refrain and refreit (also refreid), both nouns
Refrain in Middle French refers to the repeated chorus of a dance-song or carol. Hence it also refers to the repeated section of music and words which begins a virelai and to the repeated final line and section of melody at the end of a stanza in a ballade. The French poet Eustache Deschamps, in his 1392 L’Art de dictier, uses it interchangeably with rubrique (rubriche, rebriche) which he also uses to mean ‘refrain’. As poets begin to write non-musical lyrics, refrain comes to refer to the repeated line or lines of a lyric.
The Anglo-Norman Dictionary has the form refrait used to refer to repeated sections in liturgical singing. It is also used figuratively to refer to the burden of a discourse, the prevailing sentiment (i.e. the thing which is repeated over and again, like a musical refrain or a piece of repeated liturgy). Refrain doesn’t seem to be used widely in Middle English, with the form refreit being preferred. Charles d’Orleans, translating one of his French poems into English, uses ‘refrayt’ where the French original has ‘refrain’. Continue reading