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The Scrivener: Rannsaka And Bloð

“Those nasty old Vikings were, as you know, remarkable sailors. They had the sheer strength and persistence to get across the wild North Sea in open wooden boats,’’ writes Brian Barratt.

And those marauding Vikings brought with them words which still enrich the English language.

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In 635 AD, a Christian church and monastery were established on the island of Lindsfarne, just off the Northumberland coast in the north of England. During their time at that hallowed place, the monks produced the Lindisfarne Gospels, a glorious illuminated manuscript which is now on display at the British Museum. However, they eventually fled in the year 875 because of persistent and terrible raids by the Vikings. Here's part of the entry for 793 in The Saxon Chronicle. Yes, it is written in English but this is what we now call Old English:

earmlice hæþenra manna hergunc adilegode Godes cyrican in Lindisfarnæe þurh hreaflac & mansliht
harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Lindisfarne, by rapine and slaughter

The heathen men were the marauding, pillaging, raping Viking invaders who left their mark on Britain. They also left their mark on the English language. You have only to look at your calendar or your diary to see echoes of some of their gods, via their language which we now call old Norse:

Tuesday comes from Old English Tiwesdaeg, meaning day of Tiw, also called Tiu, the Anglo-Saxon god of war. He was called Tyr in Norse mythology.

Wednesday is from Old English Wodnesdaeg, day of Woden or Wodin, the main Anglo-Saxon god, equivalent of the Norse god Odin.

Thursday is from Old English Thursdæg, Thor's day. Thor was the Norse god of thunder.

Friday comes from Old English Frigedaeg, Frigg's day, Freya's day. Freya was the Norse goddess of love. Alternatively, it might be from Frigg or Frigga + dæg (day), Frigga being the wife of Odin and Norse goddess of married love.

Those nasty old Vikings were, as you know, remarkable sailors. They had the sheer strength and persistence to get across the wild North Sea in open wooden boats. Some of their words relating to water and the sea can still be seen in English and remain almost unchanged in modern Icelandic:

billow is from Old Norse bylgja, large wave, related to Middle High German bulge. Modern Icelandic for wave is still bylgja. Words related to billow include bellow, bellows, belly.

harbour comes from Old English herebeorg which is made from here, raiding army, fleet + beorg, shelter. It is related to Old Norse herbergi. Middle English herbergage meant lodging, dwelling. Here-berge, herebürge meant harbour, inn, lodging. In modern Icelandic herbúðir (herbuthir) retains its old meaning of army camp, but the word for harbour is höfn.

sea is from Old English , related to Old Norse sær. In The Saxon Chronicle the water at the mouth of a river is termed seo. Modern Icelandic for sea is sjor,

stream is unchanged from Old English stream, related to Old Norse straumr. In modern Icelandic straumur means stream as a current but lækur means stream as a flowing body of water, and that word is related to English lake.

From the safety of our 21st century armchairs, we can ponder how appropriate it is that our word slaughter is related to Old Norse slatra which is found in modern Icelandic as the noun slatrum and the verb slatra. The Old Norse term slatr is related to killing animals for meat.

Blood comes from Old English blod but is directly related to Old Norse bloð (bloth), which is still used in Icelandic.

Wreck is related to Old Norse rek. 1,000 years ago, the noun meant that which is washed up by tidal waters, the stuff of a shipwreck. Wreak, as in to wreak havoc, comes from related origins.

Die is closely linked to deyja and death comes from dauthi, words which were no doubt often used by the Vikings in their little fireside chats after a day of bloody slaughter.

Ransack remains almost unchanged from a word the old raiders would also have used after a day of burning down Anglo-Saxon houses, rannsaka, which is formed from rann, house, and saka, seek.

Norwegian is another language that has words closely related to the Old Norse of the Vikings. I think you'll be able to work out which words I keyed in to Google Translate to get these Norwegian words: tirsdag, onsdag, torsdag, fredag, sjø, slakting, blod, vraket, ransake

But it wasn't all blood and slaughter. The Vikings also left peaceful words in their wake. You can hear many of them, for instance, in the dialect speech of Yorkshire. Have a good browse through this to cheer yourself up:

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2011


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