Saxons - Etymology

Etymology

Following the downfall of Henry the Lion and the subsequent split of the Saxon tribal duchy into several territories, the name of the Saxon duchy was transferred to the lands of the Ascanian family. This led to the differentiation between Lower Saxony, lands settled by the Saxon tribe, and Upper Saxony, as the duchy (finally a kingdom). When the Upper was dropped from Upper Saxony, a different region had acquired the Saxon name, ultimately replacing the name's original meaning.

The Finns and Estonians have changed their usage of the term Saxony over the centuries to denote the whole country of Germany (Saksa and Saksanmaa respectively) and the Germans (saksalaiset and sakslased, respectively) now. Finnish word sakset scissors shows old Saxon single-edged swords name Seax. In Estonian saks means a nobleman or, colloquially, a wealthy or powerful person.

The label "Saxons" (in Romanian 'Saşi') was also applied to German settlers who migrated during the 13th century to southeastern Transylvania.

In the Celtic languages, the word for the English nationality is derived from the word Saxon. The most prominent example, often used in English, is the Gàidhlig loanword Sassenach (Saxon), often used disparagingly in Scottish English/Scots. It derives from the Scottish Gaelic Sasunnach meaning, originally, "Saxon", from the Latin "Saxones". As employed by Scots or Scottish English-speakers today it is usually used in jest, as a (friendly) term of abuse. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives 1771 as the date of the earliest written use of the word in English.

Sasanach, the Irish-language word for an Englishman, has the same derivation, as do the words used in Welsh to describe the English people (Saeson, sing. Sais) and the language and things English in general: Saesneg and Seisnig. These words are normally, however, used only in the Irish and Welsh languages themselves.

Cornish also terms English Sawsnek from the same derivation. Some Cornish were known to use the expression 'Meea navidna cowza sawzneck!' to feign ignorance of the English language.

England, in Gàidhlig, is Sasainn (Saxony). Other examples are the Welsh Saesneg (the English language), Irish Sasana (England), Breton saoz(on) (English, saozneg "the English language", Bro-saoz "England"), and Cornish Sowson (English people) and Sowsnek (English language), as in the famous My ny vynnav kows Sowsnek! (I will not speak English!).

During Georg Friederich Händel's visit to Italy, much was made of his being from Saxony; in particular, the Venetians greeted the 1709 performance of his opera Agrippina with the cry Viva il caro Sassone, "Long live the beloved Saxon!"

The word also survives as the surnames Saß/Sass, Sachse and Sachs. The Dutch female first name "Saskia" originally meant "A Saxon woman" (alteration of "Saxia").

Read more about this topic:  Saxons

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