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Interesting Etymologies 47.1 : Old Norse

"Hello again Word Lovers!"

Today we will begin the first of a three part exploration of one of the major repositories of English, Old Norse.

So many of our common English words come from Old Norse and we will be tracing them back where possible and enjoying them along the way.

Anger : Meaning affliction, angr means sorrow in Old Norse, comes from the Proto Germanic angaz and in fact to a PIE root meaning tight, painful - angh

Bag : From the Old Norse baggi meaning small sack.

Birth Old Norse byrd. Old English gebyrd and PIE bhrto, the past participle of the root bher - to carry or bear children.

Cake is a Norman word kaka that also comes to use via Dutch koek. Not from the Latin.

Die (originally pronounced Dee) originally used to talk about the withering of plants. Proto-Germanic is the source here - dawjan. In Old Fresian deja is to kill and the PIE root dheu means to die or become senseless.

Ugly : Old Norse uggligr - dreadful, fearful. uggr - fear, apprehension, dread + -ligr - like. In English the word ugly is built on a concept of fear or dread whereas in most other languages it seems to be based on illshaped or deformed. Greek - dyseides, Latin - deformis, Irish - dochrud, Sanskrit - ku-rupa.

Tight : Old Norse þettr - watertight. Old English þiht. This does emerge from Proto-Germanic thinhta, Old High German- gidigan from a PIE root of tenk to become firm, curdle, thicken.

Slaughter : Old Norse slátr. Slattr a mowing, possibly connected to the Old Norse word sla to strike, to hit. A brief observation on -gh in English. -gh spelling is probably an indication of word emerging from Old Norse, another example is laugh and laughter.

Skirt : Old Norse skyrta - kirtle. This was a unisex garment of the middle ages. Shirt as a word emerges from kirtle and as the shirts became longer, skirt is birthed from shirt.

To take : tacan Old English taka to take, lay hold in Old Norse. Proto Germanic takan, Gothic tekan - to touch Germanic root tak to take. This also applies to the compound forms such as mistake and undertake. There is no evidence of how much further back the word goes but it is worth noting how little this word has changed.

Words beginning with Kn are often of Old Norse origin, an excellent example is:

Knife : Old Norse kifr - knife or dirk. In this case the K was still pronounced, in fact, we still pronounced the K during the period of Chaucerian English. Proto Germanic knibaz. This is in fact a word of uncertain origin.

Knight : Originally meant a boy or young man. Old English word cniht had the more specific meaning of a boy or lad employed as a servant. The spelling change between c and k happened as scribes would often write the c as a u so a k served purpose better. The K was pronounced until about the 17th century.

Husband : Old Norse husbondi . literally house dweller. Hus - house + bondi householder or freeholder. Buandi - present participle of Bua to dwell. PIE root bheue - to be, exist, grow. This is the same root as neighbour.

To Get : A verb that causes no end of terror for students of English with multiple meanings. This comes via Old Norse - geta to obtain, reach, to be able to, to beget, to learn, be pleased. Getan the past participle is similar to the past participle gotten, more common in American English. Proto-Germanic getan. Guess - to try to get is also connected and emerges via PIE root ghend - to seize, to take.

Fog : Scandinavian as well, Danish fog - spray, shower, snowdrift. Old Norse fjuk - drifting snow storm.

Egg : Old Norse egg from ajja in Gothic PIE Root owyo or oyyo meaning egg. This possibly derived from awi - bird.

There are some spelling clues for Old Norse words to remember then, such as words with sk (skirt), words with gh (laugh/slaughter) kn (knife) and words than end in ngth such as strength, length and related words such as breadth and depth will have a Germanic root probably coming into English from Old Norse.

That is just a taste of some very common words in English from Old Norse with plenty more to follow.

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

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