Harbour (BE)/Harbor (AmE)[1]

  • ME word has been assumed to be taken from Norse, but the phonology points rather to an OE type (might be taken from Norse).
  • The history shows two lines of phonetic change:
    • her -> her
    • the weakening of the second element to –ber, -bor, -bour
    • The current form “harbour” exhibits both of these changes.
  • Various spellings – it appears in modern-day form (both BE and AmE) in 17th century
  • Meanings:
    • a. Shelter, lodging, entertainment: sojourn, abode – as early as mid-12th century (spelled as herbyrȝe)
    • b. The “house,” mansion, zodiac (Chaucer)
    • c. Retreat of wild animals
    • d. Used figuratively
    • e. Port (late 13th century)
    • f. Airship shed/hangar (1909, 1912)
    • g. A vessel used for mixing ingredients for glass making (19th century)
    • h. A number of compounds


  1. "harbour." OED Online Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web 3 March 2015.