Chapter 4: Why was the Fisher King Lame?


'Almost all the Guardians of the Grail show a tendency to suffer from mysterious ailments, particularly wounds in the thigh or leg'. R.S. Loomis.

Why do the Guardians of the Grail in several Arthurian stories suffer from mysterious bleeding wounds? Their illness is generally assumed to be a euphemism for castration, and this is specifically stated in some later romances to have been inflicted for some sexual misconduct, but castration does not fit every situation and ultimately explains nothing. The lameness suffered by the Fisher King has remained a puzzle from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century. The lexical evidence brought together by this short list has eventually provided an answer which, like the robe and the robber, takes us back to a remote northern place.

Arthur Loomis noted, ‘almost all the Guardians of the Grail show a tendency to suffer from mysterious ailments, particularly wounds in the thigh or leg’.1 It is a regular theme. In the Dido Perceval, the Guardian of the Grail is the Fisher King, Bron, who lives in the isles of Ireland. It is one of the fairest places in the world, but his life is blighted by a grave malady. In a cognate story Bran sojourned in the Isle of Grassholm in the Irish Sea and was wounded in the foot.2 In Crestien’s version of the Perceval romance the Fisher King had been wounded in both thighs 'in battle'. In other versions the Fisher King is simply lame. We are not told why but it may be significant that in Crestien's version the Fisher King had been lamed in battle, which is to say, during a hunt.

In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal, a later version of the same miraculous story, the Grail King Anfortas could barely stand because of a wound variously said to be in his heart or his groin. Since he had been wounded in the pursuit of an unlawful love the audience is led to assume emasculation. This theme is popular in later Grail romances which, like many medieval stories of saints, have lurid or masochistic elements, but it appears to be a late addition. In the original version his wound made him fall down which shows he was wounded in the leg.

Emasculation was readily adopted by story-tellers as it allowed them to invent an episode of sexual misbehaviour, as popular a theme then as now. But as an explanation of lameness, falling down, or ‘lying all day on a bed’, castration is not convincing, nor is it universally useful as an explanation, for the theme of the lame hero is widespread and explanations are varied. To mention only a few from the list, Achilles had an accident-prone heel, his friend Chiron the Centaur was shot by an arrow in the knee, Jacob was smitten in the thigh by an angel, and Wieland the Smith was hamstrung to prevent his escape. Graves drew attention to several mythical episodes in which the hero becomes lame when he suffers over-abduction in some improbable and complicated circumstances, such as having one foot on a boat and the other on dry land.3 Over-abduction can certainly cause dislocation of the hip joint but we come back to the same question: why did the hero have to be lame? Is there a coherent explanation for all these disasters?

I wondered what a short wordlist would show. What does the lexical background of the word 'lame' have to tell us? To explore this question I set up a short list of LM/LN words. Very soon I was finding words for chopping and cutting which changed its original focus and eventually solved the mystery.

I found a cluster of similar words with the structure CLM. At first I wondered if LM was not an independent root but an aspirated version of CLM. However the character of an aspirate was discussed in the first chapter and the LM words do not fit this character. There are relatively few aspirated words while LM words are as numerous as CLM words. True aspirates generally show a jump in meaning to some remote and unique derivative while the LM and CLM lists fall into identical categories and have many words which are synonymous. We can therefore equate CLM and LM in some way. A possible explanation is that initial C in the CL combination represents the guttural Armenian Gh or the equivalent Welsh LL. Welsh has several relevant words such as W. llamsach ‘to hobble’ which is cognate with E. clam. Arm. h’amr represents E. lame. So perhaps the LM words have lost an initial guttural that is shown by initial C in the CLM words.

The following roots were included in the two lists.

(1) LLM/LLN < > LM/LN < > LMP/LNC (rarely LP) (2) CLM/CLN

The search for related words could have gone much further. There is material relevant to laming in TEC1 words, relying on the P/Q and L/R equivalences, such as bludgeon, blunder, cripple, flabby, flap, flipper, floppy and flounder. A further avenue to explore is the CRM/RM words which include cram, cramp, crank, crimp and cringe. The overlap of sense and of spelling suggests this is a very old topic spread very widely within the lexical pie.

The short list of LM roots produced 90 words which fall into six categories: fire, hunting, trapping, chopping, limping, and leaping. CLM generated 75 words, the main discrepancy being in the ‘trapping’ category. Welsh contributed 21 CLM or LLM words but only 5 LM words which tends to support the view, discussed above, that CL represents the same sound as LL. Both lists will be found at the end of this chapter.

