Swedish Words of the Week

July 5, 2016


Ah, Swedish, you beautiful source of inspiration. Doing Swedish on Duolingo constantly brings me face-to-face with some wonderful words, many of which work well in English. I thought I’d share some.

But first, a disclaimer!

As you may know if you are a regular reader of this site, I am thoroughly against Germanicising English. I do not believe loan translations from other Germanic languages are the default mode that we should opt for. Let’s take the word understand. In many of the other Germanic languages, the word translates back to English as “forstand”: Ger verstehen, Swe förstå, Dan forstå, Nor forstå. Clearly, loan translating doesn’t always work; English always has been the black sheep of the Germanic language family.

Therefore, I do not think loan translating from any language is our first go-to option. Rather, we need to look to the resources of the English language itself to uncover a richer, truer, homeborn English.

That said, looking to other languages can sometimes throw up inspiration. Here’s some more from Swedish. Note: the only link between these words is that they have all come up recently in my Duolingo studies.

bilingual adj. tvåspråkig ‘twospeeched/twispeeched’. Speech can mean language, bilingual means having two languages. I like. Incidentally, twi– is the old prefix meaning two, which by the way I think we need to bring back to replace Latin bi-.

change n. förändring ‘for-othering’. That is, a total (See forhere) ‘othering’… by which we mean, to make something other than it is. Indeed, we might well do with dropping the for-: (verb) to other, (noun) an othering.

citizen n. medborgare ‘withborougher/withburger’. This tongue-twister works quite well, although it feels a bit odd. Old English had burhsittend ‘borough-sitter’ and ceasterware ‘chesterer’ (that is, someone from a “Chester“). We could come up with our own forms, too. I think “fellow-townie” works quite well, and it sticks to the etymological root of “citizen” (compare “city”). Another one that I would like to put forward: “land-fellow” (“land” as in “country, nation”; that is, a fellow of our same land/country).

independent adj. självständig ‘selfstanding’. I have no qualms slipping this into my English right now! I think it’s a “smuggleword” for sure!

possible adj. möjlig ‘mayly’. Quite clear, right? Things that may be, must be mayly. English spelling rules would probably dictate “maily” (like “daily”), but as a new word it probably wouldn’t be understood unless spelt “may(-)ly”.

public n. allmänhet ‘allmenhood’. The Modern English noun came from the adjective, the Old English for which was folclic ‘folkly’, that is, of the folk/people. I think allmenhood works fairly well.

success n. framgång ‘forward-go’. Think: go forth.

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Sweden#/media/File%3AFlag_of_Sweden.svg






Viking Words In English

July 21, 2015


I love the Swedish language. Or rather, Jag älskar det svenska språket. Swedish is a North Germanic language, and therefore  genetically further away from English than German and Dutch (all these three are West Germanic). However, Swedish is actually much easier to learn for English speakers than either German or Dutch. But how can it be more similar despite being more genetically distant? Well, you could be more similar to your best friend Steve than you are to (closely related) Uncle John, after all; same sort of thing in the case of Swedish. Specifically, there are many reasons for Swedish being easier for English speakers to learn than German. The lack of case in both English and Swedish which German retains, is one. Another is that both English and Swedish have borrowed a lot from the same languages including French, Latin, Ancient Greek, and German. And a third reason is the Vikings.

Vikings in the British Isles

The Vikings landed at Lindisfarne in the year 793 with the sole intention of plundering the famed monastery. They continued their yearly raiding for decades. Then in 850 they overwintered in England for the first time. Things were only going one way. 865, and a great army crossed England and settled at York, setting up a Viking kingdom in England. Viking influence spread until 1013 when the Viking king Sweyn was made king of all England. His son, Cnut the Great, took over his kingdom and ruled until his death in 1035 bringing an end to Viking rule in England.

This history has left us with a lot of Norse words.

Words such as sky, slaughter, law, husband, and die. There’s a great little sentence which shows the Norse influence on English, particularly in parts of the north of the UK, and it goes: the barns are laikin’ in the gate, which means ‘the children are playing in the road’; compare the modern Swedish: barnen leker på gatan.

