What have the Scandinavians ever done for us? Besides Ikea and the Moomins, what have they done for us? Well they have donated more than 500 words to the English language. That’s right. When the Vikings invaded England in the 8th century, they took away booty and left behind language. Half of England eventually came under Viking rule and became known as the Danelaw. It was during this occupation that the English language became Nordicised.

 

At its core, English is a Germanic language, just like Swedish but Old English is a West Germanic language like Dutch, so the North Germanic language influence stands out from the rest. Nobody even realised that the Viking legacy to the English language existed until the 19th century when philologists identified some typically Old Norse words which we all use. The problem is that it can be hard to tell which words come from the Anglo-Saxons and which from the Vikings, because they each spoke languages that were so similar they were mutually intelligible to a certain degree.

 

The borrowed Old Norse words which mingled with Old English have been preserved and are still used today to denote quite ordinary, everyday things. Here’s a list of some of the many words which demonstrate the Viking influence on English language. You might be very surprised by them!

 

  • Anger
    angr (“=trouble, affliction”); root ang (=”strait, straitened, troubled”); related to anga, plural öngur (=”straits, anguish”)
  • Awkward
    the first element is from Old Norse öfugr (“=turned-backward”), the ‘-ward’ part is from Old English weard
  • Bug
    búkr (=”insect within tree trunks”)
  • Cake
    kaka (=”cake”)
  • Die
    deyja (=”pass away”)
  • Egg
    egg = egg
  • Girth
    gjörð (=”circumference)
  • Gosling
    gæslingr” (=”goose child”)
  • Husband
    husbondi (=”master of the house”)
  • Mistake
    mistaka (=”miscarry”)
  • Muggy
    mugga (=”drizzle, mist”
  • Root
    rót
  • Skin
    skinn (=”animal hide”)
  • Troll
    troll (=”giant, fiend, demon”; further etymology is disputed)
  • Ugly
    uggligr (=”dreadful”)
  • Want
    vanta (=”to lack”

 

Written by Tom Rowsell