The six categories tell an unexpected story. The 'fire' words underline the importance of fire as a weapon used by hunters and may, in this context, include the use of links or torches to lame animals (one can also link lame with flame). The words in the third category refer to trapping and restraining, including hobbling and shackling. Since it is only possible to hobble or shackle a tame animal, it can be argued that words relating to hobbling were borrowed from the earlier hunting lexicon by people dealing with domesticated animals. In fact G. luncart ‘deer-trap’ has been borrowed by pastoral farmers in both Ireland and Scotland where it is now found as Ir. loncaird and Sc. langald ‘hobble, tether’. The fourth category, chopping, is at first sight unconnected with limping or shutting up. However the chopping words could refer to or could derive from methods of laming a captive animal by heavy blows or cutting with a sharp blade. The 'limping' words cover a variety of gaits. Most of them imply an injured leg which is unable to bear weight. Finally, the 'leaping' words have come to have a cheerful connotation quite at odds with 'lame' or 'limping' but they are also part of the picture.

In the Radical view all these words are a single word with multiple meanings which have evolved through prehistory. They are all twigs on the periphery of a single branching unit, new meanings leading out of earlier meanings back to the first use of an LM word with a specific meaning. The link is the wild animal, the stag or bull, who has been hunted and trapped, then slashed or chopped, so that his mobility is severely reduced. This animal is lame, like the Fisher King, because someone has deliberately wounded him in the leg. This is not an imaginary idea. Not so long ago, in the wilder parts of Scotland, it was a criminal offence to immobilise your enemy's cattle by cutting their hamstrings. It did not kill them but probably made it impossible for them to migrate to new pasture. Houghing domestic cattle became a legal offence but the origins of the practice, like most outlandish practices in Highland Scotland, lies in the not-so-distant days when cattle roamed wild in the hills and were fair game. The deliberate maiming of a captive animal by hunters seems to have left no recognisable traces in folklore or archaeology but the LM list provides ample lexical evidence to suggest that it was standard practice.

The lexical evidence suggests that deliberate laming was commonplace in prehistory, that it was applied to large meat animals such as horses, cattle and deer, and that the many words for limping and other irregular movements describe the gait of such animals lamed by hunters. The practice of deliberate laming may be traced to the realisation that if a wild animal broke a leg when driven over rocks or pelted with stones, it would stay alive, in good condition and within easy reach until it was needed. The deliberate maiming of selected animals requires a higher level of skill than simply driving them over a cliff, since they must first be trapped or picked out of the herd. Another advantage of immobilising an animal before slaughter is that it is easier to butcher an animal whose gut is empty: one should starve an ox for twelve hours before slaughter. Similar skills would have allowed tame cows to be captured and immobilised (by hobbles, not by houghing) while they were milked.

I reached this point entirely on the basis of the wordlist, peering back into an alien and, as I thought, long-lost world where unimaginable cruelty to animals was a commonplace necessity. I could find nothing about deliberate maiming in any of the obvious sources, apart from the reference to houghing in the Highlands. This made it all the more satisfactory to have my deductions confirmed by a first-hand account of the practice written as recently as 1972 by Duncan Pryde, at that time an employee of the Hudson Bay Company.4 He lived through the 1970s with the Eskimos of Perry Island, Canada, and included an account of a caribou hunt in which he took part with two friends. After going as far as they could by boat they had to walk several miles to get within range of a large herd. The animals were milling around and presented an easy target. Pryde was shooting to kill, in the approved fashion, but the Eskimos 'shot Eskimo style, shooting to cripple the animals, not to kill them. Angulaalik, seeing how confused I was, explained "There are so many caribou, you can take your time. Just shatter a leg and the caribou can be driven back to the river on his three good legs, but he can't run fast enough to get away. We can kill them when we reach the river." I stared dumbfounded at my two companions. This had never occurred to me. "Use your head," Nasarlulik repeated, "Would you rather carry them back or drive them back?"'

This may explain the missing bones noticed in an archaeological dig of an early site in Europe. In a detailed study of several Central European sites occupied by horse-hunters during the late Palaeolithic, the excavator found that many of the foot bones – most third phalanges and many second phalanges – were missing.5 She suggested selective disintegration or processing for glue but had no real idea where these bones had gone, particularly as they survive at other comparable sites. The missing foot-bones could be explained by deliberate maiming of selected horses at an ambush site some distance from the butchery sites where the rest of the bones were found.

The last category is the 'leaping' words which are such an odd feature of the LM list. Gambolling and frisking suggest agility and energy, even light-hearted joy, but the people who first used these words to describe the movements of children or young animals either did not know or did not care that such words properly describe the abnormal movements of animals deliberately lamed by hunters. The change of meaning from limping to leaping is not recent; the evidence suggests it took place when deliberate laming was still normal practice. G. di-leum ‘shackle’ marks the introduction of domesticated or tame animals. The word means literally ‘an anti-leaping device’ and shows that the change of emphasis from abnormal to natural movement took place before the Gaels began to use shackles. This may have been as long ago as the Mesolithic; it was certainly at a time when deer-hunting was the mainstay of the Scottish way of life. The overlap is also shown by the borrowing of the word luncart 'deer trap' to define a shackle, discussed above. A milk-maid needed to immobilise her cows, and did so using words borrowed from the language she knew, which was the language of hunting. The change in meaning from limping to leaping may mark further borrowing of hunting terms by early pastoralists. It evidently seemed quite normal to use words which described the abnormal movements of a disabled animal for the similar movements of a young calf or kid.

