Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Episode 124: Words the Vikings Gave Us Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 125: Words the Vikings Gave Us with Grace Tierney

Record Date: September 12, 2021

Air Date: September 15, 2021



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Every week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Dan: This week, we are talking with friend of the show and author grace Tierney about her new book "Words the Vikings gave us" out now on Amazon, Kindle and many other locations. And you can find links to all of those things in our show notes or at Grace. Welcome back to Bunny trails. 

Grace: Thank you very much for having me. It's really nice to be back to here.

Dan: Yeah, it's great. I you have been very busy because, we just had you on like, what two years ago, because you had another book and now you're just, are you just going to put them out every two years? Is that the plan or…

Grace: I've, I've learned not to plan and you know, some things do tend to get in the way as we've all discovered in the last year or so, but, uh, that's a great

Shauna: great point

Grace: Definitely we won't mention it. We don't have to, we all have learned to plan.

Dan: Fair enough.

Shauna: Well, we're really excited that you're here. I'm glad to have you on again. So, uh, but first off to start this, uh, what is a Viking?

Grace: Okay. Uh, I like this question for a start, but I'm going to give you two answers just to be awkward.

So historically Vikings are the people of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, and they have the Viking age between about 750 and 1100 Ady and basically everywhere they went, they changed it. Um, You need to try and picture a map of the world, because I didn't realize just how far they actually went until I started researching the book.

So from the Arctic circle right into to north Africa and the safe, and then from Russia right over to Canada, and that's the spread of where they traveled and where they settled or traded. And so it's actually a lot wider than I thought it was. Um, so that's. 1000 AD old Norse, which we'll be talking about lots today, or it was also known as the Danish tongue

and that was the most widely spoken language in Europe and modern English actually takes quite a number of words from it and not always the most complicated words. So usually on the blog, I look at things that are particularly unusual. Serendipity or Floccinoccinihilipilification the longer, the better, but actually they gave us a lot of our little short words that we use every single day.

So without the Vikings, we wouldn't have them, they, thing, get, take, time, or sky. So if you think of any of the little short three-letter words, there's a really good chance they are Norse

Dan:  Wow. That's amazing.

Grace:  That's the history, that's the historic first but at then from the book perspective, cause you know, Hey, I'm all about the book.

I tried to take a really broad view. So I looked at the ones that came directly from Old Norse that they were borrowed in and maybe replaced Anglo-Saxon words. So you've got something like egg, egg is north. Okay. So egg, but it replaced an older Anglo-Saxon word, which was AEG. I know that's really minor, but they are two different words and they used to have a crayash, but that's now carsh so basically the north where it came in, the Saxons went, Hey, that's a better word. And they took it on, but I also went with modern Vikings as well because they've given us quite a good number of more recent words. So slang for example is from the 18 hundreds, the word itself, not. Use obviously goes back further.

Um, and, but it's from Norse origins, but it didn't come directly with the Vikings, but we only have it because of the Vikings. And then we've modern things like Kindle is actually the old Norse word for candle and it was a deliberate, they wanted to have a Norse word as the name of their product and a quisling, it was from a Norwegian traitor in world war two and Linux, the operating system as from a Scandinavian chap and Bluetooth, which I'm going to talk about later on.

So we have a lot of modern words that are actually Norse as well, but the Vikings wouldn't have recognized them as words.

Dan: Yeah. Gotcha.

Shauna: That's just kind of wild to me. Some, uh, some of those are, is, uh, I think we people realize how far back as some of our. Pieces of our language go. Yeah,

Grace: absolutely. I was surprised a lot when I was researching this.

Cause I really didn't know that much about Vikings before I got started. As I realized, the more I got into it, the more I went, God, I know nothing, which is kind of fun.

Dan: Yeah. No, that's, that's great. When you get to find it, it makes it a lot easier to research. Cause you come in knowing I got a lot. I can learn here and that's that's sometimes that open mind helps research quite a bit.

So what word or phrase did you find most exciting?

Grace: God, that's a really hard this whole book and you want to say them all. And I really liked the fact that we have loads of romantic words from the Vikings, because I had this mental image of, they came in, they plundered, they pillaged, they caused all sorts of trouble, but actually they've given us things like, hug Kiss glitter, which I adore.

