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Thread: Old Norse influence on the English language

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Old Norse influence on the English language

    The Vikings Are Coming!

    By John-Erik Jordan over there at Babbel.com

    I found this article, though far from academic, to be quite informative and entertaining. It even includes a vocabulary list at the end for words that weren't covered in the various sections such as "war & violence" and "society & culture." I especially enjoyed learning about the origin of the word gun:

    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”.
    Indeed. I'm suddenly strongly in favor of naming my first daughter Warbattle. I was going to go with Sara, but this one sounds better. Plus, who's going to with that girl on the playground?

    That makes me wonder, though: why is the word for war so different in modern German (auf Deutsch: krieg)? Dutch, a fellow Western Germanic language, has several words for war, including krijg. For that matter, the modern Northern Germanic languages, i.e. Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish, all have the same word for war, and that is krig. How did that happen? From my dictionary, it says that the English word war is derived from "late Old English werre, from an Anglo-Norman French variant of Old French guerre, from a Germanic base shared by worse."

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    Aru's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    How do they differentiate Anglo-Saxon words from Scandinavian words? Original English was brought by Germanic invaders from north Europe. 3 centuries later Vikings are Germanic invaders from north Europe.

    Concerning "war", you answered it yourself. French word. Why French? English kings speaking French summoning their subjects for war in France. That's pretty much the description of medieval English history.
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    Pćsan's Avatar Hva i helvete?
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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    I have no idea about gun as a word for war, but we do still use "strid" from old norse stríđ meaning conflict/strife/war/battle much wider than "krig" which refers specifically to some kind of war.


    Ironically Scandinavia have no word for "gun" The closest would be skytevćpen which literally means shootingweapon but that could also be a bow or a harpoon so it does not cover the meaning of "gun" satisfactorily.


    Also "husband" is such a nice Norse word meaning "man who owns house and land" (Or more direct: farmer) and wife is such a nice anglo-saxon word meaning "woman"


    So "Husband and Wife" really tells a linguistic story of all those Norse-Saxon weddings.
    Last edited by Pćsan; January 21, 2015 at 08:44 AM.

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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    The Vikings Are Coming!

    By John-Erik Jordan over there at Babbel.com

    I found this article, though far from academic, to be quite informative and entertaining. It even includes a vocabulary list at the end for words that weren't covered in the various sections such as "war & violence" and "society & culture." I especially enjoyed learning about the origin of the word gun:
    I'm not entirely happy with that etymology. 'Gunilda' is recorded first as the name of a catapult in the Royal Armoury at Windsor palace in the 14th Century (it was common to give siege engines female names), and it was eventually applied to all catapults, and then cannons, and finally guns. It's not clear that they even knew the literal meaning of the word. Besides 'Hilda' at least was a common name in England long before the arrival of the vikings.
    Last edited by Copperknickers II; January 21, 2015 at 10:20 AM.
    A new mobile phone tower went up in a town in the USA, and the local newspaper asked a number of people what they thought of it. Some said they noticed their cellphone reception was better. Some said they noticed the tower was affecting their health.

    A local administrator was asked to comment. He nodded sagely, and said simply: "Wow. And think about how much more pronounced these effects will be once the tower is actually operational."

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    Quote Originally Posted by Aru View Post
    How do they differentiate Anglo-Saxon words from Scandinavian words? Original English was brought by Germanic invaders from north Europe. 3 centuries later Vikings are Germanic invaders from north Europe.

    Concerning "war", you answered it yourself. French word. Why French? English kings speaking French summoning their subjects for war in France. That's pretty much the description of medieval English history.
    I'm not talking about the French and Latinate influence on English, I was referring to why the Old Norse words for war are so different from every modern Germanic language's word for war!

    Quote Originally Posted by Pćsan View Post
    I have no idea about gun as a word for war, but we do still use "strid" from old norse stríđ meaning conflict/strife/war/battle much wider than "krig" which refers specifically to some kind of war.


