Band, restraining, & proclaiming

Words about words


M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

US Marine Band

The Marine Band performed for the arrival ceremony of Egyptian Minister of Defense Mohamed Zaki, with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, at the Pentagon on July 29, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Brian Rust/released)

The word band comes from the Old Norse word band, sometimes spelled bande, that had two principal meanings: that which an object or person is bound, and an organized company of people.

Band first appeared in Ormulum, the 12th century interpretation of the scripture written by a monk named Ormin of the order of St. Augustine. Ormin evidently lived in the Danish territory of England, in the former kingdom of Mercia, part of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy of seven kingdoms before they were united into the Kingdom of England in the 10th century. Line 19,821 of Ormulum reads “Herode band himm wiþþ irrene band,” Herode being Herod the Great (73-5/4 BCE), the Roman client king of Judea.

Thereafter, band acquired a range of meanings, both specific and figurative. In farming, a hay binder ties a sheave with a band. For people, a band is anything that binds or restrains personal liberty, such as a chain or shackle. It also means custody or confinement, such as confinement at childbirth. As time passed, that meaning was preserved; In 1833, a line written by poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson read “To chain with chains, and bind with bands That island queen.”

Historically, the second significant mention of band was in Cursor Mundi (Latin for “Runner of the World”), a Middle English poem of almost 30,000 lines, written anonymously about 1300 CE somewhere in northern England. The poem is an overview of the then-known history of the world, as described in the Bible and other sources, including the Historia Scholastica, an early printed work that appeared in 1470. Line 4,437 of Cursor Mundi reads “Þat oþer in prisun war or band.”

As the centuries passed, the range of meanings of band broadened. Two instances of note are American. In frontier times, band was the term for a herd of buffalo. On July 11, 1798, by an act of Congress, the reorganization of the Marine Corps included a group of musicians that became “The President’s Own,” the U.S. Marine Band, now the oldest professional musical organization in the country and perhaps the world’s most well-known marching band.

This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.