I really liked the idea of this Viking with his hair and flats, with glitter on his cheeks at a festival. I just have this mental image for glitter and honeymoon at which some people might know actually was the month of honey kind of thing. Um, happiness, which is quite a nice one and husband. So I ended up with so many romantic ones.

I actually had to start a chapter just for romantic Vikings, which I was like, oh gosh, like I'd already written on. Definitely. Fight like a Viking, you know, I'm going to have all of that in there, but then it's like romance seriously. Um, but anyway, I eventually chose one. So Bluetooth is the one that they picked.

Okay. Okay. You all know what Bluetooth is? So it's wireless transfer of photos, documents, et cetera. And it's kind of nice. Brings together all three Viking countries. So remember we had Denmark, Norway and Sweden. So it starts with Sweden because the Bluetooth technology was invented by Ericsson, which is a Swedish company.

And apparently it was invented in 1994. So it's quite recent. Well, the story goes back. So we go back to Harold Bluetooth Gormson and he was the king of Denmark and parts of Norway. So now we have all three countries in it. He was the king of between 9 58 and at 9 87, until he was murdered on the orders of his son.

Now there are quite a violent family. Um, he once drowned his sister, a goon Hilder, who is actually the source of the word gun, eh, even though obviously Vikings didn't have guns. Thank God. And they ought to be much worse if they had had guns, we were all in real trouble and yeah, he drowned his sister in a bog because she was plotting treason and against him.

I mean, they were not a happy family. Let's put it that way. Um, but Harold was actually one of the early Christian Vikings and he brought together various Danish tribes into a United nation with their Norwegian neighbors. So he's quite famous because he starts to bring them together rather than them fighting against each other.

Um, and it was this ability to bring people together that made them name the technology after. So, if you have Bluetooth enabled on your smartphone, do you have a look because up at the base where you would have your PowerBars and your connectivity you'll have a Viking rune which looks a little bit like a sort of, um, an arrow tip beside, uh, a runic letter B those are Harold's Bluetooth initials yeah.

So you have old Norris on your phone, which I think is really cool. That is really cool. And there's more wait for this. So we've got king Gorm. So he is the dad of Bluetooth and Bluetooth. They are actually claimed as ancestors of the current Danish, Royal family. They. The current queen can trace her, uh, family tree back a thousand years.

And she claims them as her direct linear ancestors, you can actually look up their family tree online and you'll get it. So theoretically, the character of Ragnar Lothbrok the main character in the Vikings TV show is actually is semi mythical, semi legendary, but he is claimed as an ancestor of Gorm and Harold Bluetooth.

So technically he's an ancestor of the current Danish Queen

Dan: wow. Seriously.

Grace: I was so pleased when I discovered that because I love the viking show. So it's great

Shauna: now. That's amazing. I love that connection and that, uh, that kind of like, okay, we have royalty from however long ago that we're naming things after now, but they're still, you know, a part of the ongoing history of the world.

Grace: It's pretty cool. They've had some really lasting influences. I think I got increasingly annoyed with the Romans as I researched this book because they get such great press, you know, you get the viaducts and the roads and the centurions. And we all, we all know some Roman history, even if we didn't pay attention in school, but Vikings are so relegated to side notes and there's so much of their culture has had lasting influences on what we do every day.

So go the Vikings! Yeah, that's awesome.

Dan: Well, what word was the most difficult for you to research?

Grace: Okay. Well, I had two that were quite tricky, so I found Ragnarok quite difficult to research because, um, and I'm not going to go into loads of details on it because possibly some of your listeners will actually know a lot more of Viking mythology than I do, but there are two different versions of how Ragnarok plays out depending on whether the Viking.

Telling the story, um, is pro uh pre-Christian or post-Christian, um, because it had an influence on their own belief system, even though they didn't necessarily become full Christians. So that was quite difficult to get the truth of if you know what I mean, but actually the word that I find the most difficult was in.

Okay. So in enthrall nowadays, I would think of the book was really good. I was enthralled by the plush or the female lead was enthralled in romance by the male lead. Right. And in thrall, I don't think I'm going to use the word enthralled anymore. She didn't, I did not like the history when I started looking into it.

