Thursday, 28 April 2016

Yiling and gyling

These words for the activity of making wort for beer present intriguing problems of form and history. 

The first thing to be said is that OED’s coverage of yiling and yil(e) is rather limited. It doesn’t mention the latter at all.

For yiling, n. it gives two fifteenth century examples (provenance unclear): 

c1440 yilyng fatte 
1448-9 yelyng tubbis 

three sixteenth century examples (all from wills or inventories  and all from Lancashire): 

1556 yilynge toobe 
1573 yailinge keare 
1588 yeleinge combe 

and one late seventeenth century example from a literary work: 

1688 yelling combe or tub

As definition and etymology combined, the OED simply says ‘variant of GYLING vbl. n.’ (of which more below).

The Middle English Dictionary extends our knowledge a little. 

It gives yel (noun (2)) which it says occurs only in combinations (i.e. compounds):

 yilfat and yiltonne, a container for fermenting wort 

yilhous, a room in which wort is fermented 

Its examples are mainly from London documents: 

1305 ȝilvates 
1335 yelfat 
1340 yilhuys 
1384 yeltunne 
1425 ȝelefate 
1425 ȝeeltonnys 
1455 yeletonnes 
1457 yeelefat 
?1474 ȝeel vatte

MED’s yeling (gerund) likewise occurs only in combinations: 

yeling fat  and yeling tonne, a tub or vat for fermenting wort 

There are only two examples: 

a1441 yilyngfatte (the same as OED’s first example) 
1471-2 yelyng tunne.

Sixteenth and seventeenth century wills and inventories from many parts of England show examples of these terms, and the Essex Wills in particular have many:

yellyng tub 1558 I. 279 (Matching) 
yelding vat 1561 VIII. 23 (Pebmarch), 1588 (XI. 140) 1 long great tub or yelding vat (Thaxted) 
yelding house 1567 (II. . 182 (Elmstead), 1597 XII. 167 (Little Waltham)
yealding tub 1570 IX. 111 (Thaxted), 1575 I. 292 (High Easter) 
yelding tub 1569 II. 243 (Harlow), 1572 III. 300 (Weeley), 1580 X. 225 (Great Dunmow), 1582 X.188 (Weeley), 1597 XII. 17 (Great Easton), no date (?1570) II. 97 (Stanford Rivers) 
yielding vat 1585 V. 197 (Great Sampford) 
yielding tub 1595 VI. 223 (High Roothing)
yeling tub 1603 X. 180 (Old [Great] Saling)

 yelde pot 1570 II. 209 (Colchester) 
 ‘a tub to yele in’ 1581 X. 46 (Stebbing). 

And from Gentry wills:
1582 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 175 the yeald vat, the cowl vat, the mash vat and troughs. (Layer Marney.)

It is noticeable how many of these forms have a d, not recorded as a variant in the OED, but attested elsewhere, e.g. 

yeld fat 1589 Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire Record Office Wills 159/4/4 
yelding 1586 (in Weiner 2004, p. 171)

Let’s now turn to OED’s etymological explanation (which is shared by the MED). 

It simply states that yiling is a variant of gyling, (verbal) noun (this explanation is considered further below). 

The entry for this word gives: 

1411 gylnghous (Finchale, Durham)  

1420 gilyng tubbes (Lincoln) 

1583 guylinge fatte (unspecified northern)

 as well as the c1440 and 1573 examples also given at yiling

To these MED adds: 

1408 gylefattisgylyngmele (Jarrow) 

1409 gilingfath (Monkwearmouth) 

1444 Gilyngsat [read: -fat] (Norfolk)

In its turn, gyling is explained as a derivative of gyle (noun). 

MED gives (with the definition ‘wort in process of fermentation’):

1440 Gyylde [variant readings gilegyylgyle]

1341 gylefatts (York), a1382 gylfat (Hatfield)

1400 gylefattes; ?c1430 gylefattes (York)

1449 gyelfattes (York)

?c1475 Gylefatt

1423 gylhowse (York)

a1451 Gilehous (York). 