There are several mechanisms at work here. One is the need to find new names for new objects. Most of the time we borrow such names from the familiar world - key, board, screen, monitor, file, tools, window. Confusion is limited by context. Change of meaning can also be attributed to lexical drift - a slight change or redefinition in the meaning of a word caused by a loss of context: so some words in American English have a slightly different meaning from British English. With the gambolling words the change from abnormal and agonised hopping to jumping for joy either took place after the abandonment of deliberate laming (unlikely) or in a social setting where animals were not deliberately crippled, for example, among pastoral farmers. In the context of archaic life in Highland Scotland this corresponds to the division between male and female activities.

The LM list provided an abundance of lexical evidence supporting the idea that the maiming of the Fisher King and the other lame heroes listed below derives from the deliberate mutilation of wild animals so that they could be herded to a convenient spot to be butchered or kept alive and accessible until needed for consumption. The practice of laming seems to have died out before hunting stopped in Britain but it continues in the north of Canada and has left abundant traces in the lexicon of north-west Europe, notably in Britain. The investigation has also found links between the lexicon of hunting and the lexicon of domestication as it concerns the management of cattle.

How did this theme get into Arthurian mythology? This can be explained very briefly, but detailed proof will have to wait for another volume. Arthurian stories come from Britain. Britain was in many ways more archaic than Europe; in particular its learned men preserved much of the imagery of hunting lore long after it had been forgotten in Europe. This old learning, probably in the form of verse, was immensely powerful as an inspiration and its themes, reinterpreted in many ways are recognisable in all early fiction and poetry. The Fisher King is an aspect of this lore. From his condition it is evident that he is a hunted animal, captured and mutilated but kept alive. The Grail was not originally supernatural or magical; it was simply a dish in which the blood of a butchered animal was caught and kept to make black puddings. I will look at the Grail and provide a recipe in the next chapter.

‘He keepeth all his bones; not one of them is broken’. Psalm 34, 20.

From the range of meanings provided by the LM list we can deduce that the motif of the Lame King derives from the deliberate laming of a hunted animal. The wide spread of this theme in other early literature suggests that this practice, besides being widespread in Europe, was perpetuated in a fragment of obsolete hunting lore which referred to a lame 'king'. In hunting lore a ‘king’ is not a human leader but a stag, a bull, or a ram. A 'king' may also be a regional beacon which leads to some confusion. A further variant concerns a hero wounded in both thighs or having his thighs transfixed by a spear. This may refer not to wounding but to the use of the Achilles tendons to hang a carcass. This is also found in some of the Grail stories.

When looking for lame heroes we should distinguish between two different kinds of legendary locomotor deficiency, for Lame Kings can be confused with personified beacons in the shape of one-legged giants. A beacon or lantern was made more visible by being hoisted on a tree or a pole and often appears in myth as an ugly (black) man with but one leg (the pole) and one eye (the light). As well as being lame, he may have a variety of eye defects. Despite his disabilities, the Black Man may move at tremendous speed – as fast as the light signal he represents. His single leg and single eye allow us to distinguish a personified beacon from any other type of disabled or suffering hero wounded in the leg or thigh, unable to stand, or lying on a bed and bleeding regularly. There are rare cases of confusion. Talos is listed because he has a vulnerable heel but he was also a beacon, if not an entire coastal defence system, since he went round the island of Crete three times a day. Thersites Pholcos has not been listed, for, as well as his limp, he was ugly and had an eye defect (he squinted) - all beacon features. I have given sources only where they are difficult to find.

