New Old Spellings #PlainEnglish #Anglish #PureEnglish #SpellingReform

January 2, 2017

beowulf_cotton_ms_vitellius_a_xv_f__132r

We spend a lot of time talking about Anglish words, but almost no time talking about spellings. The why is that I try to smuggle Anglish in. Non-standard spellings, however, draw attention to themselves. Therefore, I have only touched on spellings briefly (for example, see here). However, 1066 and all that left its mark on our spelling system, too. Many spellings were changed soon after the Conquest as the old English scribe class were killed and slowly dispensed with, Normans taking their place. For example, <cw> was respelt as <qu> on the French model: cwen became quen (now queen) almost overnight. However, other less radical changes have also happened over the years since then. This post looks at these spellings, specifically those changed based on an unright understanding of their origin (?erstspring ?upspring ?first-spring).

Before I go on, remember that my notion here at Wrixlings is not to create what might have been had history panned out differently — that is something I call “Modern Old English”. Rather, I try to inliven the Saxon heart our of present speech. Therefore, I do not say we must bring back ash <æ> or yogh, or spell <wh> as <hw> (OE hwearf ‘wharf’) or put an <h> back in words like lord (OE hlaford, would therefore perhaps be hlord if 1066 and all that had not happened). Therefore, I do not respell <qu> as <cw>: the grounds are that everyone can plainly understand <qu> for /kw/ — even tho the spelling is quite absurd, and French.

1. ACHE

Originally, there were two words: ake (deedwork/verb), ache (nameword/noun), as per speak (workword) and speech (nameword). Eventually, ache fell out of the language in favour of ake for both verbs and nouns (just like we used to say “reek” (deedword) OE reocan and “reech” (nameword) OE riec). However, it was felt by the 1700s that ake probably came from the Greek akhos, and so the spelling was changed accordingly (Greek kh / χ is rendered <ch> in English; see the arch– of words like archaeology, from arkhe / αρχη). Sadly, the word doesn’t come from Greek, but the Old English acan (deedword) and æce (nameword).

So let’s spell it AKE.

2. AGHAST, GHASTLY, GHOST

The letter g can “soften” to a “j” sound (or to a “y” sound in Old English: geong ‘young’). The letters <h> and <u> can “stop” it: guest, spaghetti. We don’t say these as “jest” and “spajetty”, do we? But this softening only can happen before e, i, and y. So why is there a <h> in these words before <a> and <o>? Oh yes, because that’s how it’s done in Dutch(!)… How does that make any sense?

The first two used to be spelt without the <h>. So let’s spell them AGAST and GASTLY once again. “Gost” might be troublesome as it may imply a rhyme with “lost” — although not needfully; see “host”! It comes from Old English gast; this <a> developed into a ‘long’ o elsewhere too. Sometimes it was spelt like this: OE stan –> ModE “stone”. And other times it was spelt like this: OE bat –> ModE “boat”.

So let’s spell it either GOST, GOAST, or GOSTE. I reckon the first two are best.

3. ANCHOR

The Old English word was ancor, taken from the Latin ancora (see, we did borrow sometimes in Old English too!). This itself probably comes from the Greek ankyra ανκυρα. None of these words have a <h>! Indeed, the word only began being spelt with an <h> in the late 1500s — after having spent around 700 years in English spelt without it. The decision is clear:

Let’s spell it ANCOR. Mark that “anker” would also clearly word on the grounds of saying (banker, wanker), but not on wordbirth.

4. AXE

This word was spelt æx in Old English and ax until around two hundred years ago. It is still spelt ax in the US, Canada, and increasingly now, Australia. The <e> was added for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Let’s just bin axe and spell it AX.

5. CRUMB, THUMB, LIMB, NUMB

Old English cruma, þuma and lim. Numb was earlier spelt as nome, from the OE root niman. Never had a <b> sound in there. Although the related words crumblethimble and nimble do. And then there’s dumb and lamb and comb, which used to be said with a /b/, but no longer are, yet are still spelt with a <b>. What a mess.

I suggest taking the <b> out in all cases, etymological and otherwise: CRUMDUM, LAM, LIM, NUM, THUM.