The OED brings the story of the word down to the nineteenth century, showing that gyle-fat is found in many parts of the north, predominantly in this or similar form, but also as gailfatgyle-ker, which seems to be predominantly from Lancashire, often has the form gail- or gal-. Gyle uncompounded seems to have become quite widespread, at least among brewers, as a standard term of art.

Note also:

1598 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 255 my..brewhouse in Kings Street in Westminster..with the copper, brewing vessel, mill, washing tun, gyle tun, coolback and other utensils [a Walden will, but notice the location of brewery in Westminster].

The etymology of gyle is stated to be Dutch gijl, earlier ghijl, connected with gijlen to ferment. Now, if it really is a loanword from Dutch, then it is a very early one (fourteenth century). 

But more than this, if it is from Dutch, then yiling cannot be a variant of gyling. There is no known process whereby a Middle English word beginning with g- borrowed from Dutch could change that g- into y- (and there are difficulties with the vowel too, as we shall see). 

On the other hand, it is a well-established fact that several words which in Old English and southern Middle English had the initial sound of y- (written g in Old English but pronounced as y) developed an initial g- in northern Middle English and these forms spread south and became standard English. 

Examples of this process are OE giefanongeanforgietan, southern ME yevenayenforyeten, modern English giveagainforget. The usual explanation for this phenomenon is that the ‘hard’ g was substituted under the influence of the Scandinavian dialects spoken in the north-east, which contained cognate words with g-.

The initial consonant of gyle would fit this pattern very well. The gyle forms are all found down to early modern times in areas of former Scandinavian settlement (or close to them), such as Yorkshire, Durham, Lincolnshire, and Norfolk, while the y- forms are found in the south. But if this is the correct explanation, the Dutch etymology is impossible. 

Moreover, the words in which this y-/g- variation is regarded as an established fact are all words that existed in Old English, before 1150, and therefore we would have to assume that the yil-/gyl- word is the reflex of an Old English word, of which no record survives.

The vowel, however, poses further difficulties. It is clear that the majority form of gyle has had the same pronunciation as the French loanword guile from the time of the earliest records. In other words, the vowel is ‘long i’. But it is far from clear what the original vowel of yil and yiling was. 

Several of the earliest spellings have an i, but was this ‘long i’? It would be difficult to reconcile such a vowel with the later spellings, which suggest either a ‘short e’ as in yell, or a ‘long e’, sounding in Middle English and sixteenth century English like ea in yeah, later like yea or ye. These two sounds and the ‘short i’ (as in ill) could all have been regional dialect variants of a single base form (something similar occurs in the early history of the noun chill), but a ‘long i’ pronunciation could not have been. 

Also, in late Middle English initial y- disappeared before long and short i: hence we have icicle (originally ice + yickle) and itch for earlier yicchen. The fact that y- is always present seems to imply that i was not the original sound in this syllable. In some regional forms of Middle English a short e can become i after initial y- (there are forms like yis for yes and yit for yet).

There is also the problem of the –d- which we observe not only in the majority of Essex examples (yelding, etc.) but also in the Oxfordshire one (yelde). Did it arise because the word was influenced by the verb yield, or conversely, to differentiate it from the verb yell (we have spellings from Essex showing identification with each of them)? If the original stem vowel had been –e-, a development *yel- > yeld- is quite possible as an alternative to *yel- > yil-

A further problem with the OED etymology is that while gyling seems to be based on the noun gyle, the forms yiling and yil- seem to have no noun equivalent, but rather point to a verbal root. And we have evidence of just such a verb from the one Essex Will of 1581 (X. 46) which speaks of ‘a tub to yele in’. 

So, for this word we can reconstruct an Old English verbal root ġel- (with a palatal initial, phonetically /jel/; like the base of Modern English yell, but with a single -l-). For gyle, whatever its origin, we have to posit a base gīl- /gi:l/. The two have the same meaning, but connecting them etymologically is extremely difficult.

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