Sunday, December 11, 2005


Gable and Gipfel

A correspondent writes about Longfellow's translation of Goethe's Wanderers Nachtlied.

Über allen Gipfeln
ist Ruh,
in allen Wipfeln
spürest du
kaum einen Hauch;
die Vögelein schweigen im Walde,
warte nur, balde
ruhest du auch!
O'er all the hilltops
Is quiet now,
In all the treetops
Hearest thou
Hardly a breath;
The birds are asleep in the trees:
Wait; soon like these
Thou too shalt rest.
There have been dozens of musical settings of Goethe's poem. I find only one musical setting of Longfellow's translation, by Avril Gwendolen Coleridge-Taylor.

I wonder about a possible connection between English gable and German Gipfel. The Online Etymology Dictionary connects gable with words meaning fork:
1338, from O.Fr. gable, from O.N. gafl (in north of England, directly from O.N.), probably from a P.Gmc. root meaning "fork" (cf. O.E. gafol, geafel "fork," M.H.G. gabel "pitchfork"), from PIE *ghebhel (cf. O.Ir. gabul "forked twig"). So called from the Y-shaped timber supports of the roof at gable ends.
But Calvert Watkins in his Indo-European Roots s.v. ghebhel- connects it with words meaning head:
Head. 1. Germanic *gabl-, top of a pitched roof, in Old Norse gafl, gable: GABLE. 2. Dissimilated form *khephel- in Greek kephalē, head: CEPHALIC, CEPHALO-, -CEPHALOUS, ENCEPHALO-, HYDROCEPHALUS. [Pok. ghebh-el- 423.]
A fork isn't like a head. Unless it's the noggin of a pointy-headed intellectual.

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