Viking words

The Vikings began to raid and settle in England in 787AD. They came from Scandinavia, and spoke a language called Old Norse - the word 'viking' is old Norse for 'pirate raid'. For a hundred years the Vikings controlled most of Eastern England, before being pushed back into the North-East of the country by King Alfred the Great. They remained in power in the North-East until the late 900s, in an area then known as Danelaw. Amazingly, traces of Scandinavian still exist in our language today.

Scandinavian influences are particularly clear in the north-east of England - a large area centred on Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, but extending southwards into Leicestershire and East Anglia, westwards into Lancashire and Cumbria and northwards into County Durham and Northumberland. In these areas there are numerous place-names and dialect words that link to Scandinavian languages, and are believed to go all the way back to the Vikings.

Some Viking place names in England:

1. Place-names ending in -by, such as Grimsby ('Grimr's town') or Wetherby ('sheep's town' - wether is still used by farmers in the region to refer to a 'castrated ram'). There are 210 such -by place-names in Yorkshire. Compare modern Danish place-names, such as Brondby and Lyngby.

2. Place-names ending in -thorpe, such as Scunthorpe - thorpe is the Old Norse word for village or farmstead. There are 155 place names ending in -thorpe in Yorkshire.

3. So-called 'Grimston hybrids' - place-names that are a mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Viking words (-ton is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning town or village, and Grimr is a Viking personal name). There are 50 'Grimston hybrid' names in Yorkshire, including Wiggington, near York.

4. The Anglo-Saxon place-name Shipton was renamed by Vikings as Skipton. Similarly, the modern English words shirt and skirt actually started out life as the same word, meaning tunic. But the difference in pronunciation - one Anglo-Saxon, the other Viking in origin - now conveys a difference in meaning.

Now carry out your own research.

The words below are thought to link all the way back to the Vikings, and are still in use in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and the North-East. Look at an etymological dictionary or The Oxford English Dictionary - there should be a copy in your local library. Try and find the meaning of the words, and investigate how they connect to the Scandinavian.

addle

bairn

bait

cleg

fell

lake

lop

 

Tip: The Oxford English Dictionary uses many different symbols to show the origins of words.

ON = Old Norse

SW = Swedish

Dan = Danish

Scand = Scandinavian

OS = Old Saxon

 

Stuck? Find out more on the next page