Achilles, son of Thetis, a sea-goddess. In the best known story his mother dipped him in the waters of Styx to make him invulnerable but did not wet the heel she held him by. Inevitably he was slain by an arrow wound in the heel. It is otherwise said that his heel bone was burned away when his mother was using magic but was replaced by Chiron the centaur, who also taught Achilles music, martial arts, hunting and medicine. When Achilles killed Hector, he pierced his heels, bound them with a leather thong and dragged the body behind his chariot into the Greek camp. One moves a heavy carcass by piercing the hocks, hence E. hook. In the original material Hector was evidently a large animal of some kind; the imagery is that of the hunt. See also Chiron.
Adoni-Bezek ‘the Lord of Bezek’ (Judges 1, 4-7) was mutilated when captured after a pursuit by having ‘the thumbs of his hands and feet’ cut off. This was in retribution for having done the same to seventy kings who had gathered their meat under his table. They were perhaps meat animals who had been lamed before being slaughtered to supply the meat on the table.
Agag, king of the Amalekites (I Sam. 15-16), was spared by Saul, together with the best of the sheep and oxen, to be an offering. When summoned to his death, Agag came ‘delicately’6 or ‘walking on his toes’.7 Then Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord. This suggests he was an animal destined for butchery or sacrifice, who had been lamed by hamstringing. cf. G. agh ‘ox, bull, heifer’ and agh ‘battle, conflict (hunt)’. It is also said that Agag means 'flame' in West Semitic.
Agesilaos was a lame king of Sparta. The Spartans had been warned by an oracle to ‘Beware the lame king’ and under Agesilaos they lost their supremacy in Greece. The name may mean ‘hunt beacon’; G. sùil ‘eye’ is a beacon metaphor.
Arthur, at the end of his life, was wounded and lay on a bed. According to Welsh tradition he was lame.
Chiron, a centaur, was inadvertently wounded in the knee by an arrow shot by Heracles and shortly thereafter resigned his immortal status and died, to ascend to the heavens as Sagittarius. Arrows are often found in laming stories.
Gobhar bhacagh, 'the crippled goat', G. bacaich ‘lame’. Perhaps a composite character. In Skye the crippled goat was the last sheaf of corn to be cut. Frazer collected many examples of ‘the Corn-spirit as Goat’ from various parts of Europe. The truth appears to be that in some cases an actual goat was butchered and eaten at the harvest feast. Perhaps a goat was caught and lamed in preparation for a feast by cutting his heel tendons, as the corn was cut a few inches above the ground. The more esoteric aspects of the Corn-Goat are liable to be recent inventions.
Fisher King, Fisherman, Keeper of the Grail. A fisherman is an apparent anomaly in a hunting world but it is not far, in literary terms, to go from G. iasgair ‘fisher’ to Du. jachter or Ger. Jäger ‘hunter’. Equally promising is the link between W. pysgotwr ‘fisherman’ and Heb. PSCH ‘to leap up and down’ or ‘to dance with a limp’, as the priests of Baal did when sacrificing to their god.8 Early medieval clergy were entirely capable of such learned multilingual puns. The priests of Baal were perhaps imitating sacrificial animals.
Giles or Egedius, patron saint of cripples and of hunters, was wounded and crippled by an arrow intended for a tame deer who fed him with her milk.
Hephaestus, like Talos, (according to Graves) was hurled down from a great height and lamed.9
Hermes, messenger of the gods, had winged sandals which protected his heels. He stole a dozen cows, a hundred heifers which had never known a halter, and a bull from Apollo and provided them all with clogs, which appears to mean that he shackled them to prevent them straying.
Jesus, in Jewish tradition, was lame. Jerome (4-5c.) said he was deformed. St John’s Gospel refers to the deliberate breaking of legs (John 19, 32-34): ‘Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs.’ There was a law against breaking any of the bones of the Passover lamb to extract the marrow (Exodus 12, 46; Numbers 9, 12).
Joseph of Arimathea, the first Christian to be Grail Keeper, was smitten by God ‘in the reins and below’ and was unable to stand.10 This event is borrowed from the lameness of the Fisher King but has been given a sexual connotation. Joseph supposedly collected the blood of Jesus in the Grail but the Gospels say nothing about this.
Klingsor, lord of the Chateau Merveil in Wolfram’s Parzival, was mutilated by a jealous husband. In late versions the ever-popular sexual theme, with its lurid embroidery, appears to have entirely replaced the apparently purposeless laming suffered by earlier Grail Kings.
Little John, Robin Hood’s lieutenant, was crippled when he was shot in the knee by an arrow. Many of the details of the Robin Hood tradition are derived from hunting and beacon lore.
Llenlleawc or Lleu Llaygyffes ‘accurate aim’ has beacon attributes but his name is a pun on ‘lame lion’ and may be linked to Ir. leon ‘sprain, injure, wound’, Ir. luaineach ‘unsteady’ and the various mythical lions with thorns in their paws which are associated with Androcles, Jerome and Gerasimus.
Llew Llaw ‘the Robin’ transfixed his father Bran ‘the Wren’ with an arrow which penetrated his leg ‘between the sinews and the bone’ during the New Year hunt. Despite ‘Who killed Cock Robin?’, it is mythologically correct for the Robin to kill the Wren. Llew Llaw is also sometimes a stag. Graves points out that the legs of men sentenced to crucifixion were nailed to the side of the cross between the Achilles tendon and the bone. R. Graves 1961, 318 Animals are still hung up by a hook inserted at this point so ‘pierced in both thighs’. See also Lugh.
Lugh, a complex Irish character. He is basically a beacon (Lug = 'light') but he was wounded in the foot by a spear wielded by one of the three sons of Cearmaid and subsequently drowned in a lake. These are ‘stag’ characteristics which have been added as part of a later story.
Lughaidh mac Con, mythical leader of the Erainn people of Munster, when fleeing from a battle, was recognised by ‘the kingly white calves of his legs’, and lamed by a well-thrown spear. He qualifies, being a lame king, but the kingly white calves have not yet been decoded.
Minie, a lame dwarf, had only stumps for legs, as we have only stumps of his story.
Pellean, an Arthurian character, was pierced through both thighs by a spear. See notes to this section.
Robrecht de Duivel (Robert le Diable), a medieval French hunter, was wounded in the thigh.
Roque or Rochus, the saint, has a wounded thigh and is accompanied by a dog. In one story he was struck by plague but tended by a dog; in another interpretation of the same iconography he was bitten in the thigh by a dog. In both cases he died in prison. We can deduce that he was a wild animal who was chased by dogs, lamed in the leg, and slaughtered in captivity.
Talos ‘the Heel’ was a man made of brass who went three times every day fully-armed round the island of Crete. When he found a stranger he leapt into a fire until he was red-hot and embraced him to death. His body was invulnerable except for the lower part of his leg where there was a little vein closed at the top with a nail. Either Medea opened the vein by magic, or Poeas opened it with an arrow, and Talos died. His myth combines laming lore with beacon lore.
Tristan had an incurable wound which, like that of the Fisher King, bled from time to time.
Ulysses, hero of the Odyssey was wounded in the thigh by a wild boar on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Tammuz, Adonis, Diarmid and the Cretan Zeus were also wounded and killed by boars.
Vulcan, the Roman smith, was thrown from Mount Olympus by Jove and broke his leg when he landed on the island of Lemnos. According to Graves he was lame and walked with the aid of gold high-heeled shoes. Feast 23 August. R. Graves 1961, 331.
Weland the smith was captured by King Nidud and forced to work for him. On the advice of Nidud’s queen his Achilles tendons were cut to prevent his escaping.11 The story of Weland is known from Germanic tradition but the names are easy to interpret in terms of archaic Gaelic, suggesting that the story of Weland went to Scandinavia from Scotland by way of Iceland. Weland is uileann ‘elbow’ or a V-shaped deer trap. Balmung, his sword is ‘The enclosure of the goddess’, with bal ‘enclosure’ and muine ‘whore’, a typical term for the deer goddess who appears in Irish fiction as Mongfhionn 'the white whore'. King Nidud, G. niadh ‘champion’, is cognate with the Irish king Nuada who lost an arm but had a replacement made in silver, though it was made by a physician using magic rather than a smith.