Warp, Cast, Throw

One of my favourite little word-histories concerns THROW. In Old English, the word for THROW was weorpan, that is, warp.  The Norse word cast (as in cast stones or cast a fishing line) came in with the Vikings and effectively replaced warp, the original English word sticking around with an altered meaning. And then another homeborn English word, þrawan ‘throw’, which originally meant ‘to twist, turn, writhe’, rose up and overthrew the Norse borrowing to become the default word, cast itself becoming specialised in meaning. Thus, words for THROW changed from warp to cast to throw. Also note how þrawan and weorpan more-or-less exchanged meanings: the former meant ‘writhe, twist’ and came to mean ‘throw’, the latter meant ‘throw’ and came to mean ‘bend, twist’.


Being the kind of Anglisher I am (see here), I have no real issue taking these historical borrowings into the English language and accepting them as thoroughly English. Indeed, sometimes words are so similar between Norse and Old English, that it’s difficult to know which language they came from.

The following lovely article, The Vikings Are Coming!: 139 Old Norse Words That Invaded The English Language, lists some wonderful and perhaps surprising Norse words. The article is lovely — although I do note that it rather irritatingly keeps the following linguistic myth alive: the words ‘beef’ and ‘mutton’ come from Norman French, whereas ‘cow’ and ‘sheep’ come from English because the aristocracy ate the luxurious food of beef and mutton, whereas the native Saxon peasants merely saw these animals in the field. But asides from helping perpetuate a lovely albeit historically inaccurate story, this article is great. Read it here.

I’ve reproduced the article below just in case babble.com takes this wonderful resource offline at some point. Do check out Babbel, as there is some great stuff on there.

featured image from http://www.babbel.com/magazine/139-norse-words?slc=engmag-a17-info-139norsewords-tb

© 2014 – 2015  Bryan A. J. Parry

139 Old Norse Words That Invaded The English Language

When I say “Old English” what comes to mind? The ornate, hard-to-read script? Reading Beowulf in your high school English class? The kinds of figurative compound nouns – or kennings – like “swan of blood” and “slaughter-dew” that have sustained heavy metal lyrics for decades?

Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon, was a language spoken by the Angles and the Saxons – the first Germanic tribes to settle the British Isles. They were not the first inhabitants, as any Welsh or Gaelic speaker will tell you, but their language did form the basis for the Angle-ish we speak today. But then why can’t we modern-day English speakers understand Old English? In terms of vocabulary, grammar and syntax, Old English resembles its cousins Dutch and German more than it does modern English. So how did English change so drastically?

The short answer is that the English language changed forever after the Norman invasion brought a new ruling class of French speakers to the British Isles in 1066. French was the language of the nobility for the next 300 years – plenty of time for lots of French words to trickle down to the merchant and peasant classes. For example, the Anglo-Saxons already had words for “sheep” and “cows”, but the Norman aristocracy – who usually only saw these animals on the plate – introduced mouton (mutton) and boeuf (beef). Today, nearly thirty percent of English words come from French.

As a result, modern English is commonly thought of as a West Germanic language with lots of French and, thanks to the church, Latin influence. But this history of English’s development leaves out a very important piece of the linguistic puzzle – Old Norse: the language of the Vikings.

How To Speak Viking

The Old Norse noun víking meant an overseas expedition, and a vikingr was someone who went on one of these expeditions. In the popular imagination, the Vikings were essentially pirates from the fjords of Denmark and Norway who descended on medieval England like a bloodthirsty frat party; they raped, pillaged, murdered, razed villages and then sailed back across the North Sea with the loot.

But the truth is far more nuanced. The earliest Viking activity in England did consist of coastal raids in the early ninth century, but by the 870s the Danes had traded sword for plow and were settled across most of Northern England in an area governed by treaties known as the Danelaw. England even had Danish kings from 1018 to 1042. However, the more successful and longer-lasting Norman conquest in 1066 marked the end of the Viking era and virtually erased Danish influence in all aspects of English culture but one: its effect on the development of the English language.

