earl versus count

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by mazzanti, Dec 14, 2012.

  1. mazzanti Senior Member

    Hi there,
    I'm quite curious to know the differences between the two words earl and count. As much as I know the word earl has a scandinavian original root, but count? Is that from latin language? Anybody knows in which century was used one or the other word and why?
    Thank you to everybody will reply me.

  2. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Earl and Scandinavian jarl are from a common Germanic root; jarl is sometimes used in English for the heroes of Icelandic sagas, or it can be turned into native English earl. The Anglo-Saxon title of earl was retained in England after the Norman Conquest - surprisingly perhaps, it wasn't replaced by the French title that gave us count. That word comes from Latin, as you say, and originally meant someone who "goes with" a king, a companion. So it went into Romance languages, of course. In Modern English we often use the French comte and Italian conte and Spanish conde, not translating or anglicizing them, when they form part of a name: the Comte de Paris, for example. But in the 1500s the words count or county were used in English to render these Romance titles. So a count came to be considered as equivalent to an English earl.
  3. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    From the OED entry for "count":
    And yes, "earl" is from Old Norse. It was also common enough to use "earl" to refer to "counts" of France or Italy up to the 18th century.
  4. heypresto

    heypresto Senior Member

    South East England
    English - England
    In BE, according to Chambers Dictionary, an earl is a British nobleman ranking below a marquess and above a viscount. A count is a nobleman equal to an earl (in Continental Europe).

    So, it appears that they are the same, in rank at least.

    Earl is from Old English - eorl, a warrior or hero, a Danish underking, later a nobleman equivalent to a count. cf Old Norwegian jarl.
    Count comes from Old French - Conte, from the Latin comes - companion.
  5. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    And to complete the equivalence, the earl's wife is a countess.
  6. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    The difference is that "count" is used in English only for foreign (French, German, Spanish...) peers of the third rank. British peers of the same rank are called earls.
  7. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    Not only that, but his eldest son is called viscount*.

    *In the usual situation, where the earl in question also has lesser titles of viscount and baron. The eldest son uses the senior lesser title as a courtesy title.
  8. heypresto

    heypresto Senior Member

    South East England
    English - England
    I think I would rather have a lesser senior title than a senior lesser title. :)
  9. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I think, Entangledbank is right. Earl is cognate to O.N. jarl but is not from O.N. jarl. The word is apparently found in older Anglo-Saxon texts before the Nordic invasion (Source).
  10. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    If I may add, in the Byzantine peerage structure (although members of Byzantine nobility weren't granted hereditary peerages), a «Κόμης» ['komis] might have been:
    -The governor of a military/civilian province (called «Θέμα») e.g. «Κόμης τοῦ Ὀψικίου» (Comes Obsequiī)
    -The governor of a small administrative unit (often called «κομιτᾶτον» from the Lat. comitātum)
    -The commander of the Imperial Guard, «Κόμης τῶν Δομεστίκων» (Comes Domesticorum)
    -The commander of the mercenary troops, «Κόμης τῶν Φοιδεράτων» (Comes Fœderatorum), later, «Κόμης τῆς Ἑταιρείας» (Comes Societātis)
    -The officer responsible for the horse ranches in the great army camp at Malagina in Bithynia, «Κόμης τῶν Μαλαγίνων» (Comes Malaginorum)
    -The officer responsible for the horses and pack animals intended for use by the army and the imperial court, «Κονόσταβλος» < Comes Stabuli (Constable)

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