Monday, 15 August 2011

The Viking In You

I'm preoccupied with our national ideas of who "we" are when we study, for example, Saxons versus Vikings. I'm sure that in school I was taught that "we" were the Saxons, and the Vikings were evil invaders. However if, like me, you have a surname of Swedish origin live in a town with a Danish name and support the only football team in England with a name of Viking origin, it's hard to really see how "we" are the Saxons.

What England owes to Scandinavia is born out in the language and it was one particular word which caught my attention today: Husband.

We take this word for a married man from the Old Norse húsbóndi.

This is interesting in itself, but the component halves of that Viking word are also understood today, and this reveals the true meaning of the word:

A hús is a “house” and a bóndi is a "dweller" or "freeholder", connected to the word binde, as in "tether".

Thus a "husband" is quite literally a man bound to his house.

This is just one example of a huge number of Scandanvian words which permeate our language.

The word "timid" in Old Norse is skjarr, which gives us the word "scare", and if a Viking were to refer to a person as "gentle" then they would say mjúkr, which became our word "meek". If he were referring to his butcher's meat would talk about his sláter - from which we get "slaughter". If something was "unjust" it was described as rangr - which gives us the word "wrong".

Many of our most basic actions are described by Viking words - For example: get, give, kill, run, sprint, strive, take, talk, thrive, thrust and want. Our plural pronouns (they, their and them) are entirely Scandinavian in origin.

So, next time some fellow (from félagi) tries to explain that the birth (from burðr) of England came when the Saxons defeated the Vikings, you may want (from vanta) to raise (from rísa) the point that our heritage does not seem (from sæma) so clear-cut (from kuti)!