This is one of the etymologies of 'whale' in Moby Dick:

Whale It is more immediately from the Dut. and Ger. Wallen; a.s. Walw-ian, to roll, to wallow.

What does the abbreviation 'a.s.' stand for here?

  • Just out of interest, that etymology can't be correct. Sounds more like a folk etymology. The word comes from Old English hwæl. It has cognates in other Germanic languages. The word is certainly not from Modern German or Dutch. It's well attested. You can check it here in the OED
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 16:58
  • 1
    Ladies and Gentlemen... apparently none of you have read Moby Dick. The etymology, as stated by the OP is from the book. Not a dictionary.
    – JBH
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 17:00
  • @Lambie It would be cool to know the Melville was using a resource of his day, but while the link you provided identifies the dictionary, it doesn't show the entry in the dictionary. When I do a search for "It is more immediately from the Dut" on JSTOR, the Richardson Dictionary does not appear (but that might not be proof, scans of old books don't always result in a searchable text).
    – JBH
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 17:06
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    “WHALE. ... It is more immediately from the Dut. and Ger. Wallen; A.S. Walw-ian, to roll, to wallow.” —­RICHARDSON’S DICTIONARY bookrags.com/ebooks/2489/399.html#gsc.tab=0 [caps theirs, not mine]
    – Lambie
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 17:09

1 Answer 1


Dut = Dutch

Ger = German

a.s. = Anglo Saxon. Also know as "Old English", the language spoken in the Southern and Eastern parts of Britain from roughly 500 AD to about 1100 AD

By the way, Melville includes lots of "scientific" facts like this into his book. They are nearly all wrong! The Dutch word is "walvis" and the German is "Wal" (Walen would be the dative plural). But the English is not derived directly from either. There is an Anglo Saxon word "hwal" that is the ancestor, which comes from Proto-Germanic *hwalaz, which is also the source of the other Germanic words. The word "whale" is unconnected to "wallow", or A.S. wealwian.

  • Would you know if Melville did that intentionally? When I first read the book The Andromeda Strain as a teenager I was taken in by the entirely false bibliography Crichton included to give the fictional story the "feel" of authenticity.
    – JBH
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 17:02
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    I don't think so. Of course I can't prove this. Perhaps the good folks at Literature would have a more well founded opinion.
    – James K
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 17:06
  • @JBH Reminds me of Isaac Asimov's story, "The endochronic properties of thiotimoline", which included a totally bogus bibiography. I recall noticing that one of the entries was from "Journal of Chemical Solubilities", which I realized was far too specific to be a likely name of a scientific journal.
    – Jay
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 17:42
  • see literature.stackexchange.com/questions/1427/…
    – James K
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 20:09
  • Thanks for your answer, James K. By the way - and I know this is probably against the StackExchange rules - but do you have any idea what the world 'immediately' means in the given extract, and why it is used in the comparative?
    – Eric
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 20:46

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