The Word Root Meaning of Roll, Rolling or Roundness by John Hemingway
The Word Root Meaning of Roll, Rolling or Roundness
by John Hemingway
Ancient Aramaic and Hebrew were built upon consonant root systems. When consonants are combined to form word roots, each consonant root often supplies an arbitrary, self-contained meaning to a word. An example of this is the Semitic root GL which often denotes rolling or roundness. Many Bible readers may be familiar with Golgotha, 'the place of a skull,' where Romans crucified criminals. It is formed from the Hebrew word, gulgoleth 'a head, skull,' which depicts roundness of a skull .
There is persuasive evidence that some Old English (OE) words also were constructed from the root GL to denote objects with a round shape. As well, this root appears to be prevalent in other OE nouns for objects with a conspicuous or suggestive form of roundness. This paper offers several such examples and cites one particular OE word formed from the root GL which has a direct etymological connection to Hebrew. Additionally, it submits that that the GL root is a significant lexical motif of rolling or roundness in Old English word formation due to Semitic influence.
The Semitic Background
Many Biblical Hebrew words formed from the root GL depict the motion of rolling such as galal 'to roll' and mgillah 'roll, scroll.' GL also denotes the lexical sense of roundness in objects such as gelel 'balls of dung,' galgal 'a wheel, whirl, whirlwind,' and gol and gullah 'basin, bowl' . The motific meaning of the root GL is pervasive as Gesenius remarks, "It is very widely extended, imitating the noise of a globe or other round body rolled forward quickly" .
Aramaic, being the lingua franca of the Ancient Near East, has a larger and better-preserved corpus than Biblical Hebrew and it generally follows the Hebrew motif of roundness by using the root GL in words. A few examples are those with their root form found in parenthesis: gull?n (gwlyn) 'potter's wheel,' gl?l? (glwlh) 'compass; ball,' and gl?l (glyl) 'round.' The concept of roundness is further embodied in several triliteral roots (three-consonant roots), such as ?GL 'to go around.' `GL 'to tie; make round,' and SGLGL 'to make a ring around' .
The Word Root GL in the Old English Words
The following several OE words illustrate how they appear to be intentionally formed from the root GL :
aergergelu 'yolk of egg' is a compound noun consisting of aeg 'egg' and geolu 'yellow.' English dictionaries credit geoloca (geol(e)ca) as the etymon of 'yolk.' One dictionary states it as "literally "the yellow part," from geolu "yellow"" . However, the lexically built-in notion of roundness in geoloca may actually give us the origin of geolu 'yellow.'
haerenfagol (hattefagol, il (igil)) 'hedgehog.' These three different terms are suffixed with the root GL, hinting that a hedgehog's round appearance was the most deciding characteristic upon which to coin the word.
sigel (saegl, segl) 'sun; name of the rune for s.'
tungol (tunglu and (late) tunglan) 'luminary, star, planet, constellation.' The Old Icelandic (Olc) cognate tungl means specifically the moon .
hweogul (hweogl) 'wheel.' The presence of GL in this older word for this conspicuously round object is very significant. The word is shortened to hweol or hweohl due to the well-recognized historical loss of medial g . It subsequently settled on wheel.
A few more interesting examples are angel 'hook, fish-hook' (it has a bend), fugol 'fowl' (possibly referring to the shape of their bodies), sagol 'club, cudgel, stick, staff, pole,' sigle 'necklace, collar,' and taegel 'tail.'
All these words offer glimpses into how Anglo-Saxons viewed the world as they applied the lexical motif for roundness to name the objects around them. In fact, nearly all OE concrete nouns with this root evoke the apparent concept of roundness. However, authenticating this brings us to a sticking point: determining the formation of some OE words might result from projecting one's interpretation onto the meaning of the word.
For example, hraegl 'dress, clothing' occurs as raegl as the second word in many OE compound nouns for different types of clothing. Was this because in the Anglo-Saxon world clothes were seen as the objects that wrap around their wearers? Another example is snaegl 'snail.' Was this because snails have a coiled shell? Another example is naegl 'nail.' We are familiar with today's nails, but nails in the Dark Ages were generally square with a tapered shank. Was it because naegl was perceived by Anglo-Saxons to be round-like?
These examples underscore how challenging it is to ascertain whether the roundness motif was intentionally evoked. Only by exhaustive research into the lexical role of the root GL in Germanic word formation is it then possible to minimize the etymological fallacy of projecting what one thinks onto the meaning of a word.
