Common English Words of Old Norse Origin

Oystercatcher Eggs NorwayEurasian Oystercatcher eggs, photographed in Northern Norway. (Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)

Did you know that “cake”, “egg”, “fellow”, “gun”, “happy”, “husband” and many other words used in the English vocabulary is of Old Norse origin? The reason is the Viking colonization of eastern and northern England between 850 and 1100 AD. The Vikings quickly assimilated and brought with them an important gift: The rich and powerful Old Norse language.

Old Norse diverged into West Norse (Norway, Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland) and East Norse (Denmark and Sweden). With some minor regional variations in loan words, both West Norse and East Norse are essentially the same. The Vikings who raided and later settled in Great Britain came mainly from Norway and Denmark.

Below you will find an alphabetical list of many common English words of Old Norse origin.

A

aloft – á (“=in, on, to”) + lopt (“=air, atmosphere, sky, heaven, upper floor, loft”)

anger – angr (“=trouble, affliction”); root ang (=”strait, straitened, troubled”); related to anga, plural öngur (=”straits, anguish”)

awe – agi (“=terror”)

are – merger of Old English (earun, earon) and Old Norse (er) cognates

awkward – the first element is from Old Norse öfugr (“=turned-backward”), the ‘-ward’ part is from Old English weard

axle – öxl (“=ox tree”)

B

bag

barn

bait

ball – bǫllr” (=”round object”)

band – band (=”rope”)

bark – bǫrkr

berserk – berserkr, lit. ‘bear-shirt’, (alt. berr-serkr, ‘bare-shirt’) frenzied warriors

birth – byrðr

bleak – bleikr (=”pale”)

blunder – blundra (=”shut one’s eye”)

both – baðir

bug – búkr (=”insect within tree trunks”)

bulk – bulki

bull – boli

bylaw – bylög (‘by’=village; ‘lög’=law; ‘village-law’)

C

cake – kaka (=”cake”)

call – kalla (=”cry loudly”)

cast – kasta (=”to throw”)

choose – kjósa (=”to choose”)

clip – klippa (=”to cut”)

club – klubba (=”cudgel”)

crawl – krafla (=”to claw”)

crook – krokr (=”hook-shaped instrument or weapon”)

cur – kurra (=”to growl”)

D

die – deyja (=”pass away”)

dirt – drit (=”feces”)

dregs – dregg (=”sediment”)

E

egg – egg (=”egg”)

F

fellow – felagi

fjord – fjǫrðr (= ”walk”, ”pass”, ”bring over to the other side”)

flat – flatr

flit – flytja (=”cause to fit”)

fog – from Old Norse fok through Danish fog, meaning “spray”, “shower”, “snowdrift”

freckle – freknur (=”freckles”)

G

gad – gaddr (=”rod, long stick”)

gap – gap (=”chasm”)

get – geta, gat (> got), gittan (> gotten)

geyser – from Icelandic geysir, from Old Norse geysa (=”to gush”)

gift – gift (=”dowry”)

girth – gjörð (=”circumference, cinch”)

give – gefa (=”to give”)

glitter – glitra (=”to glitter”)

gosling – gæslingr” (=”goose”)

guest – gestr (=”guest”)

gun – from Old Norse Gunnhildr (female name, both elements of the name, gunn and hildr, have the meaning “war, battle”)

gust – gustr

H

hail – heill (=”health, prosperity, good luck”)

happy – happ (=”chance, good luck, fate”)

“The Vikings”, 1958 with Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Janet Leigh and Ernest Borgnine.

heathen – heiðinn (=”not Christian or Jewish/ the word for an exclusively Christian idea, a person or society prior to Christianity.”)

Hell – may be in part from Old Norse Hel, the daughter of Loki and ruler of the underworld in Norse mythology.

hit – hitta (=”to find”)

how – haugr (=”barrow, small hill”) Usage preserved mainly in place names

husband – husbondi (=”master of the house”)

I

ill – illr (=”bad”)

K

keel – kjölr

kid – kið (=”young goat”)

kindle – kynda

knife – knifr

knot – knutr

L

lad – ladd (=”young man”)

law – lagu

leather – leðr

leg – leggr

likely – líkligr

link – hlenkr

litmus – litmose (=”lichen for dying”, lita =”to stain”)

loan – lán (=”to lend”)

loft – lopt (=”an upper room or floor : attic, air, sky”)

loose – lauss (=”loose/free”)

low – lagr

M

mire – myrr (=’bog’)

mistake – mistaka (=”miscarry”)

muck – myki (=”cow dung”)

mug – mugge

muggy – mugga (=”drizzle, mist”)

N

Norman, Normandy – from Old Norse through Old French, meaning “northman”, due to Viking settlement in Normandy region.

