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  • Writer's pictureFACTORALY

E23 VIKINGS

Updated: Apr 4

Simon uses language everywhere. Bruce pillages history.


Days of the week in Viking


The Viking helmet

(and the Viking haircut to match)




Valkyrie in Valhalla


The names of all the Valkyries


What words can we thank the Vikings for?

English

Old Norse

Meaning

berserk

berserkr

lit. a “bear-shirt”


a Viking warrior who entered battle wearing

nothing for armor but an animal skin

club

klubba

a heavy, blunt weapon

gun

gunn

from the female name Gunnhildr:


gunn (war) + hildr (battle)

ransack

rannsaka

to search a house

scathe

skaða

to injure

slaughter

slatra

to butcher

Society And Culture

Life in the Danelaw wasn’t all murder and mayhem, of course. Ironically, these savage berserkers also gave us many Old Norse words now central to our more “civilized” culture:

English

Old Norse

Meaning

bylaw

bylög

village-law

heathen

heiðinn

one who inhabits the heath or open country

Hel

Hel

Loki’s daughter and ruler of the underworld

husband

húsbóndi

hús (house) + bóndi (occupier and tiller of soil)

law

lag


litmus

lit-mosi

litr (dye) + mosi (moss)

loan

lán

to lend

sale

sala


skill

skil

distinction

steak

steik

to fry

thrall

þræll

slave

thrift

þrift

prosperity

troll



saga



yule

jol

a pagan winter solstice feast

Animals

Although most English animal names retain their Anglo-Saxon roots (cow, bear, hound, swine, chicken, etc.), the Vikings did bring a few Old Norse words to our animal vocabulary:

English

Old Norse

Meaning

bug

búkr

an insect within tree trunks

bull

boli


reindeer

hreindyri


skate

skata

a kind of fish

wing

vængr


Some words associated with hunting and trapping also come from the Vikings. Sleuth now means “detective,” but the original slóth meant “trail” or “track.” Snare, on the other hand, retains the original meaning of the Old Norse snara.

Landscape

Old Norse words are good for describing bleikr landscapes and weather. This was especially useful in Viking-inhabited northern England, where both flatr and rogg (rugged) terrain are often shrouded in fok, and oppressed by gustr of wind and lagr (low) ský (clouds).

Much of the Danelaw bordered swamps and alluvial plains, so it’s no surprise that many Old Norse words for dirty, mucky things still survive in English:

English

Old Norse

Meaning

dirt

drit

excrement

dregs

dregg

sediment

mire

myrr

bog

muck

myki

cow dung

rotten

rotinn


The Norse Legacy In English

Thanks to the cross-cultural fermentation that occurred in the Danelaw, the English language is much closer to those of its Scandinavian neighbours than many acknowledge. By the time the Norman conquest brought the irreversible influence of the French, Old English had already been transformed beyond its Anglo-Saxon roots.

This is still in evidence today: Modern English grammar and syntax are more similar to modern Scandinavian languages than to Old English. This suggests that Old Norse didn’t just introduce new words, it also influenced how the Anglo-Saxons constructed their sentences. Some linguists even claim that English should be reclassified as a North Germanic language (along with Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Swedish), rather than a West Germanic language (with Dutch and German). The Viking influence may be most apparent in the Yorkshire dialect, which uses even more Old Norse words in daily speech than standard English does.

English is probably too much of a hybrid to ever neatly classify, but its Old Norse rót is clearly there among the tangle of Anglo-Saxon, French and Latin roots. The language of the Vikings may have become subdued over the centuries, but make no mistake about it: from byrðr (birth) until we deejay (die), Norse’s raw energy simmers under the surface of everything we say.


More Old Norse Words

We use Old Norse words every day without even realizing it.

Verbs

English

Old Norse

Meaning

bark

bǫrkr


bask

baðask

reflexive of baða, “to bathe”

billow

bylgja


blunder

blundra

to shut one’s eyes; to stumble about blindly

call

kalla

to cry loudly

cast

kasta

to throw

choose

kjósa


clip

klippa

to cut

crawl

krafla

to claw

gawk

ga

to heed

get

geta


give

gefa


glitter

glitra


haggle

haggen

to chop

hit

hitta

to find

kindle

kynda


race

rás

to move swiftly

raise

reisa


rid

rythja

to clear land

run

renna


scare

skirra


scrape

skrapa


snub

snubba

to curse

sprint

spretta

to jump up

stagger

stakra

to push

stain

steina

to paint

stammer

stemma

to hinder; to dam up

sway

sveigja

to bend; to give way

take

taka


seem

sœma

to conform

shake

skaka


skip

skopa


thwart

þver

across

want

vanta

to lack

whirl

hvirfla

to go around

whisk

viska

to plait or braid

Objects

English

Old Norse

Meaning

axle

öxull

axis

bag

baggin


ball

bǫllr

a round object

band

band

rope

bulk

bulki

cargo

cake

kaka


egg

egg


glove

lofi

the middle of the hand

knot

knutr


keel

kjölr


link

hlenkr


loft

lopt

air; sky; upper room

mug

mugge


plow, plough

plogr


raft

raptr

log

scale (for weighing)

skal

bowl; drinking cup

scrap

skrap


seat

sæti


skirt

skyrta

shirt

want

vondr

rod

window

vindauga

lit. “wind-eye”

Adjectives

English

Old Norse

Meaning

aloft

á + lopt

on + loft; sky; heaven

ill

illr

bad

loose

lauss


sly

sloegr


scant

skamt

short; lacking

ugly

uggligr

dreadful

weak

veikr


The Body

English

Old Norse

Meaning

freckles

freknur


foot

fótr


girth

gjörð

circumference

leg

leggr


skin

skinn

animal hide

People

English

Old Norse

Meaning

fellow

felagi


guest

gestr


kid

kið

young goat

lad

ladd

young man

oaf

alfr

elf

Emotions

English

Old Norse

Meaning

anger

angr

trouble; affliction

awe

agi

terror

happy

happ

good luck; fate

irk

yrkja

to work

Who was Harald Bluetooth?



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