c.500 - c.1100 AD

( wisil, wisel, weisel )


s the study of the old Anglo-Saxon (AS) word wita and the Old High German (OHG) word wiso continues, the discovery of the OHG word wisil, its Middle High German (MHG) form wisel, and its New High German form weisel becomes more clear. All these words are nouns with the same meaning, suggesting then that they represent a progression of language with respect to the original word wita. As centuries progress, the word becomes more singularly reflective of the idea of leader, which in German aligns closely with the word führer - even to the point of being identified in 11th century glosses with the Latin word dux. Yet, at the same time, this word continues to be synonymous with the MHG word wiser and NHG word weiser, a sage or philosopher -


wiso: wisel, wiser (sage), (viaticus).

(Hildebrandt, Summarium Heinrici)

wīso: (1) 12, ahd., sw. M. (n): nhd. Weiser (M.) (2), Führer, Leiter (M.), Weisel, Bienenkönigin; ne. wise man, queen-bee; ÜG.: lat. costrus Gl (Glossen (Glosses) (aus mehr als 1100 Handschriften zwischen 1. Hälfte 8. Jh. und 15. Jh., unterschiedliche ahd. Sprachzugehörigkeit), dux Gl, N (Notker (980-1022, monk of St. Gall, aal.*), (viaticus) (M.) Gl; Vw.: s. *bina-, fogal-, fora-, *reht-, spili-, wega-, weraltreht-, weralt-*; 270 Hw.: vgl. anfrk. *wīso?, as. *wīso?; Q.: Gl (9./10. Jh.), N, PN; E.: s. wīsen; W.: mhd. wise, sw. M., Führer, Oberhaupt (leader, chief).

(Köbler, Althochdeutsch Wörterbuch)


wīsil 6, ahd., st. M. (a?): nhd. Weisel, Bienenkönigin, Führer; ne. queen-bee, leader; ÜG.: lat. costrus Gl, (fucus) (M.) (2) Gl, (viaticus) (M.) Gl; Q.: Gl (11. Jh.); E.: s. wīsen; W.: mhd. wīsel, st. M., Führer, Bienenkönigin; nhd. Weisel, M., Weisel, Weiser (M.) (2), Führer, DW 28, 1074 wisila* 1, ahd.?, sw. F. (n)?: nhd. Linsenwicke,

(Köbler, Althochdeutsch Wörterbuch)

Between the 9th and 12th centuries, this same definition is found in the language of the Anglo-Saxons in England. The word wita is used in connection with the English witan or council of wise men -

The word witan remained the technical term for the national assembly from the seventh to the twelfth century: The primary meaning of wita is This general sense and its derivation ‘witness’ are also found with continental Germans. Word form and original meaning date, therefore, before the emigration. The technical sense ‘member of the national assembly’ occurs only in England. Still even this may possibly be older than, or at least independent of monarchy, since the word distinctly possessed a national and republican meaning when the composita ‘people’s witan, England-witan’ could be formed.*

* There exist indeed three wider meanings of witan unconnected with monarchy and possibly forming the basis of the narrower sense ‘national assembly’, viz. 1. deciding superiors, doomsmen in the court of justice which must be assumed to have preceded kingship (Gesetze II 245. 701 n. 1 a); 2. counsellors without relation to the commonwealth (counsellors of a bishop a. 822 Bi 308; ‘bishops shall have distinguished witan in holy orders, with whom they can consult and who be their gewitan’; in Polity 10, about 1030, ed. Thorpe Anc. laws 428); 3. principals, elders, leaders (of a monastical convent; a. 825 Bi 386; not to be translated ‘advocates’ or ‘witnesses’!). But even if they are archaic, it does not follow that their derived limitation was so too.

