20 Common Words Of Old Norse Origin In The English Language

As in the case of each and every language spoken in the world, borrowed words from other idioms are very common and English is certainly no exception when it comes to this lexical enrichment method. The English language as we know it today has been influenced very much during the Middle Ages.

The first major phase of foreign influence on English during the Middle Ages traces its roots back to the Viking Era when the Norsemen conquered significant areas of Britain and brought with them the language they spoken, namely Old Norse. From Old Norse all modern North Germanic languages are derived (i.e. Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, and Elfdalian).

Word origins in the English language. Note that the green part of the pie chart contains a sizable amount of Old Norse words. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

English, as a Germanic language, has many linguistic similarities with all its relatives from this Indo-European branch of languages (for example Dutch, German, Frisian, Lowland and Ulster Scots as well as the North Germanic languages) and some of the most used words in daily conversations actually stem from the Norsemen’s language.

Below is an example of a list containing 20 common English words (excluding ‘them’ or ‘their’, which are by far the most commonly used) of Old Norse background:

  1. anger (from angr)
  2. bag (from baggin)
  3. cake (from kaka)
  4. dirt (from drit)
  5. egg (identic Old Norse root; cognate in Danish as æg)
  6. fellow (from félagi)
  7. gift (identic Old Norse root)
  8. husband (from husbondi; cognate in Danish as husbond)
  9. ill (from illr)
  10. knife (from knifr)
  11. lad (from ladd)
  12. mistake (from mistaka)
  13. odd (from oddi)
  14. plough (from plogr)
  15. run (from renna)
  16. sale (from sala)
  17. take (from taka)
  18. until (a combination from und and til)
  19. want (from vanta)
  20. wrong (from rangr)

You can check the full etymology of these words and even more on the Online Etymology Dictionary.


7 Responses to 20 Common Words Of Old Norse Origin In The English Language

  1. Dean Shamblen says:

    Interesting!

  2. David de Corlieu says:

    I’ve noted that cognates of “gift” and “taka” exist in Dutch and modern Norwegian: gaff and takk…suggesting, to me, that “give” (gaaf) and take (takk) are all the same (i.e., to give a gift; to take; “takk” = thanks.)

    What polite people the Vikings were!

    • R. Propst says:

      Norwegian ‘takk’ and ‘ta’ don’t stem from the same root (takk < þakk < þank-, whereas ta < taka), and are not related. Dutch has 'dank' and 'nemen', so your point is not correct, I'm afraid.

  3. Johan du Preez says:

    The Germanic words plough, cake and run , to name three, more likely entered English via the earlier, Anglo Saxon route, than the later Norse route

  4. lochak says:

    Does husban decompose as house+bond somehow?
    Thanks for this article.

  5. Laurence Hallewell says:

    The commonest words taken from Old Norse are the pronouns “they” and “them” (cf. the Anglo-Saxon enclytic ’em for hem). Some words have been reformed under Norse influence, such as “give” (cf. the Anglo-Saxon “if” meaning “taken as a given). “Egg” was imported into standard English from the North Country by William Caxton, who did it, as he explains in his prefixes to avoid the then frequent confusion with “eye” and the pronoun “I”, of the Southern English “ei”. We still distinguish Norse “by” as in “bye-laws” and “Corby” from its Anglo-Saxon cognate “borough”, as in “burgess” and “Peterborough”.But your pie chart is misleading because it take no account of relative frequency (e.g. end versus finish, whim versus caprice, little versus Danish small and French petty). And above all, the truth is that I can say whatever I want in English with no need of any loanwords, whereas I can say almost nothing using French or other outlandish words without the help of English ones. ,

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