    Ironically Scandinavia have no word for "gun" The closest would be skytevćpen which literally means shootingweapon but that could also be a bow or a harpoon so it does not cover the meaning of "gun" satisfactorily.
    Cool! Thanks for clearing that up.

    Also "husband" is such a nice Norse word meaning "man who owns house and land" (Or more direct: farmer) and wife is such a nice anglo-saxon word meaning "woman"


    So "Husband and Wife" really tells a linguistic story of all those Norse-Saxon weddings.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Copperknickers II View Post
    I'm not entirely happy with that etymology. 'Gunilda' is recorded first as the name of a catapult in the Royal Armoury at Windsor palace in the 14th Century (it was common to give siege engines female names), and it was eventually applied to all catapults, and then cannons, and finally guns. It's not clear that they even knew the literal meaning of the word. Besides 'Hilda' at least was a common name in England long before the arrival of the vikings.
    You just destroyed the article for me. Thanks a lot, Copperknickers!

    Just kidding. Thanks for clearing that up too! Like I said in the intro, the article was far from academic and downright sloppy when it comes to the pedantic details, but overall an entertaining read.

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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    Dutch, a fellow Western Germanic language, has several words for war, including krijg.
    The Dutch word for war is oorlog, the only time we use krijg is in a word for the army which is sometimes reffered to as the krijgsmacht or warrior, which is krijger. Krijg can be used for war but it's highly uncommon, I have personally never seen it.

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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    House husband shows redundancy.

    Big Bertha also means gun.
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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    I'm not talking about the French and Latinate influence on English, I was referring to why the Old Norse words for war are so different from every modern Germanic language's word for war!
    There is no consistency in words for war in IE languages, and even within language groups. It seems that concept of war as special kind of conflict between big groups is rather recent linguistics wise.

    I wonder, how is Trojan war named originally in ancient Greek? Is the word for war used there still used?
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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    Quote Originally Posted by Aru View Post
    There is no consistency in words for war in IE languages, and even within language groups. It seems that concept of war as special kind of conflict between big groups is rather recent linguistics wise.

    I wonder, how is Trojan war named originally in ancient Greek? Is the word for war used there still used?
    That's a fantastic question! The modern Greek word for 'war,' at the very least, is polemos (πόλεμος), which funny enough is a Greek god of war. The word for the god Ares (Ἄρης) literally means 'battle' in Greek, while the word mache (μάχη) also means 'battle.'

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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    Ah, the ancestor of polemics, then. Interesting.

    I have looked at etymologies of several IE languages' words for war. The origins seem to be in various PIE roots which signify aggression, chaos, struggle. Words in different language groups don't have any relation (except when borrowed at more recent times like guerra Romance from Germanic, or Romanian razboi from Slavic, etc).

    I can think of several reasons for why no two groups share the same word/root, but the most interesting one is that original Indo-European speakers didn't even have a notion/concept of lasting conflict between two groups to give it a name. Not because they were peaceful hippies, but because they lived in too small communities and didn't form state-like confederations with purpose of long-term conflict with other groups. And possibly because due to constant raiding and competition the groups didn't even recognize war and peace as different states. In other words, society too primitive for war.

    Just contemplating stuff.
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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    The weekdays relates to the sun, the moon and the gods Tyr (Tirwas), Odin (Wotan), Thor and Frey (and then for some reason, the Roman god Saturn). The numbers 1-4 also relate to these four gods. The word for "book" is a good example on how a foreign concept can be incorporated into a culture. As runestaves for messages were usually etched in beechwood, the germanic word for beech (buche) were then used as the word for book (buch). In Nordic languages and german, the word for "letters" is even litteraly beech-staves. One can imagine how a young germanic nobleson tries to explain to the town elders what this "librum" he had brought with him from Rome could contain as many runes as could be etched on all the staves you can cut from an entire beech tree.