(Liebermann, The National Assembly in the Anglo-Saxon Period)

The two closely associated Anglo-Saxon words wita and wísa clearly share a commonality in meaning. Certainly, wísa holds closer to the later meanings found in OHG wisil and MHG wisel, with wísa by some authors being catagorized as Old English (OE).


wita, an; m. I. one who knows, a person of understanding or learning, a wise man :-- Wita (-e, MS. ) sophista, Wrt. Voc. i. 47, 41. Fród wita, snottor'ár, beorn bóca gleáw, Exon. Th. 313, 16; Mod. 1. Se ðe wita (sapiens") is, mid feáum wordum geswytelaþ, R. Ben. 30, 15. Wita sceal geþyldig, ne sceal no to hátheort, ne to hrædwyrde, Exon. Th. 290, 15; Wand. 65. Ðissere worulde hæ-acute;l is ðæt heó witan hæbbe, and swámá witena beóð, swá hit bet færð. Ne bið se ná wita ðe unwíslíce leofaþ, ac bið open sott, Homl. Skt. i. 13, 131. Mé com swíðe oft on gemynd, hwelce wiotan (wutan, Cote. MSS. ) iú wæ-acute;ron giond Angelcynn, æ-acute;gðer ge godcundra háda ge woruldcundra, Past. pref. ; Swt. 3, 3. Win gedei, ðæt furdon witan (sapientes) oft misíoð, R. Ben. 65, 4. Filistina witan, the wise men of the Philistines, Salm. Kmbl. 861; Sal. 430. Da æ-acute;láruwas t aldo uuto Pharisaei, Lk. Skt. Lind. 5, 17. Witena perilorum, Wrt. Voc. ii. 67, 37. Ofer witena d6m, Exon. Th. 248, 19 ; Jul. 98. Hit witena nan þider ne séceþ, Met. 19, 7 : 20, 3 : Runic pin. Kmbl. 340, 8; Run. 4. He (Nero] wæs æ-acute;lcum witum láþ and unweorþ, Bt. 28 ; Fox 100, 28. Ðæt Godes hús wíslíce fram witum (sapientibus) sig gefadod, R. Ben. 84, 24. I a. with special reference to taking part in deliberations :-- Dis witena gemót haec sinodus, Ælfc. Gr. 8; Zup. 30, 8. Bæ-acute;don ðæt eft óþer seonaþ wæ-acute;re, and hi ðonne woldan mid má heora witena gesecean. Bd. 2, 2 ; S. 502, 37. Wurdon monega seonoðas háligra biscepa and eác ððerra geþungenra witena, L. Alf. 49; Th. i. 58, 5. II. one able to give counsel, a counsellor :-- Se wæs wita and geþeahtere ðæs Pápan consiliarius erat Papae, Bd. 5, 19 ; S. 638, 14. II a. one able to give counsel in affairs of state, one who takes part in the councils of a nation, a leading man :-- Sum in mæðle mæg módsnottera folcræ-acute;denne forð gehycgan, ðæ-acute;r witena biþ worn ætsomne, Exon. Th. 295, 34; Cra. 43. (l) in reference to other than Teutonic people :-- Se rtca Rðmána wita Brutus, Met. 10, 44. Hie sendon . x. hiera ieldstena wietena (decem principes], Ors. 4, 7; Swt. 182, ll. Witena, 4, 10; Swt. 196, 29. Hi hæfdon æ-acute;lce dæge heora witena gemót (-met. Thw. ), and wæ-acute;ron gesette synderlice to ðam ða senatores, ðæt synd þeódwitan, Jud. Thw. p. 161, 31. Wiþ ðam Rðmániscum witum, Bt. l; Fox 2, 15. He ofslog ealle ða witan (in Thrace), Ors. 3, 7; Swt. 114, 20. Créca witan, Met. I. 66. Da ricostan Romana witan, 9, 25. (2) in reference to England. See also gemót :-- Dyssum wordum óðer iíæs cyninges wita and ealdormann (alius optimatum regis) geþafunge sealde, Bd. 2, 13; S. 516, 12. Gif hwá on ealdormannes íhúse gefeohte, oþþe on ððres geþungenes witan, L. In. 6; Th. i. 106, 6. Dis is seó geræ-acute;dnes ðe Engla cyng and ægðer ge gehádode ge læ-acute;wede witan ge-curan (cf. de Engla ræ-acute;dgifan gecuran, vi. I; Th. i. 314, 3), L. Eth. v. tit. ; Th. i. 