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For other uses, see Scop (disambiguation).

A scop (Pronunciation: IPA: /ʃɒp/ or /skɒp/)[1] was a poet as represented in Old English poetry. The scop is the Anglo-Saxon counterpart of the Old Norse skald, with the important difference that "skald" was applied to historical persons while "scop" is used, for the most part, to designate oral poets within Old English literature.


Old English scop and its cognate Old High German scoph, scopf, scof (glossing poeta and vates; also poema) may be related to the verb scapan "to create, form" (Old Norse skapa, Old High German scaffan; Modern English shape), from Proto-Germanic *skapiz "form, order" (from a PIE *(s)kep- "cut, hack"), perfectly parallel to the notion of craftsmanship expressed Greek poetēs itself;[2] Köbler (1993, p. 220) suggests that the West Germanic word may indeed be a calque of Latin poeta.

Scop, scopf, and scold: The art of verbal insulting[edit]

Not coincidentally, while skop became English scoff, the Old Norse skald lives on in a Modern English word of similarly deprecating meaning, scold. There is a homonymous Old High German scopf meaning "abuse, derision" (Old Norse skop, meaning "mocking, scolding", whence scoff), a third meaning "tuft of hair", and yet another meaning "barn" (cognate to English shop). They may all derive from a Proto-Germanic *skupa.

The association with jesting or mocking is, however, strong in Old High German. There is a skopfari glossing both poeta and comicus and a skopfliod glossing canticum rusticum et ineptum and psalmus plebeius. Skopfsang on the other hand is of a higher register, glossing poema, poesis, tragoedia. The words involving jesting are derived from another root, PIE *skeub- "push, thrust", related to English shove, shuffle, and the Oxford English Dictionary favours association of scop with that root. The question cannot be decided formally, since the Proto-Germanic forms coincided in zero grade, and by the time of our surviving sources (from the late 8th century), association with both roots may have influenced the word for several centuries.

It is characteristic of the Germanic tradition of poetry that the sacred or heroic cannot be separated from the ecstatic or drunken state, and correspondingly crude jesting (compare the Lokasenna, where the poet humorously depicts the gods themselves as quarrelsome and malicious), qualities summed up in the concept of *wōþuz, the name-giving attribute of the god of poetry, *Wōdanaz.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pronunciation: /ʃɒp/ /skɒp/" Retrieved 06FEB2011.
  2. ^ suggested e.g. by Alexander 1966
  • Alexander, Michael (1966). The Earliest English Poems. Penguin. 
  • Köbler, Gerhard, Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch, 4th edition (1993) [1]