I was reading about a Viking hoard discovered in York in England this morning, and learned something quite interesting.
The word slave, whose etymology I’d never thought much about before, is actually derived from the Slavic peoples. This is attributed to the fact that the people of the Slavic regions were so often enslaved by conquerors, and particularly the Vikings.
This made me realise I’ve never really focused on the influence of the Vikings on the English language, even though it must have been great, due to their spread across Western Europe, and the links between English and Nordic languages. And as there’s also, apparently, a video game to be released soon in which one plays as a Viking, it seems high time to cast our eye in a Scandivanian direction!
Unsurprisingly, there are a great number of modern English words derived from Old Norse. Most are quiet simple, everyday words whose origins we probably wouldn’t speculate about. They include:
anger, are, bag, birth, both, cake, club, dirt, dregs, egg, fellow, fog, geyser, gift, hit, husband, jolly, knife, lad, litmus, mistake, plough, and many more!
The Viking influence is more noticeable in the north of Britain, in words which have changed little from their Norse origins, such as bairn (Scots and Scottish English for child) or gan (go/going) still in use in the north of England.
Many placenames ending in -by or -thorpe, such as Scunthorpe and Grimsby, are also of Viking origin.
So while the Vikings might often be simplistically portrayed as violent invaders, from a linguistic perspective, we have a lot to thank them for!