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 'immediately' mean here, and why is it used in the comparative?

1 Answer 1


That is dictionary style. If you say "a word is immediately from the German" it means that it is directly from German (and not via some other language). It means the german word is the "immediate ancestor" of the English word. Melville (or his source) is claiming that the german word is a "more immediate" ancestor of the English word "whale" than something else (perhaps more immediate than the Old English hƿal)

  • Note that in its etymology, immediate is im + medate, ie. "not having something in between". That meaning is rare in normal use (though we can still talk about an "immediate successor" and an "immediate neighbour"), but it is apparent in the philological sense that James explains.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 23:14

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