Traust me, þó (though) it may seem oddi at first, we er still very líkligr to use the same words as the Vikings did in our everyday speech. Þeirra (their) language evolved into the modern-day Scandinavian languages, but þeir (they) also gave English the gift of hundreds of words.

[A note on the letter þ: the Old Norse letter, called thorn, makes the same sound as “th”.]

Names of Days

The most obvious Viking influence on modern English is the word Thursday (Þorsdagr), which you can probably guess means “Thor’s day”.

“Tuesday”, “Wednesday” and “Friday” are sometimes also attributed to the Norse gods Tyr, Odin and Freya, respectively; but the days are actually named for the Anglo-Saxon equivalents of these gods, Tiw, Wodan and Friga. The similarity of these names points to the common ancestry of the various Germanic tribes in prehistoric northern Europe – centuries before their descendants clashed on England’s shores.

War & Violence

If the Vikings are famous for one thing, it’s their obsession with war. They didn’t just bring death and destruction to England in the Middle Ages, they brought really cool words for death and destruction. They were certainly a rough bunch. Just look at a Viking the rangr way, and he might þrysta (thrust) a knifr into your skulle.

  • berserk/berserkerberserkr, lit. ‘bear-shirt’. A berserkr was a Viking warrior who would enter battle in a crazed frenzy, wearing nothing for armor but an animal skin.
  • clubklubba. People have been bashing each other with heavy things since time immemorial, but not until the Danes started bringing this weapon down on English heads did this blunt weapon receive its fittingly blunt name.
  • ransackrannsaka (to search a house)
  • These days, the adjective scathing is reserved for sharp criticism, but in the context of the original meaning of scathe (to injure), skaða takes on a much more visceral quality.
  • slaughterslatra (to butcher)
  • Even though the gun wasn’t invented until centuries after the Viking era, the word comes from Old Norse. The most common usage was in the female name Gunnhildr: gunn and hildr both can translate as “war” or “battle”. Only truly badass Vikings named their infant daughters “Warbattle”.

Society & Culture

But life in the Danelaw wasn’t all murder and mayhem. Ironically, these savage berserkers also gave us words that are central to our “civilized” culture:

bylawbylög (village-law) salesala
heathenheiðinn (one who inhabits the heath or open country) skillskil (distinction)
Hell – In Norse mythology, Loki’s daughter Hel ruled the underworld. steaksteik (to fry)
husbandhús (house) + bóndi (occupier and tiller of soil) = húsbóndi thrallþræll (slave)
lawlag thriftþrift (prosperity)
litmuslitr (dye) + mosi (lichen; moss) tidingstíðindi (news of events)
loanlán (to lend) troll
saga yulejol (a pagan winter solstice feast)


Although most English animal names retain their Anglo-Saxon roots (cow, bear, hound, swine, chicken, etc) the Vikings did bring certain animals names into the vernacular:

  • bugbúkr (an insect within tree trunks)
  • bullboli
  • reindeerhreindyri
  • skateskata (fish)
  • wingvængr

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

The Landscape

Old Norse is good at describing bleikr landscapes and weather. This was especially useful in the Vikings’ adopted northern England, where flatr or rogg (rugged) terrain can be 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 Norse words for dirty, mucky things survive in English:

  • dirtdrit (excrement)
  • dregsdregg (sediment)
  • miremyrr (bog)
  • muckmyki (cow dung)
  • rottenrotinn

The Norse Legacy in English

Thanks to the cross-cultural fermentation that occured in the Danelaw – and later when England was temporarily absorbed into Canute the Great’s North Sea Kingdom – the English language is much closer to that of its Scandinavian neighbors than many acknowledge. By the time that the Norman conquest brought the irreversible influence of 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, but 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 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 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 mistaka about it – from byrðr (birth) undtil we deyja (die) – Norse’s raw energy simmers under the surface of everything we say.

