Category Archives: Words the Vikings Gave Us

Ransack

Hello,

It’s day 22 of CampNaNo 2019 and I’m on 18,012 words. Writing during the academic holidays can be challenging in my house, but I’m plugging away at “Words The Vikings Gave Us” and every day the Vikings surprise me more. This week’s word from my Norse exploration is ransack, I hope you enjoy it.

Viking Chessman from the Isle of Lewis

Extract from “Words the Vikings Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019

Ransack

Ransack entered English during the 1200s from Old Norse rannsaka (to pillage). The word in Norse had a precise meaning – to search a house, legally, to uncover stolen goods, whereas in English it has illegal associations. Rannsaka was formed by compounding two words rann (house) and saka (to search). Saka is related to the Old Norse verb soekja (to seek).

It’s likely the English understanding of the word as being a violent, illegal, raiding of a place came about because of the word sack (to plunder). Sack, however, didn’t have Viking roots.

Sack comes from the Middle French expression mettre à sac (put in a bag) which was a military command to troops, allowing them to plunder a city. The particular idea reaches back through word history to Italian (sacco) and Roman armies (saccus). In this case the Viking association with ransack is legal and calm, and we can blame the Romans for the inspiration for wild plundering.

Until next time, happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Ugly & a Scruffy Viking

Hello,

This week on Camp NaNoWriMo I’ve reached 11,234 words and have been exploring the Viking origins of valkyrie, happy, and ugly amongst other words. So here’s the story of ugly and its link to scruffy Vikings.

{Extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019}

Ugly

Although they say love is blind, it can’t always ignore ugliness. Ugly entered English in the 1200s originally spelled as uglike (frightening or horrible in appearance) from Old Norse uggligr (dreadful or fearful) which comes from the word ugga (to fear).

Thanks to my Camp Nano fellow writer based in Sweden who told me that in Swedish uggla means owl and the wonderfully spelled rugguggla means scruffy. Rugguggla also describes an owl when it is moulting its feathers. They suggested perhaps that image led to the visual image of an ugly person. Now I can’t shake the idea of a scruffy little owl, feathers all over the place, topped with a tiny Viking helmet.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Gormless

Hello,

This week’s word, again via a draft extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us” (Camp NaNo is coming along nicely, thanks for asking) is gormless. I love this word. It’s so perfect for describing somebody totally lacking in common sense and the ability to get going.

Camp NaNo July 2019

Extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019

Gormless, that wonderfully descriptive word for somebody lacking basic sense and wit, is one of those words that the Vikings may have given to English but in a rather convoluted way.

Gormless didn’t reach the English dictionary until 1746, thus ruling out a direct borrowing from the Viking raiders in earlier times, yet its roots are solidly embedded in Viking soil.

Gome was an English word from 1200 for understanding and it came from Old Norse gaumr (care or heed). Gome had -less added to it to describe somebody lacking in understanding or sense as being gaumless or gawmless. It’s believed that gaumless finally led to gormless.

Gorm does have another Viking link, however. King Gorm the Old ruled Denmark from 936 to his death in 958. He lived to about the age of 60, which was old for the times.

Gorm is perhaps best known for fathering three sons – Toke, Knut, and Harald and being the last Danish king to rule over a kingdom following the Norse gods. Whereas his son, Harald, who ruled after him as King Harald Bluetooth (yes that’s where we get bluetooth technology) moved toward Christianity and united Denmark and Norway. Harald and Gorm, were linked via legend to Ragnor Lodbrok and Ivarr the Boneless (whose stories are told in the TV series “Vikings”). Gorm is claimed as ancestor to the current Danish royal family and it’s unknown if he was lacking in common sense.

 

In other news this week I’ve finished uploading all 49 episodes of my serialised comedy novel “Nit Roast & Other Stories” over on Channillo, the subscription reading platform. This means that anybody taking out a free 30 day trial membership for the site would be able to binge-read the whole story about Trish McTaggart, her chaotic family, her feud with a member of the Mother Mafia, and her efforts to learn how to say no to her daughter’s efforts to fill their home with creatures large and small. They might want to read any of the other serials too, of course – loads of great writers on there to choose from in a host of genres.