304, 4. Miercna cyning and his weotan, Chr. 868 ; Erl. 72, 23. Eádweard cyng and his witan, 911; Erl. 100, 18. Se cyng ond his biscopas ond his aldormenn ond alle ða wioton ðisse ðióde ðæ-acute;r gesomnade wæ-acute;ron, Chart. Th. 70, 15. Cynewulf benam Sigebryht his rices and West-Seaxna wiotan, Chr. 755 ; Erl. 48, 19. Bútan ðæs cyninges leáfe and his witena, 901; Erl. 96, 28. Eádmund cyning cýþ . . . ðæt ic smeáde mid mtnra witena geþeahte ge hádedra ge læ-acute;wedra, L. Edm. S. proem. ; Th. i. 246, 19. Ic Ælfréd West-Seaxna cyning eallum mínum witum ðás geeówde, and hié ðá cwæ-acute;don, ðæt him ðæt lícode eallum to healdenne, L. Alf. 49; Th. i. 58, 28. Ic íne . . . mid eallum mínum ealdormonnum and ðæ-acute;m ieldstan witum mínre þeóde and eác micelre gesomnunge Godes þeówa wæs smeágende be ðære hæ-acute;lo urra sáwla and be ðam staðole ures rices, L. In. proem. ; Th. i. 102, 6. Æðelréd wæs mid mycelum gefeán Angelcynnes witon gehálgod tó cyiíinge, Chr. 979; Erl. 129, 30. Weotum, Chart. Th. 480, 16. (3) in reference to other Teutonic people :-- Witan Scyldinga, Beo. Th. 1561; B. 778. Hé ða weáláfe weotena dome árum heólde, 2201; B. 1098. XII. an elder, a chief person, senior (cf. frod for double sense of wise and old) :-- Beón gesette án oðþe twégen ealde witan (uttus ant duo seniores), R. Ben. 74, 14- Ældo t uuto ðæs folces seniores populi, Mt. Kmbl. Lind. 21, 23. On gemóte heora witena in conventu seniorum, Bd. 3, 5; S. 527, 23. Wutuna (uutuna f ældra. Lind. ) palrum, Lk. Skt. Rush. i. 17. Cwæð se Hæ-acute;lend tó ðam witum (ad seniores), Lk. Skt. 22, 52. He ge fram ðam witum ge fram his efenealdum (a senioribus et coaetaneis sui s) mid rihtre lufan lufad wæs, Bd. 5, 19; S. 637, 18. He geseah ealle witon on þeáwum and dæ-acute;dum scínende, Homl. Skt. ii. 23 b, 85, IV, one who has knowledge, a witness. :-- Eall mín mæ-acute;gð me is to witan, Homl. Skt. i. 8, 42. Lease uuta falsi testes, Mt. Kmbl. Lind. 26, 60. Mid sægene unrím geleáffulra witena (testium) ða ðe ða ðing wiston, Bd. pref. ; S. 472, 25. Gif hé hit næbbe beforan gódum weotum (witum, v. l.) geceápod, L. In, 25 ; Th. i. 118, 14. V. a wise man, one professing supernatural knowledge :-- He sende to Egipta wisustan witan misit cd omnes conjectores Egypti cunclosque sapientes, Gen. 41, 8. [Witene imot, Laym. 11545. Beon weote and witnesse þerof, A. R. 204, 24. þe wite (Helyas þe prophete, 8628), Orm. 8673. O. Frs. wita a witness: O. H. Ger. wizzo gnarus, sapiens; divinus. Cf. Goth. un-wita foolish; ignorant. "] v. æ-acute;-, burh-, folc-, fyrn-, ge-, lah-, lár-, leód-, ræ-acute;d-, run-, scfr-, stfg-, un-, úþ-, þeód-, weorold-wita. witan; prs. ic, hé wát, ðú wást, wæ-acute;st, pl. wé witon; p. wiste; pp. witen. I. to wit, know, have knowledge, be aware, (l) absolute :-- -iVoui ic can oððe ic wát, noui ic wiste, Ælfc. Gr. 33; Zup. 205, 8. Oft wé oferswíðdon swá swá ðú sylf wistest, Homl. Skt. i. ii. 27. Ne meaht'e hire ludas, ne ful gere wiste, sweotole gecýðan, Elen. Kmbl. 1717; El. 860, Ne ongeátan hi, ne geara wistan nescierunt, neyue iniellexerunt, Ps. Th. 81, 5. Giefe monigfealdran ðonne æ-acute;nig mon wite, Exon. Th. 177, 4; Gú- 1221. Hé wæccende ððhte ðæt henaiwitei. de (nesciens).