More Norse Words

barkbǫrkr ridrythja (to clear land)
baskbaðask (reflexive of baða, “to bathe”) runrenna
billowbylgja scareskirra
blunderblundra (to shut one’s eyes; to stumble about blindly) scrapeskrapa
callkalla (to cry loudly) snubsnubba (to curse)
castkasta (to throw) sprintspretta (to jump up)
choosekjósa staggerstakra (to push)
clipklippa (to cut) stainsteina (to paint)
crawlkrafla (to claw) stammerstemma (to hinder or dam up)
gawkga (to heed) swaysveigja (to bend; to give way)
getgeta taketaka
givegefa seemsœma (to conform)
glitterglitra shakeskaka
hagglehaggen (to chop skipskopa
hithitta (to find) thwartþvert (across)
kindlekynda wantvanta (to lack)
racerás (to race, to move swiftly) whirlhvirfla (to go around)
raisereisa whiskviska (to plait or braid)
axleöxull (axis) loftlopt (air, sky; upper room)
bagbaggin mugmugge
ballbǫllr (round object) plow, ploughplogr
band (rope) raftraptr (log)
bulkbulki (cargo) scale (for weighing) – skal (bowl, drinking cup)
cakekaka scrapskrap
egg seatsæti
glovelofi (middle of the hand) skirtskyrta (shirt)
knotknutr wandvondr (rod)
keelkjölr windowvindauga (lit. “wind-eye”)
aloftá (on) + lopt (loft; sky; heaven) frecklesfreknur
illillr (bad) footfótr
looselauss girthgjörð (circumference)
slysloegr legleggr
scantskamt (short, lacking) skinskinn (animal hide)
uglyuggligr (dreadful)
fellowfelagi angerangr (trouble, affliction)
guestgestr aweagi (terror)
kidkið (young goat) happyhapp (good luck; fate)
ladladd (young man) irkyrkja (to work)
oafalfr (elf)

To Be- or Not To Be-

April 24, 2015


The prefix be- is a versatile little spanner in our English language toolbox. Added to nouns, its meaning can be intensive (to affect or surround thoroughly, completely: bedazzle, befog), privative (behead), causative (make, cause, consider to be: befriend), and to provide or cover with (bejewel). Added to verbs, it means at, against, for, on, over (bewail, berate).

But despite its breadth of meaning, it is far from vague. Indeed, I submit that more-or-less any word could be made into an elegant and readily-understood verb by adding be-.

Try it out for yourself: look around you at random nouns and add be-. What meaning presents itself to you? Try using your new word: do other people understand you?

Despite the obvious usefulness of this word forming element, like every dog, it had its day. For be-, that “day” was the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During this period, the fad for adding be- to any and all words gave us many useful coinings — although, sadly, most are no longer in use:  bethwack (“to thrash soundly”) and betongue (“to assail in speech, to scold”) are two favourites.

Try it yourself. Have fun with our wonderful language! Take any noun, or verb, and add be-: what meaning does the new form suggest? Do people understand you? Who knows, one day you may find someone else using your word in conversation as if it had always been part of English.

One final thought: begin is also formed from be- plus gin. But what on earth is “gin”? The word gin is so old, we actually don’t know what it meant! Our best guess is something like “open up”.


Here’s a brief list of some of my favourite be- words.

befit to be fitting or appropriate or proper for.

befuddle to get confused, to get confused by intoxicants, from fuddle meaning to become drunk.

beget to procreate; literally, ‘to cause to get [children]’. Hmm, makes me think bebaby — to make or become pregnant — would be a fun new word by analogy!

behead Why would anyone say ‘decapitate’ (to take off the capit?) when we have a great word like this?

belie to misrepresent, to deceive by lies, to show to be false or to contradict.

belittle Thomas Jefferson, former US President and Liberal icon, invented this word and was famously condemned by British critics (read: snobs) for his unintelligible language!

beshrew to deprave, pervert, corrupt, and to curse or wish evil upon.

betoken to signify; literally, to make into a token or sign. Think about it, “signify” itself only means sign-ify… to make into a sign or token.