Only keep it where it is pronounced: CRUMBLE, THIMBLE, NIMBLE. Keeping the <b> in some related words but not others may trouble you, but it shouldn’t. For example, we write DECEIT and DECEPTION, not “deceipt”, which is an analogous case. In the case of “comb”, we need to show the way the vowel is said, so as with “ghost” above, we have either COAM or COME. COAME is even possible.

Maybe COAM to stop us mixing it up with the verb to come.

6. ISLAND, ISLE

Island represents Old English igland, from ig ‘isle/island’ + land land. It was thought to come from the Latin insula, hence why folk added the <s>. Although, by that logic (?through-thought) why wasn’t it spelt “insland”? The idea for <s> probably also took hold due to the word isle which actually is ultimately from the Latin insula. However, rather ironically, <s> was often lost from Latin to French (French fenêtre, Latin fenestra) — as it was in ISLE, too! We borrowed the word from French in the late 13th century as ILE.

Therefore: ILAND, ILE

If you want a homeborn word for isle, we do of course have ait and eyot which in some way represent the “i” of island.

7. SCYTHE

Influenced by Latine scissor ‘carver, cutter’ and scindere ‘to cut’. The word actually comes from Old English siþe and should be spelled again as once it was: SITHE (as in lithe, writhe, and so on; note: the letter þ is the exact equivalent of <th>).

8. TONGUE

This is a funny one. I often see it misspelt, by native speakers(!), as “tounge”. Why? They know how to say it, but they also know the spelling is a tad “funny”. So they take a guess. The OE was tunge and would naturally have lost the final <e>. Additionally, lots of words of this kind had their <u> changed to an <o> before <n, m> as the scribal writing of the time made them easily confusable. That’s why “come”, which rhymes with “hum”, isn’t spelt with a <u>. Therefore, this could be changed to tong or tung. But given that tong would be misleading, and the regular spelling would be with a <u> (see hung, rung, sung, and fellows):

I say this needs to be put back as TUNG. Altho it is true that some Northerners give this a spelling pronunciation of “tong”.

9. WHORE

Who, whooping cough, and therefore whore, right? Wrong. Actually, in Old English it was hore, and only began to be spelled with a <w> in the early 1500s. Let’s set this straight and bring back HORE.

10. OTHER WORDS

There are many other words we might respell. For example, see our little talk about <u> being changed to <o> as in tongue and come. There are a great deal of words that fit this mould exactly: wonder, monk, wolf, and so on. These could be respelt wunder, munk, wulf (see thunder and sunk). Or another idea: could could be respelt as coud. It comes from can, and was cuðe in Old English, but gained an <l> by analogy with would and should (which come from will and shall, words that DO have an <l>!). But both of these cases, wonder and friends and could, go beyond the bounds of this post. Could is indeed also false etymology, but one based on homeborn not outland words. And the case of wonder and fellows is about wonky former scribal habits — not incorrect etymologising. Maybe we’ll handle those kinds of spelling in another post.

11. SUMMING UP

Therefore, if we go down the road of Anglish spellings, we have changed the following from:

ache, aghast, anchor, axe, comb, crumb, dumb, ghastly, ghost, island, isle, lamb, limb, numbscythe, thumb, tongue, whore

to:

AKE, AGAST, ANCOR, AX, COAM, CRUM, DUM, GASTLY, GOAST/GOST, ILAND, ILE, LAM, LIM, NUM, SITHE, THUM, TUNG, HORE.

You might wanna check out a similar (but old) post by a fellow Anglisher here: New Spellings.

© 2016 – 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image the first lines of the manuscript of Beowulf: By anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet – This file has been provided by the British Library from its digital collections. It is also made available on a British Library website.Catalogue entry: Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, ff 94r–209v, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30380424

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Hybrid #PlainEnglish #Anglish #PureEnglish

December 19, 2016

toyota_yaris_hybrid

hybrid (noun) c. 1600, “offspring of plants or animals of different variety or species,” from Latin hybrida, variant of ibrida “mongrel,” specifically “offspring of a tame sow and a wild boar,” of unknown origin but probably from Greek and somehow related to hubris. A rare word before the general sense “anything a product of two heterogeneous things” emerged c. 1850. The adjective is attested from 1716. As a noun meaning “automobile powered by an engine that uses both electricity and gasoline,” 2002, short for hybrid vehicle, etc.

hybridize (verb)

From the Online Etymology Dictionary

We can see indeed from our day-to-day experience that the words hybrid and hybridize are growing in popularity. But what’s wrong with our own Saxon words for these things?

