Ancient Words of the Day: Anglii/Angle/Ankle


One of the oldest English words recorded is Anglii used first in the year 98 AD by Roman historian Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56-120 AD)

Anglii i.e “the Angles,” literally “people of Angul” (Old Norse Öngull).

Tacitus wrote in 98AD in his book ‘Germania’ about the various Teutonic tribes he came into contact with including the Angles. These tribes would invade Britain 300 or so years later and form the kingdoms of Mercia, Northumbria and East Anglia in 5th Century Britain.

“There follow in order the Reudignians, and Aviones, and Angles, and Varinians, and Eudoses, and Suardones and Nuithones; all defended by rivers or forests. Nor in one of these nations does aught remarkable occur, only that they universally join in the worship of Herthum (Nerthus); that is to say, the Mother Earth.”Tacitus (98 AD) De Origine et situ Germanorum

Wikipedia: Anglo-Saxon Migration in the 5th century

Angeln: A Germanic settlement on a fish hook shaped peninsula

The word Anglii is a comes from a settlement in Germany called Angeln (now known as Schleswig-Holstein), which geographically is shaped like an angled fish hook. This place name and hook shaped peninsula in Germany is also where we get the word for a fishing enthusiast – Angler. It is also highly likely that the seafaring Angles were known as fishing people and so the name stuck.

Proto-Indo-European “Ank”: meaning to bend

Angler (fisherman)/Angles(Germanic tribe) /Angeln (place in Germany) hark back to an older word in Proto-Indo-European “Ank” which means to bend. From this word we get the Latin for Ankle and also Anchor.

A MicroCT scan of the Tollund Man’s ankle and foot. He was ritually sacrificed by his kin in 5th Century BC in Jutland, Denmark.

Proto-Germanic: “Anguz” meaning narrow, which might refer to the shallow coastal waters of this region of Germany.

Land of Ængle/England

It was the Angles, not the Saxons or the Jutes from this period who first wrote down their Germanic dialect, which is (part of the reason) why we commemorate the ancient words Anglii/Angle/Angeln and the place name of the Land of Ængle England/English.

Germaniae veteris typus 1645 (based on the writings of Tacitus and Pliny the Elder)

Germaniae veteris typus (Old Germany) edited by Willem and Joan Blaeu), 1645, based on information from Tacitus and Pliny



Alliterative: What is the Earliest English Word?

Land of Ængle

Wikipedia: Angeln

Medieval Bodies

Wikipedia: Germania by Tacitus

3 thoughts on “Ancient Words of the Day: Anglii/Angle/Ankle

  1. Fascinating! I had never heard the fish hook/angle theory before.

    1. Content Catnip – Catnip, The World. – Digital dawdler, foodie, bookworm, culture vulture, rainbow lorikeet perennially in love with the arts, history and science. Constantly seeking inspiring people, knowledge and places.
      Content Catnip says:

      Yes me too! If you are into word origins then you will like The Endless Knot, they have a Youtube Channel and a podcast and their videos are incredible, they did a video on this, which I expanded upon. They do videos about many words in English, and the patchwork of influences that managed to make their way into English, so interesting! I hope you are having a good week 🙂

      1. Thank you. I shall have a look! Stay well 🙂

Leave a Reply