Friday, February 19, 2010
Etymology of Hag
From witches to old maids, the modern hag is The term "hag" shares its etymology with the adjective "haggard," meaning an appearance that is both wild and distraught as well as worn and exhausted, or gaunt. These terms are rooted in the Old French faulcon hagard, meaning wild falcon. If you can imagine the wild look in the eyes of newly captured falcon, you can get a good sense of the original meaning of the term. Some time later, it appears that this sense of the word was influenced for the Lower Germanic term "hager," meaning gaunt. The world weary sense of the modern haggard hag did not appear until around 1690's, and both terms have sense been influenced by contemporary culture to denote a peculiar type of haunted expression that comes only with a lifetime of loneliness.
It appears that the origin of hag is very closely associated with hedge, haw and hay and is related to the borders of the wilderness, where wild falcons and other birds would feed on the hagberries and hawthorns. In Old English there are a variety of terms like haegtesse, hegge and hagge that are used to describe female demons, with clear senses of described a wild woman of the woods. It is unclear exactly why the term lost its sense of wildness when used to denote an unmarried woman, but this appears to have occurred around the 17th century and would be an interesting topic to do a little cultural analysis on.