Viking Influence on the English Language

Posted on 19. Jun, 2011 by in Culture, Geography, History, Language, Norway and the world

Sure, there are more and more English words being incorporated into the Norwegian language all the time.  Courtesy of American films, television, music, and of course the internet, modern Norwegians use words like cool, jeans, baby, drink, chips, and many more.   Let´s not forget, however, the massive influence the Vikings had on the English language.  You may be surprised to know how many English words are derived from old Norse or Norwegian.

map showing Scandinavian settlement from the 8th-11th centuries as indicated by color

dirt-comes from ´drit´which means feces

berserk-comes from ´berserkr´ which means bare shirt (signifying the courage of the Vikings)

reindeer-comes from ´hreindyri´ (reinsdyr på norsk)

town-comes from ´tun´which means an open space between buildings

hell-comes from ´Hel´the ruler of the underworld in Norse mythology

ugly-comes from ´uggligir´which means dreadful

husband-comes from ´husbondi´which means master of the house

gun-comes from ´gunn´which means war or battle

anger-comes from ´angr´which means trouble or affliction

knife-comes from ´kniv´





There are over 1,000 old Norse words that are part of the English language today.  Additionally, there are many place names in England that are directly related to Viking settlements.  Place names that end in ´by´(village or town)´thorpe´(farm), ´thwaite´ (clearing) and ´toft´(homestead) are but a few.  There are also many family names that end in ´son.´

So next time you hear or see English words in Norway, remember that there are many more Norwegian or old Norse words that have influenced the English language.  The Vikings sure got around and made their mark!


About kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!

4 Responses to “Viking Influence on the English Language”

  1. Chris 19 June 2011 at 10:44 pm #

    I would like to add that even the word “they” was borrowed from Old Norse :) The Old English word resembled “he” too closely, so they took the word that the vikings were using.

  2. Louis Janus 20 June 2011 at 1:28 am #

    I thought berserkr came from “bear” not bare.

  3. LGB 20 June 2011 at 9:35 am #

    And also we mustn’t forget about the fact, that English, German, Norwegian and some other languages have the same root (nost just the influance – but the same origin, just it’s even older than these Old-Norse words in English). So for me it’s always funny when people say: “but Norwegian is full with English words!” since in many caces it can be interpreted as the opposite direction too, and neither of these theories are okey, if the the reason is the common origin in case of some words at least.

  4. Adi 20 June 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Not only words. Check out the BBC series called ‘Blood of the Vikings’.

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