ORM or ORMIN (fl. 1200?), author of ‘Ormulum,’ probably of Danish family, was a monk of the order of St. Augustine, and evidently lived in the Danish territory of England, ‘in the north-eastern part of the former kingdom of Mercia.’ His book, which is a series of homilies in verse extending from the Annunciation into the Acts, is ‘named Ormulum,’ according to the opening lines of the preface—‘for that Orm wrought it.’ The name ‘Orm’ (= Worm) betokens the Scandinavian descent of the author; the variant ‘Ormin’ was possibly formed on the model of ‘Austin’ and similar names. Professor Zupitza's view, that the ending is the French diminutive, seems doubtful (Guy of Warwick, Text B, Early English Text Society, note to l. 9529). There is a strong temptation to see in the suffix the Scandinavian agglutinative definite article; but there is no evidence of its use in proper names at this early period. In a long metrical dedication to Walter, Orm's threefold brother—‘in the flesh, in baptism, and in the order’—the author explains how, encouraged by his brother, he devoted himself to the task of ‘turning into English speech’ the Gospels of the year, so that English folk might thereby be won to salvation. His method was to give a paraphrase of the Gospel of the day, adding thereto a quaint and mystical exposition. The main sources of his commentary were Bede, Gregory, and perhaps Josephus and Isidore. As Ten Brink pointed out, there seems to have been in the cloister where Orm dwelt little knowledge of the ecclesiastical writers of the new era—men like Anselm, Abelard, Bernard, the celebrities of St. Victor, or like Honorius Augustodunensis. On the other hand, it is saying too much to claim for Orm direct acquaintance with the writings of Ælfric; the alleged influence of Augustine is also very doubtful (Englische Studien, vi. 1–26). Judging by the tone of his dedication, there can be no question that the author regarded the finished work with considerable pride, and felt assured of its popularity. He was anxious—needlessly so—that the original transcript should be faithfully followed in the minutest details by future scribes. There is strong reason to believe that no second copy was ever made, nor can we detect the poet's literary or theological influence on his contemporaries.
Historically the ‘Ormulum’ is of special value as the first noteworthy piece of Anglian (i.e. Northern) literature after the Conquest. From this point of view it is hardly second in importance to Layamon's ‘Brut,’ which, about the same date, marked the reawakening of poetry in the Southern territory. It is significant that, whereas the Saxon Layamon used both Teutonic alliteration and Romance rhyme, the Danish Orm rejected both metrical devices, and chose the regular septenarius, an iambic line of seven and a half feet, divided into two half-lines of eight and seven syllables respectively. The metre, with the additional adornment of rhyme, had already been employed about 1170 in the south-western poetical homily called ‘Poema Morale’ (Old English Homilies, Early English Text Society, No. 34, ed. R. Morris). Little can be said for Orm's poetical talent. Conscious of his deficiencies, he seems to have aimed at a sort of dignified monotony. He has, indeed, a certain sense of art in suiting word to thought, and thought and word to rhythm. His only merit is simplicity. Linguistically, the poem is remarkable for its Scandinavian elements. There are perhaps some half-dozen words of French origin in the whole of Orm's work, and these are contestable (Brate, Paul-Braune's Beiträge, x. 1–80; Zupitza, Guy of Warwick, referred to above, &c.).
Orm was a purist in orthography, as well as in vocabulary, and may fittingly be described as the first of English phoneticians. The ‘Ormulum’ is perhaps the most valuable document we possess for the history of English sounds. Among its more striking peculiarities is the doubling of consonants to show either that a preceding vowel in a closed syllable was short, or to mark an Old English gemination or long consonant; or to indicate, when it is introduced between two vowels, the length of the first vowel. Furthermore, there are no less than three forms of the letter g: one to express the hard strong sound, another the soft sound, and a third the sound dzh. The last point was discovered by Professor A. S. Napier (Academy, 15 March 1890).
The unique manuscript of the ‘Ormulum,’ consisting of a single folio volume, preserved among the Junian Collection in the Bodleian Library, is in all probability the author's own copy, or rather a fragment of it; the twenty thousand and odd half-lines preserved therein represent merely about one-eighth of the complete work. The earliest notice of the manuscript is to be found in the sale-catalogue of the library of the Dutch philologist, Van Vliet, the friend of Junius, ‘greffier’ or registrar at Breda (1610–1666). Under the head of ‘Libri Miscellani in folio’ the following entry occurs: ‘107. Een oudt Sweeds of Gottisch in Parquement geschreven Boeck over de Evangelium,’ i.e. ‘An old Swedish or Gothic book on the Gospel, written on parchment’ (Catalogus variorum ac insignium librorum in quavis facultate et lingua Doctiss. Viri D.D. Jani Ulitii, J.C., Urbis Bredanæ Graphiarij … Quorum Auctio habebitur … die 12 Julii 1666. Hagæ Comitis, 1666, p. 11). Junius, who was then in the Netherlands, must have attended the sale at the Hague and secured the volume for his collection. An entry on the second flyleaf states that it was purchased by Vliet in 1659. The earlier history of the manuscript is not known. It may have been carried over to Holland a few years before by ‘one of those English exiles who had sought in Breda a refuge from the political excitement then prevailing in this country.’ Junius seems to have used the volume for lexicographical purposes. Early printed notices of the ‘Ormulum’ are found in the works of Hickes, in Wanley's ‘Catalogue,’ and in Lye's ‘Etymologicon Anglicanum.’ Tyrwhitt was the first to recognise its metrical properties (cf. The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer: to which are added An Essay upon his Language and Versification, an Introductory Discourse and Notes, London, 1775, iv. 64 and n. 62, p. 98, n. 69). Subsequently Conybeare in his ‘Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon Poetry,’ and Guest in his ‘History of English Rhythms,’ emphasised the importance of the work, which was first printed at Oxford in 1852, ‘with Notes and a Glossary by Robert Meadows White, D.D., late Fellow of St. Mary Magdalen College, and formerly professor of Anglo-Saxon in the University of Oxford.’ In 1878 a new and revised edition by the Rev. Robert Holt, M.A., Christ Church, Oxford, was issued by the Clarendon Press.[Holt's Ormulum, Oxford, 1878; Ten Brink's Early English Literature; Kölbing, Collation of Text (Englische Studien, i. 1–30); Braune's Middle-English Literature (Grundriss der germanischen Philologie, ed. H. Paul); Erik Brate's Nordische Lehnwörter in Ormulum (Paul-Braune's Beiträge, x. 1–80, 580–6); Sarrazin, Ueber die Quellen des Ormulum (Englische Studien, vi. 1–26); Trautman on Orm's Doppelkonsonanten (Anglia, vii. 94–9, 208–10, cf. 166–199); Sachse, Das unorganische E in Ormulum (Halle, 1881); Blackburn on The Change of þ to t in the Ormulum (American Journal of Philology, ii. 9, 46–58); Napier's Notes on the Orthography of the Ormulum (Academy, 15 March 1890; Early English Text Society, vol. 103); Zupitza's Old and Middle English Reader, ed. MacLean (1893), &c.]