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Interesting Etymologies 47.3 : Old Norse

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

"Hello again Word Lovers!"

This is the third installment of words that came into English from Old Norse. In the first part of this episode we are going to look at objects and this often gives us an insight into what the people or the folk culture gave a country. Spanish is full of Arabic words connected to architecture. Alnaafidha for example is windowsill, which leads to the Spanish alféizar. Another example is he old word for fridge in Spanish, nevera, literally to mean, the place of snow. This was not so much from Arabic but an Arabic invention. A well packed with alternate layers of ice and straw to keep things cold.

Common nouns in English from Old Norse:

Axle: (the rod passing through a wheel or group of wheels) from öxull, meaning axis in Norse.

Ball: bǫllr in Old Norse to be a round object. Although this word almost certainly emanates from Proto Indo Roots through Proto- Germanic.

Band: (As in a ring) originally made of rope

Bulk: from bulki to mean cargo

Glove: lofi meant the middle of the hand

Knot: knut to mean knot

Link: hlenkr

Loft: (The space in the roof of a house) lopt meaning air, sky or upper room. Note the similarity with Luft, the modern German word for air.

Mug: (A big cup) comes from mugge meaning the same.

Plough/Plow: (The tool to cut the land for planting) plogr.

Seat: sæti

Scrap: skrap

Common adjectives from Old Norse:

Aloft: (to be up high) once again from lopt

Loose: lauss

Sly: sloegr

Scant: (to mean not quite sufficient or not enough) skamt which meant short.

Weak: veikr

The amount of words for common things and concepts from Old Norse in English is enormous, demonstrating the cultural impact of the Vikings on the British isles:

Freckles: (small patches of brown colour on the skin) freknur

Foot: fótr

Leg: leggr

Skin: skinn

Girth: (to mean circumference, often in relation to the body) gjorð - which was a belt also gives us girdle and grid.

Fellow: (A man or boy) "Hail fellow! Well met!" was the old English greeting, felagi was fellow in Old Norse.

Guest: gestr

Kid: (to mean a young goat) kið

Lad: (to mean a young man or boy) ladd

Oaf (to mean a man who is clumsy and unintelligent) alfr in Old Norse to mean Elf.

Irk (to mean something is irritating): yrkja to work.

Happy: happ in Old Norse which meant luck.

Awe (a feeling of reverential respect, fear and wonder): this comes to us from agi which meant terror. which also develops into terrific. The American habit to use awesome to mean terrific means awe has been diluted in modern understanding.

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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