1 Short word-list for LM in Northern Europe (90 words).
2 Short word-list for CLM mainly in Britain (70 words).
3 List of homophones which link trapping and laming.

Roots (a) LM/LN < > LMP/LNC < > LP/LC (b) CLM/CLN and LLM/LLN

1 LM LIST (92 words) Categories: Fire, hunting, trapping, chopping, limping and leaping.

1 Fire
laindéar (Ir.) ‘lantern’.
lainnir (G.) ‘brightness, brilliance’.
lamp (E.) ‘vessel containing a substance burnt to provide a light (a beacon)’.
lannrach (G.) ‘vast flame, conflagration’.
laom (G.) ‘blaze of fire; crowd’.
levin (E.) ‘lightning’.
link (E.) ‘torch’.
liomh (G.) ‘polish, gloss’.
llachar (W.) ‘gleaming, glittering, bright’.
llewyn (W.) ‘bright, gleaming’.
lochrann (Ir.) ‘lantern, light, lamp, torch’.
loinnear (G.) ‘light, gleam of light, flash of light’.
lomhair (G.) ‘brilliant, shining’.
lowe (Sc.) ‘bonfire, blaze’.
lum (Sc.) ‘chimney’.

2 Hunting
leum (G.) ‘fight, quarrel (hunt)’.
limb (E.) ‘organ; leg or arm’.
limbus (Lat.) ‘border’; in limbo ‘consigned to oblivion’.
limit (E.) ‘boundary, restriction, that which may not be passed’.
limmer (Sc.) ‘rogue, thief; hussy, jade’.
llabi (W.) ‘booby, stripling (young hunter’.
llanastr (W.) ‘confusion, mess (hunt or round-up)’.
llanc (W.) ‘young man, lad (young hunter)’.
lob (W.) ‘lubber, dolt (young hunter)’
lom (G.) ‘to pillage, plunder, strip bare (hunt)’.
lomhainn (G.) ‘cord or thong to lead a dog; a pack of hounds’.
lump (E.) ‘a considerable quantity; a confused mass’.

3 Trapping
laincis (Ir.) ‘fetter, hobble’.
lane (E.) ‘a narrow passage (an ambush place)’.
langle, langald (Sc.) ‘hobble, tether’.
lein (W.) ‘line, cord’.
libart (W.) ‘garden ground, yard (pen)’.
limen (Lat.) ‘that which ties, binds or fastens’.
linc (W.) ‘chain’.
lingel, linget (Sc.) ‘rope for hobbling a horse’.
link (E.) ‘a loop, as of a chain’.
llan (W.) ‘enclosure, yard (animal pen)’.
llin (W.) ‘line, string’.
lloc (W.) ‘pen, fold; enclosure; dam’.
loncaird (Ir.) ‘spancel, hobble esp. for a cow’.
long (G.) ‘destroy, devour’.
long, lung (G.) ‘enclosure, encampment’.
longphort (G.) ‘harbour’, seen metaphorically as a luncart.
loop (E.) ‘a closed circular element’.
luncart (G.) ‘deer trap’, lit. ‘trap-place’.
lyam (Sc.) ‘rope, tether’.

