“I’ll call you back in 5. Give or take.”
So many words borrowed from Old Norse populate modern English, words we use on a daily basis without much consideration for their origin. And yet…
In the late 8th century AD, Viking invasions of the British Isles began. This started a tug of war for land, kingdoms and silver. It also instigated the linguistic shift from Old English to Middle English; a change that would later be accelerated by the Norman conquest in the 11th century.
The city of York, in Northumbria, was, for several centuries, under the alternating control of the Danes and the Anglo-Saxons. It was a crossroad for trading on the North-South axis and the East-West passage. York was a cultural and linguistic melting pot, and the kingdoms north of the Thames were, in fact, the birthplace of Middle English.
To this day, the dialects of Cumbria and Yorkshire are still heavily sodden with Norse influences.
Linguistically, Old Norse and Old English both derive from the same Germanic root.
Kevin Stroud, at the history of English podcast, has crafted a wonderful series on the evolution of the language, from the Indo-European idiom to modern day English.
The podcasts ranging from episodes 40 to 62 discuss the shift from Old English to Middle English, following the adoption of a slew of Old Norse words.
The borrowings from Old Norse can be noted in words which end with a retained hard G and K sound, as well as words displaying the “SK” sound.
Let’s take a look at a word cloud generated from a sampling of words borrowed from Old Norse.
How astounding is that? Are you excited yet?
I am febrile. I am!
Also shockingly mundane are the different days of the week, named after some of the deities of old Germanic folklore.
Monday: Moon’s day.
Tuesday: Tyr’s day (from Tiw), god of war, the one who lost a hand to bind Fenrir, the wolf, until the coming of Ragnarok. Doesn’t Tuesday sound more epic now?
Wednesday: Odin’s day, from Woden, god of gods, Allfather and ruler of Asgard.
Thursday: Thor’s day, god of strength and thunder. (My personal favorite. Yes Chris Hemsworth, I’m talking to you.)
Friday: Frigg’s day, the Allmother and Odin’s wife.
Saturday: Saturn’s day, roman god of agriculture.
Sunday: Sun’s day.
Next time you glance at your week planner, remember how our pagan roots are still deeply embedded within our culture (although hiding under a thick cover of laicism).
In so many fascinating ways, the Scandinavian imprint on the English-speaking world is ever-so present.
The Linguistic Family Tree is credited to Minna Sundberg