I was not able to find an etymology of ON "miskunn" within PrG. Is the first syllable a prefix "mis-" indicating any "wrong kunn, lack of kunn" or a deformed "midi-" as in E "com-passion", G "Mit-leid"?

To which root does the word go back? Or did the whole Concept of mercy/Erbarmen first come into Germanic languages with Christianisation? Wulfila translates Gr "οἰκτίρμων" with "bleiþs" (e.g. Lk 6,36) going back on PrG *bliþiz, which seems less pathetic and weaker.

  • I'm not sure what the etymology of miskunn is, but there were certainly Germanic words for the concept; many languages use a descendant of *mildijaz.
    – Draconis
    Jul 29, 2019 at 21:28
  • Out of interest, what does "seems less pathetic and weaker" mean? Jul 30, 2019 at 18:59
  • Kroonen, 2103 translates *bliþa as "mild, kind". To my understanding, E "mercy/mercyful" or G "Erbarmen" has a copletly different Quality: It may be kind of me to offer you a Cup of mild tea. That would be a favour but not a grace. And you would probably never say it's merciful or erbarmungsvoll , since that would presume you respected me being in a position, able to grant or deny you any cup of tea. Jul 31, 2019 at 19:45

1 Answer 1


From Bokmålsordboka:

miskunn m1 (norrøntmisskunn, egentlig 'det å ikke skylde en for noe', -kunn beslektet med kunne med eldre betydning 'skylde') særlig i religiøst språk: (Guds) nåde

A translation into English:

miskunn masc (norse: misskunn, actually "the state of not owing anyone anything", -kunn being related to kunne, having the older meaning "to owe") especially in religious language: (God's) mercy.

That would make it related to Proto-Germanic *kunnaną and PIE *ǵneh₃ or *ǵn̥néh₃ti. I am not sure of the semantic connection between knowing and owing.

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