So I have used it in the book because. It's the truth, but I don't like it. Right. Which is why I didn't like researching it. Um, so enthrall is a compound word. So it's created from en means to put in. So you've got to enable you use an and lots of prefix lots of words. And then throw, which is. Okay, which is where it gets dodgy.

So, um, a thrall is an old word for a slave, which comes from the old English word Praill and ultimately from the old nurse northward pray, L's spelled slightly differently, um, for a slave or a servant who had basically no rights and was equivalent to cattle you were, you were just, you were nothing. No, the Vikings didn't invent slavery.

I have to give them credit for that but they did make a thriving industry out of slave trading. So they would acquire slaves during the raids on the British Isles and Eastern Europe. And certain Viking laws would have enabled slavery as well. So for example, if a woman stole from somebody, her punishment might be to become that person's slave

which is pretty harsh, but they were harsh times. Certain Viking towns became centers for the trading of thralls, which would be head to B and Dublin. Now Dublin is my hometown in Ireland. So I was not impressed when I discovered that we were a slave trading center. I was not impressed at all. Um, so, uh, there was also JErsey Island which is off.

If you've ever heard of the wild Atlantic way down the west coast of Ireland, it's very popular driving. Uh, Jersey island is just off the edge of that. And you can go via cable car across to the island. And I did it recently and it's brilliant, highly recommended. Uh, but they do have a big sign up explaining that Jersey was actually a trading port

so they would assemble their slaves on the island. The slaves couldn't get off without a ship. They'd gather up enough to make it worthwhile, to do the trip with the slaves, which is kind of grim. You're looking at this beautiful island and thinking this amazing, oh, the Vikings were here. They were slave trading.

Um, so you know, it kinda like not liking that too much. So by the 900, still Dublin is a bustling slave market and the local Christians didn't like that very much, particularly if you were enslaving Christians, I don't think they minded too much if they were heathens. And, but it was pretty ironic because St.

Patrick's the. Patron Saint of Ireland was in fact a slave when he was brought to Ireland, but he wasn't brought by Vikings. He was brought by the native Irish as a slave. That's how he ended up in Ireland in the first place. So we have some pretty murky history on the whole enthralled thing, and I'm pretty much sure.

I'm not going to use it anymore as a word

Dan: I've seen the word thrall used to describe people in like fantasy novels and fantasy games and those types of things. Uh, I think specifically of the fifth elder scrolls game, which is Skyrim it was a very popular game and, uh, they use thralls there and it makes a lot more sense now knowing what you've just said, because they, in this case, they were basically.

Uh, slaves of vampires and they'd been taken over in their mind by these vampires and, uh, and then were treated as either cattle or, or, or slave labor, depending on what they needed servants or whatever. So now suddenly the use of that word makes a lot more sense coming into that. I, cause I'd not heard.

But it outside of the word enthrall, you know, I'd never heard it by itself until I started seeing it in some of those fantasy style movies and books and video games

Grace: and such it's ironic. My, my son is literally playing Skyrim and the next year it's very good. Might I say? And actually their illustrations and everything are spot on.

A Quick Thank You


Dan from the future here… well still your past but the future for when we recorded our conversation with Grace. Time travel is weird. Anyway, we interrupt this regularly scheduled program to bring you an important set of THANK YOUs!


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Shauna: Dan has another question for you here. Um, this one is not my cup of tea, cause I like not to think of these

Dan: things. Okay. Now I will ask it then. That's fine. All right. So anytime I think of, uh, times before indoor plumbing, I assume that there were loads of words for things that I would think is gross.

Uh, but anyway, did you run into any words that you thought were pretty gross while you were researching this book?

Grace: I love this question. I'm sorry, Shauna it, it appeals to the little boy inside me. I just made me laugh. It's such a Dan question, but I'm loving it. Um, okay. So Dan, I'm going to have to disappoint you to a certain extent.

So BAths weren't that gross again? I know those pesky Romans have the rap for, oh, we'll do the viaducts yeah. Baths and all this kind of stuff, but you know what? The ones that were really smelly in those times where the Anglo-Saxons, it was not the Vikings. So the Anglo-Saxons would have bathed about once a year.