4 Chopping
labio (W.) ‘to slap, whack’.
labris (Gr.) ‘sacrificial axe’.
lambast (E.) ‘to thrash’.
làmhag (G.) ‘axe’.
lance (E.) ‘a cutting tool; a cavalry weapon’.
langaire (Ir.) ‘clout, blow’.
lann (Ir.) ‘blade (of edged weapon)’.
leag (Ir.) ‘to knock down’.
leinio (W.) ‘to beat, flog’.
lop (E.) ‘to chop at, cut’.
llach (W.) ‘lash, slash, slap; blade’.
llem, llym (W.) ‘sharp, keen, acute, severe’.

5 Limping
láimhíneach (Ir.) ‘a one-armed person; a nimble-handed person’.
lame (E.) ‘to walk with a limp’.
lamp (Sc.) ‘to limp, hobble’.
lap (Ir.) ‘paw’; lapadán ‘flopping about, floundering’.
leamh (Ir.) ‘soft, weak’.
lemphealt, limphalt (E.) ‘limping’.
leon (Ir.) ‘sprain, injure, wound’.
limber (E.) ‘pliant, flexible’.
limp (E.) ‘to walk lame’.
limp (E.) ‘wanting in firmness’ (like a maimed leg).
lincyn-loncyn (W.) ‘haltingly, slowly, step-by-step’.
liobar (Ir.) ‘limp object, loose hanging thing’.
liongan (Ir.) ‘wobbly rickety thing, unsteady tottering person’.
llabed (W.) ‘lappet, flap’.
llac (W.) ‘lax, slack, loose’.
llamsach (W.) ‘to hobble’.
llibin (W.) ‘flaccid, limp, soft, drooping’.
llipa (W.) ‘flabby, limp’; cf E. flabby, floppy.
llopan (W.) ‘buskin, boot, shoe’.
loin (E.), W. lwyn ‘the lower part of the back’.
lop-sided (E.) ‘to hang unevenly, to be heavier on one side than the other’.
luaineach (Ir.) ‘unsteady’.

6 Leaping
léim (Ir.) ‘leap, bound’.
leum (G.) ‘to leap, bound; spring, skip, frisk’.
ling (Ir.) ‘leap, spring’.
llamsach (W.) ‘to jump, hop, skip, caper’.
llamu (W.) ‘to stride, step, leap, bound’.
llemain (W.) ‘to hop, skip, leap, dance, bound, prance’.
llon (W.) ‘glad, cheerful, merry, jolly’.
lope (E.) ‘to run with a long shambling stride’.
luaineach (Ir.) ‘fast-moving, nimble’.

2 CLM LIST (75 words) The categories are the same as those for the LM list.

1 Fire
glance (E.) ‘to flash’.
glans (Du., Nor.) ‘shine, gloss, lustre’.
gleam (E.) ‘to glow or shine’.
glim, glimmer, glimpse (E.) ‘glimpse; light’.
glinse (Nor.) ‘glisten, shine’.
glinsteren (Du.) ‘glitter, sparkle, shimmer, glint’.
glonnrach (G.) ‘glittering, resplendent’.

2 Hunting and signalling
claim (E.) 'demand'.
clam (E.) 'noise made by ringing two or more bells together'.
clamare (Lat.) 'to cry out'.
clamour (E.) 'continuous loud noise'.
clan (Sc.) 'family, tribe'. A group of people who hunt together.
clang (E.) 'to produce a deep resonant sound'.
clanjamphray (Sc.) 'rabble (a hunt or a gang of hunters); nonsense'.
clank (E.) 'a short metallic sound, like that made by a chain'.
clap (E.) ‘a sudden loud noise; to strike together’.
clapper (E.) ' the striker in a bell'.
clepe (E.) 'to call'.
clever (E.) 'ingenious, skilful'.
clink (E.) 'a ringing sound'.
clown (E.) 'buffoon with rustic manners'. Associated elsewhere with hunters.
cluster (E.) 'a small crowd'.
klonos (Gr.) 'tumult (hunt)'.

3 Trapping, immobilising
clam (AS.) 'fetter'.
clam (US.) 'a gripping instrument'.
clambar (G.) ‘struggling, wrestling, clamour (a round-up)’.
clamhsa (G.) ‘alley, narrow lane, close (trap)’.
clamp (E.) 'a piece of wood or iron used to fix things together'.
clamper (E.) 'to botch up'.
clap (E.) 'to fasten promptly, drive suddenly, eg clap in jail'.
cleibe (G.) ‘instrument used to catch fish and sea-fowl’.
clibis (G.) ‘turmoil, stir, wild commotion (a round-up)’.
cliff (E.) ‘a high steep rock (a deer drop)’.
clinch (E.) ‘to fasten, drive home; hold firmly in place'.
clink (E.) 'to clinch, rivet'.
clink (E.) ‘prison; the noise made by a chain’.
clip (E.) 'to embrace, encircle, hold firmly'.
clip (G.) ‘hook, catch with a hook, snatch, steal’.
clomhas (G.) ‘trap’.
cluain (G.) ‘ambush’.
club (E.) ‘to gather into a bunch’.
gleann (G.) ‘narrow valley (hunting ambush)’.
kluppe (Ger.) 'pincers'.