(Bosworth, Joseph, and Toller, T. Northcote., An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary)


wísa, an; m. A leader, director, captain: - Wæs Cainan æfter Enose aldordēma, weard and wísa, Cd. Th. 70, 22; Gen. 1157. Đú eart eallum eorđbúendum weard and wísa, 251, 19; Dan. 566. Enoch ealdordōm áhōf, folces wísa, 73, 2; Gen. 1198. Leóda aldor, herges wísa, freom foctoga, 178, 18; Exod. 13: 228, 16; Dan. 203. Mægenes wísa, 260, 2; Dan. 703. Elamitarna ordes wísa, 121, 3; Gen. 2004. Ríces hyrde, werodes wísa, 194, 9; Exod. 258: Beo. Th. 523: B. 259: Exon. Th. 296, 22; Crä. 55. Þeóda wísan, 196, 9; Az. 171. Weorces wísan, Cd. Th. 101, 28; Gen. 1689. [O. Sax. baln-wíso (the devil): O. H. Ger. wíso dux: Icel. vísi (poet.) a guide, leader, captain.] v. brim-, camp-, cræt-, ealdor-, fyrd-, heáfod-, here-, hilde-, mægen-, scrid- wísa.

(Bosworth, Joseph, and Toller, T. Northcote., An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary)

The change from AS wita (wísa) > OHG wiso (wizzo) > OHG wisil > MHG wisel > NHG weisel displays then a progression of language from an earlier linguistic form to the later NHG. And a study of this progression also indicates a change in the diminutive ending from AS -a > OHG -o > OHG -il > MHG -el. And as in the earlier observation, the meaning of these endings are comparable to the modern usage of -er, as seen in the MHG word wiser. Thus, all of these words equally signify a person as one who has a certain characteristic or performs a particular function. Just as a shoemaker is a person who makes shoes, wiser signifies one who is wise.

Es begegnet im ahd. ein substantiv wīso (mit den zusammensetzungen wegawīso, forawīso), das (wie altengl. wīsa, auch mit vielen zusammensetzungen) als ein von *wīsjan abgeleitetes nomen agentis betrachtet werden muss. Derartige schwache nomina agentis kommen bekanntlich im ahd. in sehr grosser menge vor.

It met in Old High German a noun wīso (with the compound words wegawīso, forawīso), that (like Old English wīsa, also with many compound words) must be considered as an agent noun derived from *wīsjan. Such weak agent nouns occur as you know in Old High German in very large quantity.

(Heinertz, Etymologische Studien zum Althochdeutschen)

In German, these same endings are used to form diminutives. -il and -el are seen to be variations of the German diminutive ending -elein, as seen in the word madeleine. It might be said that these diminutives signified a person with attribues of something larger. And so, diminutives are seen commonly as a way to shorten longer words. They were also frequently used to shorten long names into nicknames. Often these names became indicators of endearment, taking on the meaning of little or son of.