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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    Quote Originally Posted by Aru View Post
    Ah, the ancestor of polemics, then. Interesting.

    I have looked at etymologies of several IE languages' words for war. The origins seem to be in various PIE roots which signify aggression, chaos, struggle. Words in different language groups don't have any relation (except when borrowed at more recent times like guerra Romance from Germanic, or Romanian razboi from Slavic, etc).

    I can think of several reasons for why no two groups share the same word/root, but the most interesting one is that original Indo-European speakers didn't even have a notion/concept of lasting conflict between two groups to give it a name. Not because they were peaceful hippies, but because they lived in too small communities and didn't form state-like confederations with purpose of long-term conflict with other groups. And possibly because due to constant raiding and competition the groups didn't even recognize war and peace as different states. In other words, society too primitive for war.

    Just contemplating stuff.
    Surely the ancient Greeks had a word for the massive invasions and campaigns of Alexander? The ancient Egyptians before them (speaking an ancient Afro-Asiatic language) certainly had some sort of word they could apply to their wars with the Hittites in the Levant that went beyond the simple "battle" word.

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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    Surely the ancient Greeks had a word for the massive invasions and campaigns of Alexander? The ancient Egyptians before them (speaking an ancient Afro-Asiatic language) certainly had some sort of word they could apply to their wars with the Hittites in the Levant that went beyond the simple "battle" word.
    I was thinking earlier. As I said, each subrgroup has common word for war (krieg for Germanics, vojna for Slavs, bellum for Italics, each with variations in modern languages, of course), which means they developed it after those language groups split off from each other.

    I am only counting IE languages as I know their words. War is an older concept than state, so even for Egyptians it happened long befor dynastic period. We're looking at the time when first tribes formed from blood related families. If IE's didn't know war, it means they came to Europe at the time when family, not tribe, was dominant form of society.
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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    "Krig" in scandinavian languages is a loanword from german.
    The closest word in Old Norse might be "stríđ", "barátta", "gunnr", "bardagi" or similar. All of them having a meaning closer to "battle" "struggle" and similar more than war, as there were no real states who could wage war back then.

    And ofc Norse probably had even more words for it (more like metaphors) as that was how they wrote. Similar to the many words/nicknames for the god Ođinn.
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    Aru's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    When did krieg migrate to Scandinavia?
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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    Quote Originally Posted by lolIsuck View Post
    The Dutch word for war is oorlog, the only time we use krijg is in a word for the army which is sometimes reffered to as the krijgsmacht or warrior, which is krijger. Krijg can be used for war but it's highly uncommon, I have personally never seen it.
    Hah! In Sweden "warship" is named "Örlogsfartyg". Oh turns out "örlog" is old norse in origin too, heh.

    Anyway, they missed the most obvious one - vargr - warg (swedish: Varg)/Ulf-Wolf. All norse. Copperknickers, source on that Hilda existed in Great Britain before the arrival of the Vikings? I call B.S. Either it came during Viking occupation or it came during Viking raids earlier.

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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

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    Default Re: Old Norse influence on the English language

    Quote Originally Posted by trance View Post
    Hah! In Sweden "warship" is named "Örlogsfartyg". Oh turns out "örlog" is old norse in origin too, heh.
    Using it in that way got to be another german loanword, because in Old Norse, Icelandic, Old English and PG orlǫg/orlæg/uzlagą means "destiny, fate"


    Copperknickers, source on that Hilda existed in Great Britain before the arrival of the Vikings? I call B.S. Either it came during Viking occupation or it came during Viking raids earlier.
    Well there is people like her: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilda_of_Whitby
    And the old english word "hild" meaning battle. And the Anglo-Saxon spelling "Hylda"
    There was even a Vigothic guy named Gunnhildus. It's just a common Germanic name. English definitely had it.

    When did krieg migrate to Scandinavia?
    It comes from Low German krich, genitive krîges. So probably during the Hansa era.
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