O

oaf – alfr (=”elf”)

odd – oddi (=”third number”, “the casting vote”)

Odin – Óðinn

Ombudsman – from Old Norse umboðsmaðr through Swedish ombudsman, meaning “commissary”, “representative”, “steward”

outlaw – utlagi

P

plough, plow – plogr

R

Ragnarok – “Doom of the gods” or “Destiny of the gods”, from Norse mythology. Composed of words ragna, genitive of “the great powers”(regin), and rǫk (later rök) “destiny, doom, fate, end”.

race – rás (=”to race”, “to run”, “to rush”, “to move swift”)

raft – raptr (=”log”)

raise – reisa

ransack – rannsaka (=”to search the house”)

reindeer – hreindyri

rid – rythja (=”to clear land”)

rive – rífa (=”to scratch, plow, tear”)

root – rót

rotten – rotinn (=”decayed”)

rugged – rogg (=”shaggy tuft”)

run – renna (=”to run”)

S

Saga – saga (=”story, tale”)

sale – sala

same – same, samr (=”same”)

scale – (for weighing) from skal (=”bowl, drinking cup”, or in plural “weighing scale” referring to the cup or pan part of a balance) in early English used to mean “cup”

scant – skamt & skammr (=”short, lacking”)

scare – skirra (=”to frighten)

scarf – skarfr (=”fastening joint”)

scathe – skaða (=”to hurt, injure”)

score – skor (=”notch”; “twenty”)

scrape – skrapa (=”to scrape, erase”)

scrap – skrap (=”scraps, trifles”) from skrapa

seat – sæti (=”seat, position”)

seem – sœma (=”to conform”)

shake – skaka (=”to shake”)

skate – skata (=”fish”)

skid – probably from or related to Old Norse skið (=”stick of wood”) and related to “ski” (=”stick of wood”, or in this sense “snowshoe”)

skill – skil (=”distinction”)

skin – skinn (=”animal hide”)

skip – skopa (=”to skip, run)

skirt – skyrta (=”shirt”)

skull – skulle (=”head”)

sky – ský (=”cloud”)

slant – sletta, slenta (=”to throw carelessly”)

slaughter – slahtr (=”butchering”)

slaver – slafra (=”slaver”)

sledge – sleggja (=”sledgehammer”)

sleight – slœgð

sleuth – sloð (=”trail”)

sly – sloegr (=”cunning, crafty, sly”)

snare – snara (=”noose, snare”)

snub – snubba (=”to curse”)

sprint – spretta (=”to jump up”)

stagger – stakra (=”to push”)

stain – steina (=”to paint”)

stammer – stemma (=”to hinder, damn up”)

steak – steik, steikja (=”to fry”)

sway – sveigja (=”to bend, swing, give way”)

T

take – taka

tarn – tjörn, tjarn

their – þierra

they – þeir

thorp – þorp

though – from Old English þēah, and in part from Old Norse þó (=”though”)

thrall – þræll

Thursday – Þorsdagr (=”Thor’s day”)

thrift – þrift (=”prosperity”)

thrust – þrysta (=”to thrust, force”)

thwart – þvert (=”across”)

tidings – tíðindi (=”news of events”)

tight – þéttr (=”watertight, close in texture, solid”)

till -til (=”to, until”)

troll – troll (=”giant, fiend, demon”; further etymology is disputed)

trust – traust (=”help, confidence”)

U

ugly – uggligr (=”dreadful”)

until – from Old Norse und (=”as far as, up to”) and til (=”until, up to”).

V

Vanadium – from Old Norse Vanadis, another name for Freja

Viking – viking, “one who came from the fjords”

(list continues below)

Norse Viking Warriors 1

Most people know that the word Viking is of Old Norse origin – but did you know about all the other words? Illustration by Norwegian concept artist Stian Dahlslett ©   

 

W

wand – vondr (=”rod”)

want – vanta (=”to lack”)

weak – veikr (=”weak, pliant”)

whirl – hvirfla (=”to go around”)

whisk – viska (=”to plait”)

wight – vigr (=”able in battle”) – the other wight meaning “man” is from Old English

wile – vél (=”trick, craft, fraud”)

window – vindauga (=”wind-eye”) – although gluggi was more commonly used in Old Norse

wing – vængr (=”a wing”)

wrong – rangr (=”crooked, wry, wrong”)

 …

Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews

Sources: Store Norske Leksikon, Wikipedia

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Categories: Culture, Language, Vikings

10 replies

  1. Thanks, Arnie!
    It’s good someone has troubled to do this. Linguists in general know very little about the Scandinavian languages, so this should be enlightening.
    I hope the people who did this come back with an analysis of the influence of Norse sentence structure/sequencing on English emerged, combining so many elements. Our word-order in English more often than not parallels that of the Scandinavian languages. So, for all the inconsistencies in English spellings and vocabulary origins, at least the sentence structure is ‘relatively’ simple.

  2. Thanks for this! I manage the facebook page for our Sons of Norway Lodge & shared it there. Following now – we appreciate your efforts!

  3. The englishs word “bus” should be added to the list above.
    Norwegian: “Buss”, norrønt/norse: “Busse”. The Viking ship Ormen Lange was a busse.

  4. How about :
    scold from skald a poet
    thing

    Thanks Thor for the good work and interesting website. The world is just now waking up to the contributions of the Norse to so much of Western culture and democratic ideals.

  5. Does anyone know if ‘ward’ is from old Norse? It’s used in terms of a high hill in Scotland, especially Orkney and Shetland.

Trackbacks

  1. Hundreds of Place Names of Old Norse Origin in the British Isles – ThorNews
  2. Common English Words of Old Norse Origin | ianhall13

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