The nameword (noun) is either: cross, crossbreed, or mongrel. I suggest a further word: blendbreed. Obviously, as far as “hybrid” cars go, “cross” is probably the best fit. We might also say half-and-half or half-half cars. And note that mongrel can (but needn’t) have negatives tones, whereas cross and crossbreed are more judgement-free.

The deedword (verb) can therefore either be: cross, crossbreed, and blendbreed.

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-XggVsuU-4bs/T6c-uQx-47I/AAAAAAAAAJg/2LnX1gmPlV0/s1600/Toyota_Yaris_Hybrid.jpg

 


Labour

December 2, 2016

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Let’s have a workers’ revolution and purge our speech of the word “labo(u)r” and its derivatives, coming as it does from Latin labor. What are the plain, Saxon English alternatives?

Labour (n) = hard work, slog

Labour (v) = work hard, slog, slog away

Labour Day = May day, Workers’ day

The Labour Party = The Workers’ Party

Labour union = workers’ union

Go into labour = begin/start giving birth

Belabour = overwork, overdo, over-egg

Labourer = worker, unskilled worker, hand(y) worker [that is, “manual labourer”]

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labour_Isn’t_Working


Collaborate

November 14, 2016

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The verb “to collaborate” can easily be put into plain English by saying “to work with”. Indeed, this is exactly what “collaborate” means in Latin: com– ‘with’ + labore ‘to work’. But what about “collaborator” and “collaboration”? The fairly useless word “collaborate” looks like it’s being buttressed by these two words, as well as by the negative, traitorous sense. Indeed, perhaps “collaborator” is slowly coming to mean something like “traitor”, and thus the time might be right for “collaborator” to be shuffled off.

We could turn the verb phrase “work with” into the phrasewords “withworker” and “withworking”. However, “with” when used as a kind of prefix actually means “against”; look at “withstand” (stand against, resist), “withhold” (hold back), and “withdraw” (draw back). The reason for this weirdly counter-intuitive situation is that in Old English, “with” (wiþ) meant ‘against’. The meaning of wiþ changed under the influence of phrases like “fight with”. The eremost (original) English word for the concept of “with” was “mid” — this still lives on in words like “midwife” (literally, ‘with wife/woman’).

So we have two choices here.

  1. Extend the nearly-dead usage of mid- to mean “with” and with- to mean “against”, even though it runs counter to how these words work when not compounded/prefixed.
  2. Write off current with- and mid- as relics, patterns too irretrievably lost to bring back, and make a new prefix with-.

Option one gives us midworker and midworking. Option two gives us withworker and withworking.

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://media.licdn.com/mpr/mpr/p/7/005/068/2bd/3dbad47.jpg

 


Wildfire Spreads

January 19, 2016

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Wildfire is any large fire which spreads quickly and is hard to put out. Originally, it referred to the Greek fire, a highly flammable (firesome? flamesome?) substance deliberately launched, particularly at rival ships, to devastating effect.

The same thing can happen with words. Like any meme, words can spread swiftly and with inevitable and ferocious effect. The Greek wildfire was created deliberately for a particular end. Yet it is hard to force a meme or word to spread like wildfire. Unless we have an accelerant to speed and intensify the flame, that is. And one such accelerant is analogy.

The Spread by Analogy: Successful Examples

We used to say popular antiquities. But then in 1846, William J. Thoms came up with the word folklore as a deliberate Anglo-Saxonism. Now the phrase popular antiquities belongs with the Dodo, and formations in folk– have caught fire and spread wildly by analogy: folk art, folk music, folk musician, folk-song, folk-dance, folk-tale, folk-hero, folk-medicine.