In early place-names, it is common to find names for groups of people, and the towns in which they lived, often formed using the name of the leader and the addition of the ending -ing, meaning those who follow, as seen in the place-name Hastings(1), 'those who follow Hæsta'. In English, often -ling is used to signify little, as seen in the word duckling. In all cases, these endings identify 'one who' possesses or retains certain attributes. With some reflection, it becomes possible to see the function of these diminutive endings - and how and why they are used in names as reflecting the attribute to which they refer:


wīsiling* 1, ahd., st. M. (a): nhd. »Weiser« (M.) (1), Philosoph, Sophist(2); ne. philosopher; ÜG.: lat. philosophus NGl; Q.: NGl (2. Viertel 11. Jh.); I.: Lüt. lat. philosophus?; E.: s. wīsi; W.: nhd. (ält.) Weisling, M., Klügling, DW 28, 115

(Köbler, Althochdeutsch Wörterbuch)


stn. dem. zu wise. wisslein TUCH 165, 30, 217, 15. wisli CDG 3, 193 (a 1365). wisele URE Son. 105, 29. 30.



(Lexter, Mittelhochdeutsches Handwörterbuch)

The suggestion of a name progression of Witta > Wizo > Wicelin > Wicel > Witzel is echoed strongly in the word relationships of wita > wiso > wisil > wisel > wiselin. And along with the consistant relationship in spelling is a consistant relationship in meaning. And just as these words progressed from the Indo-European root *ueid, meaning to know, to see, perhaps the name progressed from a title held by leaders in the community. This leadership positon is directly reflected in the meaning of the NHG word Weisel. Though the word is now only remembered to mean Bienenkönigin (queen bee), its original meaning is clearly of a more social nature –


m: Das im heutigen Sprachgebrauch im Sinne von "Bienenkönigin" verwendete Wort gelit auf mhd. wīsel "[An]führer, Oberhaupt; Bienenkönigin" zurück, das zu dem unter - weisen behandelten Verb gebildet ist. Die Bienenkönigin ist demnach als "[An]führer" benannt worden. Ihr weibliches Geschlecht hat man erst später erkannt.

m: In today's linguistic usage, the word is used to signify a queen bee; in mhd. wīsel means leader, commander, chief, head; queen-bee. The queen bee was therefore designated as an [An]führer. Only later was her feminine sex identified.

(Grebe, Duden Etymologie: Herkunftsweorterbuch Der Deutschen Sprache)

Often, among church documents, Witzel is spelled Weitzel. The NHG weisel refers to the leader or the chief just as wita was a deciding superior; an elder, a chief person, senior. Could Witta from the begining be a title for one who is the leader of a monastical convent or a community council? And so I must ask, could Witzel,originating in Vacha as Witzeln, have been from this very same meaning?


The town of Hæstingas (probably referring to the followers of an Anglo-Saxon leader called Hæsta) is mentioned in documents from the eighth century. Retrieved on April 11, 2007: »


sophist: From the ancient Greek word "sophia" meaning "wisdom" in the sense of possessing a certain art or skill (techne). This term was used as the name for teachers of rhetoric, and in that context took on the meaning of "clever" as in "clever speaker". . Retrieved on April 11, 2007: »

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Bosworth, Joseph, and Toller, T. Northcote. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898. »

Grebe, Paul, Duden Etymologie: Herkunftsweorterbuch Der Deutschen Sprache. Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut. 1963. p. 759.

Heinertz, N. O., Etymologische Studien zum Althochdeutschen. 1912. pp. 146 - 161.

Hildebrandt, Reiner, and Ridder, Klaus. Summarium Heinrici, Band 3: Wortschatz: Register der deutschen Glossen und ihrer lateinischen Bezugswörter auf der Grundlage der Gesamtüberlieferung. Berlin: Walter de Gruzter. 1995. p. 211.

Köbler, Gerhard, Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch, (4. Auflage), 1993. Retrieved on March 26, 2007: »

Lexter, Dr. Matthias, Mittelhochdeutsches Handwörterbuch, Dritter Band. VF - Z. Leipzig: S. Hirzel. 1878.

Liebermann, Felix, The National Assembly in the Anglo-Saxon Period, New York: Burt Franklin, 1961. p. 7.




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