4 Chopping
clavis (Lat.) 'key'. Perhaps at one time a hammer.
clavus (Lat.) 'nail'. Perhaps the name of a sharp weapon.
claw (E.) a hooked nail; to scrape, tear, seize'.
cleave (E.) 'to separate with violence, to split'.
cleave (E.) 'to unite'.
clench (E.) 'to close tightly'.
clip (E.) ‘to cut with shears’.
clobber (E.) ‘to beat, batter’.
club (E.) 'heavy tapering piece of wood used to hit with'.
clump (E.) 'a thick short shapeless piece of anything'.
clump (E.) ‘a blow’.

5 Limping
clamber (E.) 'to climb with difficulty'.
clamp (E.) 'a heavy tread'.
claon (G.) ‘moving obliquely’.
cleibeach (G.) ‘clumsy, slow, awkward (of a cripple)’.
clibean (G.) ‘any flabby thing’.
clibheadh (G.) ‘stumbling’.
climb (E.) ‘to ascend with difficulty’.
clinch (Sc.) ‘to limp’.
cling (E.) ‘to hold on to an object for support'.
cling (E.) 'to shrivel or shrink'.
cliob (G.) ‘stumble, slip; dangle, swing’.
cliospach (G.) ‘lame, handless’; cliopach ‘halting in speech’.
clocher, cloper (Fr.) ‘to limp’.
cloff (W.) ‘lame’.
claon (G.) ‘moving obliquely’.
clibheadh (G.) ‘stumbling’.
clocher, cloper (Fr.) ‘to limp’.
cloff (W.) ‘lame’.
club (E.) ‘lame’, as in club-foot.
clump (E.) ‘to walk heavily’.
clumsy (E.) 'ungainly'.

6 Leaping
cliftie (Sc.) ‘clever, active, nimble’.
clip (US.) 'a high speed'.
cluaineas (G.) ‘gambolling, frisking’.


Unrelated to the short list but relevant to the general topic I have collected a remarkable number of homophones, mostly from English, which also connect the themes of forcible restraint, violence, physical damage, unusual gaits and abnormal, violent or rapid movement (see list at end of chapter).

1 Restraint and physical damage, pain or instability
brake ‘to retard’; break ‘to divide, sever’.
catch ‘to fasten’; catch ‘a nervous twitching’.
check ‘to restrain, hinder’; check ‘to nip, pinch’.
clamp ‘to fasten tightly together’; see clump, cramp.
claudere (Lat.) ‘to enclose’, claudere (Lat.) ‘to limp’.
clinch ‘to fasten, drive home’; clinch (Sc.) ‘to limp’.
clink ‘prison; latch’; cling ‘to be unable to stand unaided’.
club ‘to gather into a bunch’; club ‘crippled, deformed’.
coup ‘tie up’; coup (Sc.) ‘to upset, overturn’.
cramp ‘to confine narrowly or under pressure’; cramp ‘acute muscular pain’.
crank ‘a crook or bend’; krank (Du.) ‘sick ill’; crank ‘liable to be upset’.
creep ‘a narrow passage’; creep ‘to move slowly’.
crib ‘to confine’; cripple ‘lame’.
crimp ‘to seize or decoy’; crimp ‘made crisp or brittle’.
crook ‘a hooked staff to catch sheep’; crook (Sc.) ‘lame, esp. of a horse’.
gate ‘a narrow opening’; gait ‘a particular way of walking’.
halt ‘to bring to a sudden stop’; halt ‘lame’.
hamper ‘to impede, shackle’; hamshackle (Sc.) ‘to tie head to foreleg’; hammle (Sc.) ‘to walk with a limp’.
hap (Sc.) ‘to cover, conceal’; hap (Sc.), hop ‘to spring on one foot’.
hitch (Sc.) ‘to fasten, tie together’; hitch (Sc.) ‘to move jerkily’.
hobble ‘to tie the legs together’; hobble ‘to walk with difficulty’.
hook ‘to catch, ensnare’; hock or hough ‘to lame by cutting the hamstrings’.
knot ‘to tie tightly’; knoit (Sc.) ‘to walk jerkily’.
lane, loan (Sc.) ‘a narrow passage’; lame ‘crippled’.
lurch ‘wait, ambush’: lurch ‘roll or pitch forward or to one side’: lurcher ‘cross-bred hunting dog’.
pinch (E. slang) ‘to arrest’; pinch ‘to nip or squeeze’; pinch ‘to hamper, restrict’; pinch ‘to be painfully tight (esp. of shoes)’.
shackle ‘to hinder’; shaughle (Sc.) ‘to shamble’.
stitch ‘to fasten’; stitch ‘sharp pain’.
swag ‘proceeds of robbery (hunting)’ and swag ‘sway, sag’.
trap ‘to catch’; trip ‘to skip; to stumble’.

