oligia, 35, 34. Nytte
obligia [binding, bandage], Wrt. Voc. i. 45, 18. Nette, ii. 63, 39 : disceptum,
26,19. [Icel. netja the caul: cf. O. H. Ger. nezzi
adeps [fat] intestini; pl. intestina.] v. neta.
Net has many cognates in Germanic languages and a probable one in Latin.
The Germanic words are of neuter gender (except for nót which is
feminine); the Latin word is feminine.
Note that the normal Latin word for a net is rete, although there may have also been a Vulgar Latin word *tragina for a dragnet.
|Gothic ||nati |
|Old English ||net(t), netti |
|Middle English ||net |
|Modern English ||net |
|Modern Dutch ||net |
|Old High German||nezzi |
|Middle High German||netze |
|Modern High German||Netz |
|Old Frisian ||nette |
|Old Saxon ||netti |
|Old Norse ||net (netja v.), nót|
|Modern Icelandic ||net |
|Modern Swedish ||nät |
|Latin ||nassa ||
The Gothic word occurs exactly seven times in the bible. It takes the form
natja in the dative. Because Gothic is the earliest record of
Germanic (from about 350), it is worth looking at all these occurrences:
Marcus 1, 16:
Jah hvarbonds faur marein Galeilaias gasahv Seimonu jah Andraian broþar
is, þis Seimonis, vairpandans nati in marein; vesun auk fiskjans.
[And going to the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the sea; they were also fishermen.]
Marcus 1, 18:
Jah suns afletandans þo natja seina laistdidedun afar imma.
[And soon they left their net and followed him.]
Marcus 1, 19:
Jah jainþro inn gaggands framis leitil gasahv Iakobu þana
Zaibaidaias jah Iohanne broþar is, jah þans in skipa manvjandans natja.
[And going on a little, he saw
James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in their ship mending
Lucas 5, 2:
jah gasahv tva skipa standandona at þamma saiva, iþ fiskjans
afgaggandans af im usþvohun natja.
[and he saw two ships at the lake; but the
fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their net.]
Lucas 5, 4:
Biþeh þan gananþida rodjands, qaþ du Seimonau: brigg
ana diupiþa jah athahid þo natja izvara du fiskon.
[When he had spoken, he said to Simon,
"go to the deep and release the net for fishing." ]
Lucas 5, 5:
Jah andhafjands Seimon qaþ du imma: talzjand, alla naht
þairharbaidjandans vaiht ni nemum: iþ afar vaurda þeinamma
[And Simon said to him, "We worked all night for
nothing: but at your word I will throw down the net."]
Lucas 5, 6:
Jah þata taujandans galukan managein fiske filu, sve natja
[And when they had done
this they had many fish, as their net was breaking.]
The Latin word meant a creel or wicker fish-basket. It was used by Pliny
(in the ablative plural nassis `with nets') in book 9 of his Natural
92: mire omnibus marinis expetentibus odorem quoque eorum, qua de causa et nassis inlinuntur .
[amazingly all marine creatures desire this smell, for
which reason nets are smeared with it]
132: capiuntur autem purpurae parvulis rarique textu veluti nassis in alto iactis.
[purpurs [molluscs yielding purple dye] are caught with small delicate nets, thrown into the deep.]
Nassa might be
derived from a root nad-. Some people think that this might
be related to the word nodus, a knot. Others relate it to the
verb necto, `I weave' (which seems to be not related
to the German nähen, `to sew').
The component work is another widespread Germanic word.
It has a cognate in Greek εργον.
Bosworth, Joseph: (Northcote Toller, T. ed.)
An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Dictionary, Supplement and Addenda
Oxford University Press, 1st ed. n.d., reprinted 1983, 1966, 1972.
Wrt. Voc. i: T. Wright, A volume of vocabularies, 1857. Quoted by page
and number of gloss.
Wrt. Voc. ii: T. Wright, A second volume of vocabularies, 1873. Quoted by page and line.
Ælfc. Gr: Ælfric's Grammar.
Ps. Spl.: Psalterium Davidis Latino-Saxonicum vetus.
Lk. Skt.: The gospel according to St. Luke.
Mt. Kmbl.: The gospel according to St. Matthew in Anglo-Saxon and Northumbrian
versions. ed. J. M. Kemble.
Jn. Skt.: The gospel according to St. John.
Som.: Dictionarium Saxonico-Latino-Anglicum, by E. Somner, Oxford 1659.
Coll. Monast. Th.: Colloquium ad pueros linguae Latinae locutione
exercendos ad Ælfrico compilatum.
Homl. Th.: The homilies of Ælfric.
Wülck. Gl.: Anglo-Saxon and Old English vocabularies, by Thomas
Wright, edited by R. P. Wülcker, London 1884.
Cd. Th.: Cædmon's metrical paraphrase, by B. Thorpe, London 1832.]
Stamm, Friedrich Ludwig:
Friedrich Ludwig Stamm's Ulfilas oder die uns erhaltenen Denkmäler der gotischen Sprache: Text, Wörterbuch und Grammatik
Ungekürzte Neuauflage, Nachdruck der Ausgabe aus dem Jahre 1872 [Essen]: Magnus-Verlag, . ISBN: 3884001655