Victims of the onslaught, like the unfortunate monks of Lindisfarne, paid a steep price, but the Norse eventually became farmers and craftsmen like the people they initially displaced.
Their contribution to the British gene pool was small, as was their donation to the English language, but it was not insignificant.
Some of the words fit the Viking mystique. Klubba becomes club (as in the weapon, not the association). Rannsaka may have initially meant searching the house for something like your missing keys, but the English experienced it as ransack. And slatra transfers into slaughter. The original word means “to butcher,” and one wonders if it originally applied to meal preparation. It so, the decades of Norse raids modified that focus.
Other adopted words arose from the more peaceful pursuits of the Scandinavians. Bylög meant the laws of the village and became bylaw. Law itself comes from the Norse lag. Husband, skill, thrift, litmus and loan have Viking roots. Those who enjoy a great slice of beef can thank them for their “steak” as well, since steik was their term for frying meat.
The Inkling Affection for the Sagas
J.R.R. Tolkien was actually a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. He founded a society devoted to the study of Icelandic and Norse sagas called Kolbitar (Coalbiters).* C.S. Lewis joined him in the group, which preceded the development of the Inklings fellowship.
As a young student, Lewis was attracted to Norse myth and experimented with writing his contribution to the tales. He penned over 800 lines of a massive epic he entitled “Loki Bound.” Only fragments have survived, but the following passage is especially intriguing. In it, Loki criticizes Odin for the manner in which he created humanity.
Odin! And who art thou to make a soul
And force it into being? Who art thou
To bring forth men to suffer in the world
Without their own desire? Remember this,
In all the universe the harshest law,
No soul must ever die: it can but change
Its form and thro’ the myriad years
Must still drag on for aye its weary course,
Enduring dreadful things for thy caprice.
The echoes of teenaged angst are clear in this tirade. The words describe (well, I believe) the fatalistic despair of many people. Fortunately, this young man eventually encountered the One who rescues us from “harshest law” and “dreadful things” that are the lot of fallen mortals.
A Few More Norse>English Words
Here are some more of the seven score words that are identified as having a Scandinavian origin.
An interesting collection of verbs include: bark, blunder, choose, crawl, glitter, race, scare, stagger, stammer and whirl.
The following words associated with people: Guest, kid, lad, oaf, foot, leg, skin, freckles, ill, and weak.
The gamut of emotions: anger, awe, and happy.
And, without their Norse contribution, who knows what we would call these articles today.
axle ~ window ~ cake ~ bag
glove ~ mug ~ plow ~ link
they ~ trust ~ same ~ gift
and even Hell
One final example, as quoted in the source of the comprehensive list of Norse words.
Even though the gun wasn’t invented until centuries after the Viking era, the word comes from Old Norse. The most common usage was in the female name Gunnhildr: gunn and hildr both can translate as “war” or “battle.” Only truly [ferocious] Vikings named their infant daughters “Warbattle.”