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Old Norse words in the English Language

Old Norse words in the English Language

So, you think you can't speak Danish? Well, perhaps you need to think again, at least if English is your native tongue.

Although you might not master the Danish language good enough for a conversation, a large group of every-day-words you use in English actually has a Danish, or rather Old Norse origin; name of week days, maritime terms etc. You'll also find traces in English place names (e.g. in endings such as -by, -thorpe, -gate, and -toft), and some of these place names even have a Scandinavian personal names as prefix, such as Grimsby, meaning Grim's village.

English language influenced by the Vikings

During the Viking Age (793-1066) Old Norse language (ON) had a profound influence on the Old English language (OE), the early form of English. The first viking raids on the British isles were soon followed by settlements and by 880 a large number of Danish (and Norwegian) vikings had settled especially in East Anglia and Northumberland (and throughout the area of the Danelaw/Danelagh). The Danish (and Norwegians) had a considerable influence both regional and on the English language as a whole.

About 5,000 words

It is estimated that of the 5,000 basic words in English, as many as 20 percent are so-called loan words from the Old Norse language (ON) which was spoken throughout Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) as well as in Scandinavian settlements and colonies. The Old Norse language also had a significant impact on syntax and grammar of the Old English language, and thereby also modern English.

The following are examples on English words with an Old Norse origin:

  • arm
  • bread
  • birth
  • bull
  • calf
  • cow
  • crawl
  • die
  • drag
  • egg
  • farewell
  • harbour
  • hit
  • horse (specificly the Jutland peninsula)
  • husband
  • knife
  • knot
  • land
  • law
  • leg
  • loan
  • loft
  • low
  • man
  • ride
  • root
  • ship
  • sister
  • skill
  • skin
  • skirt
  • sky
  • starboard
  • time
  • weak
  • white
  • window
  • wise
  • wrong

...and many other including very common words, such as "both", "same", "get", "give", "take", "want" and regular English pronouns such as "they", "them", and "their". Furthermore there are also many other words of Old Norse origin that are no longer in use in Modern English.

Perhaps you think you speak at little Danish now?

See also these websites:

A few numbers and facts...

  • 500,000

    ...Danes emigrated up to 1968, and of these about 70% departed for the USA. In the 1800's alone a vast majority of 90% went to the USA. Read more...

  • 261,065

    This many individuals, comprising of 4.6 percent of all Danes, carries the surname JENSEN followed by NIELSEN, HANSEN, PEDERSEN and ANDERSEN. Read more...

  • 1,000

    Of the 5,000 basic words in modern English, as many as 20 percent are so-called loan words from the Old Norse language (ON). Read more...

  • 1769

    This year the first Danish census was taken. The next censuses were taken in 1787 and 1801 and from 1834 onwards every 5-10 years. Read more...

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