bewilder to thoroughly confuse or perplex; think wilderness for the sense here.

featured image from http://mindfulyourownbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/logodessin2.png

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

Top Swedish Words of the Day

February 25, 2015


Swedish, being a Germanic language, may sometimes give us a model or inspiration for our true, roots, Saxon, homeborn English made of homeborn roots. 8sidor (‘eight pages’) is a Swedish newspaper. Today’s issue has an article about Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims regarding Iran’s capacity for an atomic bomb. Here’s some delightful Swedish words appearing in the article and possible Anglish forms based on them.

kärnvapen: nuclear weapon, lit. ‘kernel-weapon’
spiongrupp: spy agency, lit. ‘spy-group’
tllverka: manufacture, fabricate, lit. ‘to-work’

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry


April 18, 2012

I haven’t seen the subject of this post get given any real treatment by Anglish enthusiasts, so I thought I’d give it a (cursory) go. And that subject is spelling.

The English spelling system has been profoundly influenced by 1066 and its aftermath. I’ll give a couple of sets of examples before moving on to talk briefly about what this all means for “Anglish”.

The Great Vowel Shift & Anglo-Norman Scribes

Let’s look at the vowel sound in sound, found, and cow.

Over a very long period of time, the vowels in English shifted around quite a lot; the so-called Great Vowel Shift. [Notes 1, 2] Old English “long” i, as in the word min ‘mine’, which was pronounced like Modern English (ModE) <ee> as in “keep”, changed to the “eye” sound it has now. min –> mine, win –> wine, lic(an) –> like. And so on. However, the spelling of the vowel stayed the same. [Note 3] That is, we do not write <main>, <wain>, and <laik>. This reflects the inheritance of ModE “long” i from Old English (OE) long i.

A similar thing happened with OE “long” u which was pronounced as “oo”; after the great vowel shift it diphthongised, coming to be pronounced as “au”, or the <ow> of ‘cow’. The OE word was cu. Likewise, Old English mus, hus, and tun, pronounced “moose”, “hoose”, and “toon”, became, can you guess? Mouse, house, and town. Notice that, unlike with OE long i, the long u did have a spelling change. Namely, to <ou>. Why?

Simple answer, really. Let’s just say: bijou, Anjou, and Petits Filous. Yes, that formidable swinehoard France was to blame. Again. Basically, the Anglo-Norman scribes spelt English as they spelt their own language; thus “u” became “ou”.[Note 4]

If this change from <u> to <ou> seems trifling and marginal, then I would just say that it is the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg that we’ll come to look at from up a little closer later in this post.

Hypercorrective Spellings (Hyperactive Monks?)

Many spellings were wrixled [Note 5], mostly to the effect of worsening the correspondence between sound and symbol, due to scribes attempting to make words look more like their (supposed) Greek or Latin forebears. In this way, “debt” acquired a <b> (despite coming from French dette), “receipt” acquired a <p> (altho the same root did not acquire a <p> in “deceit” or “receive”, none of these three words having a <p> in the French, in any case), and “admiral” acquired both a <d> and, ultimately, a spelling pronunciation /d/ sound [Note 6], to make it resemble the Latin word from which it doesn’t come; it actually comes from the Arabic amir-ar-rahl, by way of French amirail(!)

Now if this isn’t sheer idiocy, I don’t know what is. But I contest that this obsession with Latin and Greek antecedents, this fetish of the foreign, had and has its origins in the Norman Conquest and the culture-change it has ever stood for.

Anglish and Modern Old English

There are, in line with my previous analysis [Note 7], two main ways you could go with all of this (so far as Anglish is concerned). You could either go the “Modern Old English” route, or you could go a more “Anglishy” way. Let’s look at the possibilities.