One Case of Theoretical Formation: roll
The word roll is said to come from Old French rolle (noun) and roller (verb) via Latin rotulus 'a roll.' Old French reduces this Latin word to the stem ROUL by assimilating the dissimilar consonants tl to ll to make its pronunciation easier . Hence, we get roulette, a gambling game. However, in one particular sense, the word roll has no figurative basis in the meaning of 'turning over.' The Oxford English Dictionary defines it "To advance with an easy, soft or undulating motion" . For instance, we often hear "Let's roll!" The following sentences echo how this idiom is used in literature:
"As the frontier line rolled westward the new communities rising rapidly to statehood 
"the mighty organisation, which presently approached one and a half million men and gradually acquired good weapons, rolled forward .
The colloquial use of the word roll 'to move forward' first appeared in 1400-50. One wonders how this notion emerged.
Aramaic `RGL 'to roll, wallow' and RGL 'to move on, run' suggest an explanation for this homonymic usage of roll . Note the consonant ayin (`) in the first consonant root. It is a Semitic guttural. Since it was not pronounceable in Indo-European speech, the dropping of this sound would lead to the phonological convergence of `RGL 'to roll' and RGL 'to move, run' into one Germanic word with two sets of meaning . The resulting word would then experience the historical loss of medial g in Germanic. Although no hard evidence presently exists for the Semitic root RGL as a viable alternative to the etymology of roll, this discussion demonstrates how recognizing the underlying lexical notions of consonant roots can provide productive insights into Germanic word formation.
One Instance with An Etymological Link to Hebrew
Ancient Germanic runes yield hagal 'hail,' closely resembling OE haegel, hagol and Old Icelandic hagl. The Semitic 'GL 'a drop' is conceivably the earliest root of the word since it denotes "the storehouses of snow and hail" . Gesenius observes that in Syriac, `GL means "drops of dew as if little drops, globules" (Syriac was an Aramaic dialect that emerged in the first century CE) . He states that aleph (' as in 'GL) is "the softest pronunciation of the guttural letters" . Over time, aleph was dropped or changed to h. This change may account for how hagal emerged ('GL > HGL) before the medial g was dropped. OE haegel and other Germanic cognates provide the most compelling and direct evidence of the Semitic legacy of the GL root.
The OE examples evince GL as an important lexical motif which conveys the meaning of 'to roll, rolling or roundness.' This paper discusses several OE forms for objects known to be round in appearance. However, the presence of GL is observed also in many other OE concrete nouns which indicate or imply roundness. OE haegel and Olc hagl for hail provide credible etymological evidence of a Semitic origin before the historical dropping of medial g began to occur and obscure the original denotation of the root GL in Germanic words.
One linguist, Benner, highlights the value of recognizing consonant roots, "By then studying the various words, which are derived out of any given root, we can begin to reconstruct the original root language of Hebrew" . This principle is true in ancient Germanic words, as well. The fact that the lexical motif of GL for roundness in the Germanic dialects is identical in Aramaic and Hebrew signifies a strong connection to the ancient Semitic consonant root system.
 Hebrew gulgoleth features an innovative replication of a root, that is, GLGL. By the New Testament era, the word had undergone dissimilation, in which the radical consonant was dropped in the second root. Hence Golgotha (John 19:17).
 The Biblical Hebrew examples are drawn from Strong's Concordance.
 Gesenius, W. Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, 1857, 172.
[4} The Aramaic examples cited in this paper are mainly drawn from The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon.
 The source of the Old English words cited in this paper is A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary.
 Online Etymology Dictionary. Online: https://www.etymonline.com/word/yolk. Accessed 1 September 2022.
 A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic, 1910, 444.
 Skeat, W. Principles of English Etymology, 1887, 364.
 Brachet, A. An Etymological Dictionary of the French Language. Translated by G.W. Kitchin. 1873, 320.
 The Oxford English Dictionary, Volume 8, 1933, 758.
 Churchill, W. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Volume 4. 1956, 104.
 Ibid., The Second World War, Volume 2. 1949, 148.
 Jastrow, M. A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, 1903, 1113; 1448-49.
 It is opportune to remark on another sense of RL 'to roll' which denotes 'to reverberate, re-echo; to form a deep, continuous sound like the roll of a drum' (Oxford English Dictionary, 759). The first attestation of this usage dates to 1598. Compare this sense to the meaning of Aramaic R`L 'to quiver, shake, tremble.' Assuming that this meaning for roll existed prior to 1598, these two words with a similar phonological form converged into one word with a homonymic set of meanings when the guttural ayin was lost (hence R`L > RL).
[15a] Gesenius, HACL, 10.
[15b] Incidentally, the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon has gll, gll? 'rock, stone; excrement.' Its meaning of 'small round stones and stone-like objects' includes hailstones.
[15c] Old Icelandic preserves gall-hardr 'hard as stone' (refer to A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic), while having the distinct form of hagl for 'hail.' These words correspond well to the lexical range of Aramaic GL.
 Gesenius, HACL, 10.
 Ibid., 1.
 Benner, J. The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible, 2005, 17.