 

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Barmy, Beer, and Barmbrack

Hello,

Today’s the first of July and as I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, the summertime challenge from the people who bring us National Novel Writing Month every November. It’s a smaller event with friendly camp cabins (online support forums) instead of real-world writer meetings so I’m chatting with writers from America, Sweden, and elsewhere this month as I work away on the second half of my nonfiction book “Words The Vikings Gave Us”.

Camp Nano is a relaxing event for me as I don’t have the responsibility of running meetings and forums as I do during the November challenge. Plus, instead of targeting 50,000 words in a month I can set my own target (25,000 words this July).

One of the words I wrote about today at camp was barmy – a word the Vikings gave us. So I thought I’d share it here too.

{extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019}

Barmy

To describe somebody as barmy in British English is to say they are foolish or crazy. Barmy is an adjective form of the noun barm – the froth on yeasty malt liquor, typically during the creation of beer or ale. The bubbly barm was also used to leaven bread and certain cakes. Both jobs would have been common on Viking-era farms and for many centuries thereafter, so it’s no surprise that barm comes from an Old Norse word barmr (froth).

Beer capping machine in the Smithwick’s Brewery in Kilkenny, Ireland

Barm entered Old English as beorma to mean either yeast or the head of a beer, again with that frothy meaning. It is likely the Vikings brought the word to English.

The Viking influence on English was particularly strong in Northern English because it was a centre for their settlements and population. Viking footprints on barm are easily spotted in barm cake. This cake, from North-Western England, leavened with barm, is a soft, rounded, flattish bread roll.

Another barm-related recipe is that for barmbrack (sometimes mis-named barnbrack) – the traditional Halloween cake across Ireland. The barmbrack (bairín breac in Irish which translates as speckled loaf) is a round fruit cake leavened with yeast or barm which is usually served sliced and buttered. Traditionally items were baked inside the dough and finding one in your slice was deemed to be a primitive form of fortune telling. The dried pea predicted you wouldn’t marry that year, the stick foretold an unhappy marriage, the rag suggested poverty, the coin claimed future wealth, and finding the ring assured you of a wedding before the next Halloween.

Wales has a similar fruit bread called bara brith, but without the surprise ingredients and fortune telling.

Perfect beer for a wordfool

 

   It wasn’t until the 1800s that barmy gained the additional meaning of foolish or mad from its connection to frothy, bubbly behaviour.

 

 

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Gift – a present from the Vikings

Hello,

This month I’m taking part in CampNaNoWriMo. It’s a spin-off from the main National Novel Writing Month in November and runs in April and July instead. Rather than striving for 50,000 words in one month (a hefty challenge but one I’ve been enjoying since 2007) you can set your own goal – 30 hours editing your poetry book, 10,000 words of short fiction, two acts of your screenplay, whatever you want. I’ve signed up to write 25,000 words of “Words The Vikings Gave Us”, another book in the series inspired by this blog and I’m doing OK so far (22,000 words, thanks for asking).

Anyhow, as a result my mind is obsessing with words from Old Norse and I thought I’d share one with you today on the blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Gift wrapping

{extract from “Words The Vikings Gave Us”, copyright Grace Tierney, 2019}

Gift became an English word in the mid 1200s for “that which is given” from Old Norse gift (gift or good luck). Gift was part of surnames from the 1100s. Old English also had gift (from similar Proto Germanic sources) but it was only used for dowries, a bride-price, or a marriage gift given by the groom which were all very important at that time.

Shortly after gift arrived in English it gained a second meaning, that of a natural talent or inspiration (perhaps given by God) which leads to the word gifted.

Vikings exchanged gifts during courtship even though some matches were made more for power and family influence than for love, as was common elsewhere during the era too.

A woman would make her suitor a shirt if she liked him and he might give her purple flowers. During the wedding ceremony the bride would give her groom a new sword. He’d then thrust it into the central pillar of the house and the depth of the cut determined how successful their union would be (the sexual link on that gesture is pretty clear).

