in the fell clutch of circumstance

bleulilas

New Member
French
Hello
I am trying to work on the beautiful poem Invictus and its translation, and I wonder if a native English speaker could tell me how he/she understands the "fell" in the line "In the fell clutch of circumstance".. I suppose it has nothing to do with the verb "to fall", of course, but the only translation I found in French was "féroce" (fierce"). Is it correct? Do you know the origin of this use of "fell"? Than you so much for our answers.
 
  • la grive solitaire

    Senior Member
    United States, English

    bleulilas

    New Member
    French
    Thank you so much ! So, "fell" can really be an ajective.. it sounded really strange to me. Oh, thanks for the link : I see it has the same origin as "félon" in French :)
     

    Fiorfaleph

    New Member
    Spanish
    I understand that whole sentence the same as "Fall in love" or "fall apart". Unique idiomatic constructions proper to a language that uses satellite framed-verbs. Circumstances just fall down upon our shoulders clenching mercilessly our souls, giving no option but to face reality.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    I understand that whole sentence the same as "Fall in love" or "fall apart". Unique idiomatic constructions proper to a language that uses satellite framed-verbs. Circumstances just fall down upon our shoulders clenching mercilessly our souls, giving no option but to face reality.
    Sorry, that's quite wrong. This is "fell" as an adjective meaning fierce, savage, cruel, ruthless; terrible (Shorter OED), as has been explained in #1 and #2.
     

    rrose17

    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    I understand that whole sentence the same as "Fall in love" or "fall apart". Unique idiomatic constructions proper to a language that uses satellite framed-verbs. Circumstances just fall down upon our shoulders clenching mercilessly our souls, giving no option but to face reality.
    As Keith said, fell as an adjective, which is poetic and not a common usage, has nothing to do with the verb to fall. Welcome to the forum.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Yes, it's very much a question of change over time. Shakespeare in the period 1590-1610 uses the word "fell" 133 times. About 1/3 of the uses are adjectival, meaning "cruel". Examples are that fell poison which assaileth him. (King John) and no compunctious visitings of nature/ Shake my fell purpose (Macbeth). Only 2/3 are the past of the verb "to fall".

    Modern usage is totally different. Nowadays less than 1% of the occurrences of "fell" are adjectival.
     

    OLN

    Senior Member
    French - France, ♀
    Do you know the origin of this use of "fell"?

    Je ne la connais pas, mais on trouve (entre autres) en ligne :
    "cruel," late 13c., possibly late Old English, perhaps from Old French fel "cruel, fierce, vicious," from Medieval Latin fello "villain" (see felon). Phrase at one fell swoop is from "Macbeth." Related: Fellness.
    fell | Etymology, origin and meaning of fell by etymonline

    Middle English fel, from Old French, variant of felon; see felon1.
    fell

    From Middle English fel, fell (“strong, fierce, terrible, cruel, angry”), from Old English *fel, *felo, *fæle (“cruel, savage, fierce”) (only in compounds, wælfel (“bloodthirsty”), ealfelo (“evil, baleful”), ælfæle (“very dire”), etc.), from Proto-Germanic *faluz (“wicked, cruel, terrifying”), from Proto-Indo-European *pol- (“to pour, flow, swim, fly”). Cognate with Old Frisian fal (“cruel”), Middle Dutch fel (“wrathful, cruel, bad, base”), German Low German fell (“rash, swift”), Danish fæl (“disgusting, hideous, ghastly, grim”), Middle High German vālant (“imp”). See felon.
    fell - Wiktionary
     
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