Keith Briggs

This page was last modified 2024-01-21  


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The history of the word “girl”

A have published two papers (in 2020 and 2021) on this very difficult etymological question. The OED entry for girl first records the word in about 1300.

My first paper is called The first girls in England. The full text is online. It makes the point that for the whole of the thirteenth century (starting in 1208), the word “girl” occurs as a byname, but only in Suffolk (with one exception in Norfolk). This is suggested to raise the strong possibility that the word entered English from East Anglia. This proposal is consistent with the concentration of “girl” in the east, in the distribution of different words or girl recorded in the nineteenth century by Ellis. This is shown by the map below left, which is taken from this webpage. This was the most-read paper in the OUP journal Notes & Queries in October 2020, as may be seen in the screenshot below right.

My second paper is called The etymology of ‘girl’: two more ideas, and the full text is online. It examines two hypotheses for the origin of the word, both based on the assumption that it came into English from Frisian or Dutch, via sailors visiting ports of eastern England. This was the second most-read paper in the journal Notes & Queries in November 2021.

Ellis_girl.jpg girl_2020.png

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