The bride typically brought fabric, a spinning wheel, a loom, and a bed to the marriage. Richer women might bring jewellery, animals, and even farms too. Whatever a woman gifted to the marriage remained her property (even in widowhood or divorce) and could be left to her children.

The groom also made key gifts as part of the marriage. First there was mundr – a set price from groom to bride’s father essentially to prove he had the means to support a woman and any offspring. Second was the morgengifu (morning gift) from the husband to the wife the morning after their wedding which she retained in her own right. This could be land, slaves, animals, money etc. depending on the wealth of her husband and gave her much more independence than woman in other societies of the time. Lastly came the heimanfylgia – the woman’s inheritance from her father which was given to the groom for his use. However in the event of a widowhood or divorce this had to be repaid to the woman for her use.

Generally the meanings of related words in Proto Germanic langauges are similar to that in Old Norse but gift is an exception. It means married in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

I hope you enjoyed the extract. Gift isn’t the most unusual word in English but Viking gift giving certainly was. If you’d like to read more about the history of words you can check out “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (2018) about eponyms and available as paperback & ebook, “Words The Sea Gave Us” (coming 2019), and “Words The Vikings Gave Us” (coming 2020).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Radiance

Hello,

This week’s word is radiance because it’s elegant and inspiring. In my corner of the world there’s more daylight available now. Combined with the blossoms on the trees, there’s plenty of radiance in my garden at the moment.

Radiance entered English in the 1600s with a descriptive sense of a “brilliant light” from the word radiant. Radiant came from the Latin verb radiare (to beam or shine), which also gives us the word radiation.

By the 1700s radiance had acquired a more figurative sense so if you described the object of your love as being radiant you weren’t comparing them to a lighthouse or the dazzling light of the sun anymore.

Language scholars believe William Shakespeare may have been responsible for giving us the word radiance. He was fond of dialect words and had no qualms about fooling with words to suit his needs. As a result he may have added up to 1700 new words to the English language during his career.

Radiance is used by Helena in Act I Scene I of “All’s Well That End’s Well”

‘Twere all one

That I should love a bright particular star

And think to wed it, he is so above me:

In his bright radiance and collateral light

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare…

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’m taking on the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge this month – starting the first draft of “Words The Vikings Gave Us”, another book in my nonfiction series covering everything from beserk to saga. If you have an English word of Viking origin (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) you’d like to see included – please reply to this post. I’ll acknowledge any reader suggestions in the published book. Thanks!

The Word History of Time

Hello,

The temptation to call this post “A Brief History Of Time” in honour of Stephen Hawking is strong, but I can promise there are no physics here today. Instead, I’m exploring the word history of time. I usually look at the history of unusual words and time is everyday in comparison but has plenty of unusual roots.

Starting with time itself, did you know we get this one from the Vikings? Time entered English as Old English tima (a limited space of time) which has roots in Old Norse timi (proper time) and Swedish timme (an hour).

The concept of time as an infinite abstract idea dates to the 1300s and by 1509 there were images of an old man carrying an hour glass and scythe to personify time.

Time works harder as a word in English than in other European languages. Time in English can mean the extent of time, a specific point in time, and an hour. Whereas in French you’d have temps, fois and heure for those ideas and in German you’ve zeit, mal, and Uhr.

“The Times” as the name of a newspaper dates to 1788. Time in science fiction has always been important. The first time-traveling story was “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells and the first time capsule was created in 1938 for the New York World’ Fair.

Although time reached England with the Norse invaders, the wearing of time pieces wasn’t important in a largely agricultural society until the arrival of the train, the timetable, and the industrial revolution. The idea of “being on time” arose in 1854 as a result of the railroads.

To “do time”, i.e. serve a prison sentence, first appeared in 1865. The phrase “in the nick of time” dates to Tudor times and the nick in question is the precise mark or notch on a tally stick, an early method of recording quantities precisely. The earlier phrase for the same concept was pudding time. Pudding (dessert) was served first so if you arrived in time for that course, you were just in time.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Note – this post includes affiliate links to help support this blog.