Middle English Dictionary Entry

umb(e)- pref.
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Entry Info

Definitions (Senses and Subsenses)

A prefix in at least forty-three words, chiefly transitive verbs but including six participles, three gerunds, six nouns, and three adverbs. Over half are either definitely or probably of OE origin (including all of the nouns); the rest are formed in ME, almost exclusively with words of Gmc. origin. The prefix has three main senses: (1) the primary sense of ‘surrounding, encircling, in a circle, around’ (e.g., the verbs umbelien, umbesetten, umbeten, umbewalten, umbeyede, umbeyeven, umbsitten, umbsteden, umbthringen; the participle umbesweied; the gerund umbtrimminge; the noun umbhwirft; and the adverbs umbethor, umbetorne); a subsense, ‘circumcising’, appears in the verbs umbeclippen v.(2), embesheren, and umbsnithen and the gerund umbekeorvunge; (2) the related sense of ‘enveloping, wrapping, clothing, covering’ (e.g., the verbs umbefolden (a), umbeweven, umbewrien, umbgirden, umbshriden and the participles umbeclede and umbegonge); a subsense, ‘adorning, bedecking’, appears in the verb umbhon and the participles umbegildid, umbepiȝte, and umbtilde; (3) the extended sense of ‘about, concerning, with regard to’ (e.g., the verbs umbeseien, umbespeken, umbhouen, umbsheuen; the nouns umbethank, umbhidignesse, umbhoue, umbwlatunge; and the adverb umbhidiglice). Frequently the nonprefixed forms of the words in question already have these senses, and in such cases the prefix may be considered merely reinforcing or redundant. The prefix may also appear in another eighteen verbs and one participle, but the evidence is ambiguous because for all nineteen there are alternative etyma with bi- forms, and it is impossible to tell whether they are examples of um- plus the bi- forms, umb(e)- plus the non-bi- forms, or the coalescing of umb(e)- and the bi- forms. For a list of these words see um- pref., second paragraph. The prefix clearly derives from the OE prefix ymb(e)- if the forms imb(e)- and emb(e)- appear in early texts, whatever their dialect. In texts from the SW or SWM, where the ME form is the expected umb(e)-, it is impossible to know whether it derives from OE ymb(e)- or ON umb-. In texts from other areas, where the expected ME reflex of OE y- is i-, the appearance of umb(e)- usu. indicates derivation from the ON form. Many of the umb(e)- words have counterparts in um-; all these have been noted with cross-references in the relevant entries. A few verbs with umb(e)- pref. could also be construed as the nonprefixed form of the verb with postposed umbe prep.: umberouen, umbeseien, umbespeken, and umbhouen. These four, which are early and usu. illustrate the third main sense of the prefix, ‘about, concerning, with regard to’, have reason to stand as separate entries, either because of their OE etyma or because of the syntax of some of their examples. With the following examples, however, which appear only in relative constructions, it is impossible to tell whether they illustrate umb(e)- pref. or represent the nonprefixed forms of the verb with postposed umbe prep.