I’ve got some time off between jobs (three weeks to be precise) so in an ideal world there will be lots more blog posts happening! We’ll see about that.
I raided the Oxford English Dictionary to find these ten words, and to double-check the three I could remember off the top of my head. I’ve tried my best to stick to their usage of Scandinavian and Old Norse, but might have slipped up once or twice.
Note: I occasionally use OE to stand for Old English in this post.
Note 2: your local library may well have a subscription to this fantastic service! Just enter the number on your library card and see. It is a goldmine of word lore – and that’s not even counting the additional bits like the historical thesaurus!
(I’m ashamed to say it’s most of what I use my library card for, these days)
Enjoy the list!
10 Scandinavian words we still use today
This came straight from Old Norse angr. It first appears in the 14th century. The Old English verb for making someone angry was belgan.
This comes from a Scandinavian compound word (e.g. Icelandic félag) which meant partner, specifically partner in a business/monetary context.
Ah, I remember looking into this word during my degree. This was adopted into Old English very late (eleventh-century ish) as lagu, which is basically just the Scandinavian word. The Old English word that it replaced was ǽ . The OE word carried on for a while after the introduction of lagu, changing to mean specifically divine law, but it died out during the thirteenth century.
Now, it really isn’t 100% clear whether it’s a descendent from the Scandinavian loanword, or whether Scandinavian patterns just influenced the existing Old English word (which was max). For comparison, the Old Icelandic word was mǫskvi. Either way, Scandinavian languages played a big part in this word.
This comes from early Scandinavian (check out some of the other forms: Old Icelandic rannsaka, Old Swedish ransaka, Old Danish randsage). It appears first in (Middle) English in the 14th century, and has many interesting meanings we don’t use anymore, such as “to examine thoroughly”, “to roughly handle a person” and [the sword] ransacked, meaning “penetrated”, his ribs.
This excellent word ( I just think it sounds satisfying to say!) is from an early Scandinavian word. See the related old forms: Old Icelandic rotinn, Old Swedish rutin Danish rådden (early 15th cent. as raden).
This is from the Old Norse skil meaning “difference”. This first appeared in the early 13th century, though it was adopted with an incredibly wide range of meanings. It didn’t start meaning what we use it as today until the 16th century! (ok, with one random appearance in the early 14th century)
This comes straight from Scandinavian/Old Norse “skinn“, meaning pretty much exactly what it can today (bit that covers the meat … basically …). The word was obviously from older Germanic, since it exists in related forms in languages ranging from Old Breton to Middle Dutch. However the meaning was different in most of those languages, having a nastier meaning of abuse, overwork or to skin as a verb (“flay”). The commonly used Old English terms, before skin was adopted, were hyd (hide) and fell.
This started off as Old Norse skyrta. There was a corresponding English form in scyrte but this developed into modern-day “shirt”. This happens quite a lot in Old Norse vs Old English: the “sk” sound is Scandinavian and Old English has “sh”instead. Skirt has had a lot of different usages over the years as well as the obvious – everything from the base of a beehive to the borders of a country and the beginning or end of a period of time. As you can see, these all fall into the idea that skirt basically can mean “edge”.
Yes, this is the pronoun “they” that we use today, and it’s not English! This word is often used when discussing how much Old Norse was integrated into Old/Middle English, since it is very rare for a language to affect the other’s pronouns. (Pronouns are a basic and every-day usage part of vocabulary) Its adoption was probably due to the corresponding Old English pronoun becoming difficult to distinguish from the “he” and “she” pronouns due to a shift in pronunciation. (How “she” became she is a whole other issue …)
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