Likewise, foreword was created in the nineteenth century probably as a loan translation of German Vorwort. It hasn’t completely replaced the Latin-based preface, but it’s made serious headway. Foreword sits nicely alongside the English word foreskin, itself created in the sixteenth century as a loan translation of the Latinate prepuce. In truth, who now would rather say prepuce or preface than foreskin and foreword?*

Another favourite Anglo-Saxonism of mine is handbook. This great word was the original Old English, which, like so many others, was ousted by Latinate manual in the Middle English period (from the Latin root itself meaning “hand”). During the nineteenth century, the word was given life again in imitation of German Handbuch. Apparently this word was decried in the beginning. But what could now be more natural or logical than handbook?

The Spread by Analogy: Your Turn

Indeed, the analogy of such successful words, and other words of similar form such as forehead, means the accelerant is already in place. We merely need to try coming up with other analogous words. If we slip them into our speech and writing, who knows, they may too spread like wildfire.

What new forms can you come up with in folk-, –lore, hand-, –book, fore-, and –word? Have you tried using them in conversation? Are you brave enough?(!) I’ll post up some forms I use in a forthcoming post: plenty of time for you to think up your own as well!

*However, note that preface as a noun is probably buttressed by the use of preface as a verb.

© 2015-2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_fire#/media/File%3AGreekfire-madridskylitzes1.jpg


Yule and the Months #Yule #Christmas #TrueMeaningOfChristmas

December 23, 2015

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Christmas, Xmas, Noel, Yule. So many names. But why? Christ-mass: that one’s simple enough. “X” is the first letter of the word Christ in Greek (Χριστος), hence Xmas. Noel comes from French, and ultimately the Latin, for “birth” [that is,  of Jesus]. Yule, on the other hand, was originally the name for a heathen feast of around the same period.

Yule is therefore the homeborn English word. And as a non-Christian Englishman, I like to use Yule to consciously stand for the cultural, as opposed to religious, celebration. Why? Because “Christmas” is and always has been about more than just Christianity. Eventually the word Yule fell out of use, except in some dialects, and was brought back to mainstream life in the nineteenth century.

The thought might occur to you: if the homeborn English word yule was replaced, perhaps the names of the months were too. And that’s exactly right. Here’s a quote from the venerable Bede’s The Reckoning of Time.

January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli

As you can tell by names like Eosturmonath, these are the words in their Old English forms. I’m not suggesting we replace our current month names with updated versions of the old ones. Threemilch isn’t going to be plainer and easier to understand than May. But I post them for interest sake and because they are our homegrown words.

January: Yule
February: Solmonth
March: Reedmonth
April: Eastermonth
May: Threemilch
June: Lithe
July: Lithe
August: Weedmonth
September: Holymonth
October: Winterfilth
November: Bloodmonth
December: Yule

As you can see, Yule was really a two month long period, roughly December and January, of feasting and celebration. One half before, and one after, the Winter solstice. Respectively these were named, Ere Yule and After Yule. This was coupled with a two month Summer period, one month before the Summer Solstice, one after. Again, Ere Lithe and After Lithe. That’s lithe as in ‘flexible, supple’. September was also known as hærfestmonað: “Harvestmonth”. Winterfilth has nothing to do with dirt; –filth comes from filleth, which is ‘fill’ as in ‘full’, and ‘eth’ as in strength: so, ‘winter-full-ness’.

So there we have it: the original month names in English and the true meaning of Christmas.

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

Source for Bede’s The Reckoning of Time: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yFsw-Vaup6sC&pg=PA53&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

featured image from http://americanhumanist.org/system/storage/2/6a/2/3607/spirit_of_yule.jpg


Viking Words In English

July 21, 2015

vikings-small-web

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’.

Borrowings

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)

Animals

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

VERBS
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)
OBJECTS
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”)
linkhlenkr
ADJECTIVES THE BODY
aloftá (on) + lopt (loft; sky; heaven) frecklesfreknur
illillr (bad) footfótr
looselauss girthgjörð (circumference)
slysloegr legleggr
scantskamt (short, lacking) skinskinn (animal hide)
uglyuggligr (dreadful)
weakveikr
PEOPLE EMOTIONS
fellowfelagi angerangr (trouble, affliction)
guestgestr aweagi (terror)
kidkið (young goat) happyhapp (good luck; fate)
ladladd (young man) irkyrkja (to work)
oafalfr (elf)

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