They really felt that was very much an optional activity and the Vikings were quite into it. So they would have bathed about once a week. Um, they quite liked it, a large number of Viking burials. The person be they male or female is buried with their comb or they're beads or, you know, or beads for their beards.

That was a lot of plaitting and they, they were they were very into their hair. We know that for sure, but they definitely bathed because when they got to Iceland, obviously Iceland is, has a whole load of geothermal vents and pools and they were used for cooking food. So you might. I, I guess I go pack a bit of deer or whatever, and cook a pot at the side of it.

But the ones that weren't scalding were used for bathing. So they were actually quite good from that perspective now. Okay. They didn't have toilets. I grant you that, and I don't have any toilet words, so you're quite safe, Shauna at your okay. And bullish. But I did manage to find a couple of things that may be go slightly into gross

so, uh, we have belly, uh, uh, stomach Thanks to the Vikings because there was an old Norse word Belger for bellows, which comes into English in the 11 hundreds, uh, from the idea of your belly swelling when you got too full or if you got angry. So we're like a bellows, which I quite like, and they also give us the words for derge

old north for mud or dung. They also give us muck which was originally spelled slightly differently, but it was old norse word for cow, dung and dregs from sedimentation. When you're brewing, we get that word from the old norse dreg a lot of them, you know, they're really very similar. They just took them and spell them slightly differently.

Um, one which surprised me was they also give us the word for trash. If you'd asked me, I would have said that's north American English, probably the 18 hundreds. And it's not, it dates back to the late 13 hundreds. And it comes in from old Norse tross which was rubbish or a fallen leaves and detritus um, and ironically.

It looks like Shakespeare. Might've been the first one that used it to describe people as being trashy in Othello. He describes inbred groups of people as being trash, which I was amazed by. Um, but the one that I picked as maybe the most gross one, eh, is where we come to rotten food. So obviously they have really long winters and not that much fresh fruit and vegetables and stuff.

Maybe they weren't into the fruit and vegetables too much. They like their Samon and they had difficulties with preserving. Cause obviously they don't have canning pickling. They don't have fridges, unfortunately, although they do have snow, which they used. And so what they would have done was salting smoking and fermentation.

Now not all of those things are a hundred percent perfect, you know, if you're not in ideal conditions. And so it's not surprising that they give us the word Rotten which was rotten in old Norse for decayed um, but they got around that with one particular dish, which was gravlax. Um, I don't know if you've ever eaten fish or whatever.

I've heard

Shauna: that I've heard it. Well, I've read it in a book or two maybe, but I don't know what it

Grace: is. Okay. So it's still served today. It's very popular in Nordic countries. And so it's raw salmon, which is cured in salt, sugar, and dill so the salmon is really thinly, sliced, and it's usually served with a dill and mustard sauce and maybe with boiled potatoes or bread.

So not too dissimilar to smoked salmon, except you're not actually smoking it. Just likely letting it maybe slightly pickle with a bit of salt. Um, but it translates as a grave fish because the grav bit is actually grave and lax is for salmon. Um, and the traditional method, which now I can assure you is not used

thank God. Right. Was they would wrap the fish in birchbark and they would then dig a trench in the soil, maybe down by the beach where it was looser. And, uh, they would bury it where the wet cold conditions combined with the lack of oxygen causes it to ferment. And that is the minimum of salt because salt was really expensive, valuable commodity, and they didn't want to use too much in the salting process.

So it might work, but it might also kind of poison you so they don't do it that way.

Dan: That's fair. That's actually sounds like a dish that I'd be super interested in trying

Grace: my husband has had it, as he says. It's excellent. So

Dan: it sounds pretty good.

Shauna: Yeah. Grace, what is your favorite thing? A word story. Some piece of information or detail that didn't make it into

Grace: the book.

Yeah. Well, I got a bit frustrated that I couldn't fit all the history. The book, there is lots of history. I just want to point out it's, you know, it's all in there, but I was trying to keep it focused on words. Cause it is words. The Vikings gave us not history of Viking gave us. Um, but there's some brilliant stories and I didn't want to leave them all out.

So I squeeze them all into the introduction. And then I read the introduction to my writer's group and they basically fell off their chairs and went, you can't use that as your introduction. Everybody's going to read it and go. Whereas the words and why is she rambling on about this guy with blue teeth and what are you talking about?

