These days, we tend to think of the different meanings of draw as being totally separate – why would we connect draw the curtains with draw a sword or, and especially this meaning tends not to be associated with the others, with draw a picture.

However, these are not separate words, they are one and the same and the meanings come from the same place – all involve the action of pulling or dragging. Even if we take my last example above, drawing with a pencil, the dragging action is still present. The word comes from the idea of dragging a writing implement across parchment – drawing the implement. The sense of the word gradually transferred from the action of pulling to the resulting marks on the paper – no one thinks in terms of pulling a pencil to make a picture today!


This is a word with a long history. There were numerous versions of it in Middle English, including the word in the form we know it today. Here is an example, unchanged from the modern usage, from Lydgate’s Troy Book, from around 1425:

Euery purtreyour Þat coude drawe, or with colour peynt

(Every artist that could draw or colour with paint)

Besides this easily recognisable form, there were others such as drau, drauen, dragen, drauhen and drouen, and more besides. You might be thinking that you recognise another word in that group – “drag”. And indeed, the two have similar meanings, and are ultimately from the same Proto-Germanic root. However, while “drag” may have come to us via an Old Norse word, draga, its cognate “draw” is from Old English dragan. You might be thinking that this is very similar to drag, but it was to develop into draw, while Old Norse contributed, or perhaps even reintroduced drag.

This example of dragan is from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle:

Eall ðæt ða beón dragen toward ða dráne dragaþ fraward

(All that the bees have drawn towards them, the drones draw out)

As I have already stated, both the Old English dragan (draw) and the Old Norse draga (drag) can be traced back to Proto-Germanic, to the root *dragan, meaning, not surprisingly, “to drag, draw, pull”. German tragen also comes from this root.

Going back a further step, we come to Proto-Indo-European, and the root *dhragh-, meaning “to draw, to drag along”. Evidently, this has been a strong word, remaining largely unchanged on its journey through time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s