Modern Old English

Here we try to undo all or almost all influence resulting ultimately from 1066 and all that . In this way, spellings may be even better at times: <qu> would be replaced by <cw>, such that we have something like <cwene>, <cwick>, and <cwoþ>. Which leads us onto <th> getting the old heave-ho in favour of <þ>; an “improvement”, perhaps, as it cleaves to the alphabetic principle of “one sound one symbol”: <þis>, <faþer>, and <wiþ>.

Some other times, spelling might not improve, but actually get worse!

Why not let’s re-instate the silent <w> in “lisp” which was probably lost from the spelling due to most <wl-> words themselves being lost from English, ousted by foreign counterparts! Thus, <wlisp>. After all, we still have the silent <w> in <write>, <wrong>, and <wretched>, a fairly analogous case.

How about shifting:

<house> and <louse> to <hus> and <lus>;

<boat>, <road>, and <stone> to <bat>, <rad>, and <stan>;

<yellow> and <yes> to <gellow> and <ges>;

<church> to <circe> and <chin> to <cinn>;

<ice> to <is>?


This is fun, actually!

But perhaps pointless.


I think simply keeping the current system as it is, with all its French influences intact, is the plainest and therefore best thing to do. I would merely remove etymological and pseudo-etymological spellings which were designed to resemble Latin or Greek. Thus, we would write <stomack> and <anker> or <ancor>, not <stomach> and <anchor>. The reason? English spelling, despite having a French side, is understood by ordinary people, and works, quite well; <ch> is, well, ch, not k [Note 8]! Problems arising in the English spelling system are mostly due to three areas, areas I will not discuss further as that is a topic for another post: (1) spellings of the sort I have been discussing, (2) reduction of vowel sounds in English, usually to schwa, and (3) a lack of adequate representation for the “ow!” sound versus the “oh!” sound; does <row> mean an “argument”, pronounced “r-ow!”, or does it mean the thing you do on a boat, pronounced “r-oh!”?

Thus, I personally take the spelling system as it is, prefering instead to alter individual spellings which do not work from a phonemic point of view due to their being, in my mind, spuriously altered or modelled along French, Latin, or Greek lines; thus, I write <dout>, <det>, <ancor>, and <receit>.

But I feel I am now sliding towards a separate post on the merits of the English spelling system, so I will stop myself there. I hope this has been an interesting beginning to the debate, if only a beginning.


Bryan Parry

April 2012



[Note 1] The Great Vowel Shift at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift

[Note 2] The Great Vowel Shift didn’t become “completed” in all English-speaking areas, however. In parts of the UK, specifically the north, “long” u didn’t diphthongise; or to put it another way, “There’s a moose, a-loose, aroun‘ this hoose! danDAHdanAH aDANAHdana adundundunnadun!”

[Note 3] Arguably, and it is actually my view, but the non-contiguous sequence <i…e> is in fact a single grapheme; thus, the spelling of the vowel did change, from <i> to <i…e>. But this is a complication stemming from a separate issue which obscures the matter at hand.

[Note 4] Note that we write <cow> not <cou>; the reason is the same as why we write <oil>-<toil>-<toy>. Essentially, <ow> is what I call an allograph of <ou> when representing the sound /au/ used in final position: <out>-<bout>-<bow>.

[Note 5] “Wrixled” means “changed”, remember?

[Note 6] A “spelling pronunciation” is when people pronounce a word as it is spelt despite this not being the ‘true’ way of saying the word. Essentially, the usual thing that happens is people believe that the way they grew up saying this word is wrong, the correct way being in line with the spelling. Which is actually a fairly reasonable assumption, and given the stigma and ill effects associated with “poor speaking”, it’s easy to understand how such things happen. And so they hypercorrect , thus resulting in things like “admiral” and foreign-ese “receipt” (with a /p/ sound). Interestingly, I’ve even heard some native English speakers, without joking, say “receipt” with a /p/. Hmm. A hundred years from now…

[Note 7] See my blog entry “1066 Wrixled Everything”

[Note 8] Or, more precisely, the grapheme <ch>, by default, represents the voiceless palato-alveolar affricate, whereas the voiceless velar plosive is represented usually by either <c>, <k>, <ck>, or <q>.

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