2 Restraint and violence
bang up ‘to imprison’; bang ‘heavy blow’; bangle ‘ring for arm or leg’; bengel (Ger.) ‘cudgel’.
bar ‘to shut in or out’; bar ‘a long, solid rod’.
bit ‘to curb or restrain’; bite ‘to seize or tear with the teeth’; put the bite on ‘to coerce’.
block ‘to impede’; block ‘a massive piece of wood’.
brick ‘to thwart’; brick ‘to castrate an animal’; brickbat ‘a missile’.
bridle ‘to check or restrain’: brittle ‘liable to be broken’.
link ‘a loop of a chain’; link ‘torch’.
nick ‘to catch’; nick ‘to cut at a precise point’; nick ‘to steal, rob’.
pound ‘an enclosure for stray animals’; pound ‘to smash into small pieces’.
snag ‘catch, impede’; snagair (G.) 'carve a piece of wood with a sharp knife'.
stick ‘to bring to a standstill’; stick ‘a long piece of wood’; stick ‘to stab, pierce’.

3 Violence and lameness
club ‘a heavy weapon’; club ‘crippled, deformed’.
couper (Fr.) ‘to cut’; coup (Sc.) ‘to upset, overturn’.
clump ‘to beat’; clump ‘to walk heavily’.
link ‘torch’; linke (Nor.) to hobble, limp’.
lop ‘to cut’; lop-sided ‘unbalanced’; lope ‘an irregular run’.
lash ‘to beat’; lash ‘slow, soft, lax, insipid’.
hook ‘to hit, punch’; hough ‘to lame by cutting the hamstrings’.
hack ‘to cut with rough blows, slash, chop’; hack ‘a grating or rack’; hack ‘a poor horse’.
mince ‘to cut up into small pieces’; mince ‘to walk in an affected manner, with short steps’.
shambles ‘slaughter-house’; shamble ‘to walk with an awkward and unsteady gait’.

4 Meat animals
boc (G.) ‘to leap, spring’; boc (G.) ‘buck, roe-buck, he-goat, stallion’.
buck ‘to make rapid jumps in the air’; buck ‘a male deer or goat’.
hack ‘to cut with rough blows, to chop or mangle’; hack ‘a riding horse’.
hinder ‘to impede’; hind ‘female of the red deer’.
martair (G.) ‘cripple, lame person; mutilated person’; mart (G.) ‘cow or steer fattened for killing’.
rein ‘to control or check’; rein or reindeer ‘a northern species of antlered deer’.
shake ‘to move with quick, short, to-and-fro movements; to cause to totter’; shag (Sc.) ‘an ox castrated incompletely or when fully-grown’.
stagger ‘to reel or totter’; stag ‘male red deer; (Sc.) young horse of either sex; colt or stallion; a gelding; an animal castrated in maturity’.
stall ‘to bring to a standstill; stallion ‘an entire male horse’.
stir ‘to move violently; to cause a commotion’; stir ‘prison’; steer ‘a young ox, especially a castrated animal’.
stot (Sc.) ‘to stagger; to bounce’; stot ‘a young castrated ox’; steed ‘steed, horse’; A-S. stod ‘stud’.

5 Restraint and abnormal or rapid movement
bolt ‘to fasten a door’; bolt ‘to spring, dart, take flight’.
bound ‘tied up’; bound ‘to leap’.
brank ‘bridle’; brank ‘to prance, toss the head’.
bridle ‘to check or restrain’: bridle ‘to throw the head up’.
clip ‘a blow’; clip ‘to cut, cut off’; clip ‘to go at a good speed’.
crank ‘a crook or bend’; krank (Du.) ‘sick, ill’; crank ‘brisk, merry’.
fast ‘immobile’; fast ‘quick, rapid’; also fast ‘to keep from food’.
gambrel ‘animal’s hock; a hooked stick for hanging a carcass’; gambol ‘to leap, frisk’.
hook ‘to catch, ensnare’; hook ‘to hit, punch’; hook ‘to run away’ as in play hooky.
láimhíneach (Ir.) ‘a one-armed person’; láimhíneach ‘a nimble-handed person’.
lam, lamp ‘to hit, beat up, attack’; lam ‘to run away from prison’.
lash ‘to secure with a rope’; lash out ‘to go on the rampage’.
let ‘to hinder’; let ‘to leave, to allow to escape’.
linke (Nor.) to hobble, limp’; link (Sc.) ‘to move along briskly’.
llamsach (W.) ‘to hobble’; llamsach (W.) ‘to jump, hop, skip, caper’.
luaineach (Ir.) ‘unsteady’, luaineach (Ir.) ‘fast-moving, nimble’.
prang (Du.) ‘a restraining nose-ring’; prance ‘to bound from the hind legs’.
springe ‘a snare or gin’; spring ‘to bound, leap, start up’.
stir ‘prison’; stir ‘to be active or excited’.

Last edited 04 January 2010.
S McGregor

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