So I was like, okay, you might have a point. I hate it. When they're right I really do. They're very nice people and they were right. And I read it again and went, I have to take 90% of the introduction out so that's when I did my little download thing and squished everything into that instead. So I went to that and picked out my favorite.

Did Viking helmets have horns? Yes or no?

Dan: Oh, I have, I always assume that probably probably no, but I love the idea of the, I don't know. I don't know. I'm panicking. I don't know.

Shauna: My teenage son is, uh, is obsessed with the, uh, people who are now commonly called Vikings is how he usually describes the

Grace: group.

So I like that. That's very good.

Shauna: I've heard. Uh, then I, then I have researched myself from him. So I'm gonna let you go with it.

Grace: Oh, well, in fairness then, you know the stuff, but, um, I kept telling friends, including this writing group, they don't have horns on their helmets. They really don't have horns.

Right. And they're like, of course they do. Everybody knows they have horns on their helmets. Like, you know, if you look at the cartoons and the paper, he's got a horn on his helmet, do you know what the course they do? You're just talking crazy stuff. Grace. I'm like, look, I'm going to research it and prove you wrong.

But the fun part was it turned out. That was a good story. Why we all think this. So first of all, they do not have horned helmets there. They have never been discovered in any Viking dig. And they've actually dug up a lots of dead Vikings at this stage for old Vikings, but they have dug them up. They did wear helmets.

Of course they did because they battled, but they didn't have horns on them. They did use horns because they would drink out of the horns for their mead and their toasts and all that jazz. But they didn't put them on their helmets because they would've gotten in the way. And they would have gotten their access tangled up in them.

And it was just no good. Right. They wore a simple skullcap design, nothing fancy, you know, it worked but nothing fancy. And we have to blame the misconception on Richard. Wagner the opera composer okay. Oh, I love, I did not know this. So in 1874, he composes the ring cycle and which is a group of four operas at loosely based on the Norse sagas.

The sagas are the really old stories. What happened in their legends. And this is how we know about Asgard and all that kind of thing. And his costume designer for the original production was a man called Carl Emil Doppler. And he designed horned helmets for the Viking characters. And we've been copying him ever since.

So it's an opera.

Dan: Wow, Wagner

Shauna: opera. Huh? Got some good music in there. So

Grace: I'm going to give out, I mean, it's a, well-worth the opera and I'm sure it would look amazing if you went to see it, but it's got nothing to do with reality. That's fantastic.

Shauna: I might I'm imagining that axes is getting caught though, too.

Grace: So that's. Well, I imagine that in, I honestly, I mean, I don't have proof. I haven't fought with the Vikings in reality, but I'm pretty sure that had something to do with this. And it would weaken the integrity of the skullcap. If you think about it, because you'd have to sort of drill something in to attach the horns, like, how would you do that?

Like, yeah. I don't know.

Dan: Yeah, I would definitely would be, uh, ornamental at best. Like I don't, I'm not even sure it'd be scary, frankly.

Grace: So, and they did like to be ornamental. I mean, they did all the plaitting and the, you know, their beads and all this kind of thing, but like not in battle, battle was serious business from their point of view.

So they weren't going to mess around if it was going to slow them down or get tangled, they were not going for it at all. And they, they did mess around with horns quite a bit though, which I also loved. So did you know that we have Viking slightly to blame for the whole unicorn thing

Dan: I did not.

Grace: Okay. Now they didn't invent unicorns.

Okay. But they certainly added to it and it was all in the name of marketing and trading because they were amazing traders. Like we talk about them, you know, pillaging and all that kind of thing, but they were astounding. Like they traded right down the silk roads and everything. It's just, oh, so much history.

It's great. Um, They used to trade narwhal tusk. So the narwhal is the whale that has the sort of unicorn type tusk they used to trade those. They originally traded them from the inuit and eventually they used to hunt the narwhals themselves as well. But traders from the rest of Europe had not been to the Arctic circle at this stage.

We hadn't explored that far, the Vikings and the native Inuit and people that actually lived there were the only ones that knew about narwhals. Scene one, nobody knew what it was. So the Vikings bring back the narwhals uh, that, well, obviously just the, the tusks at this stage, the rest would have been gone and eaten.

Um, and they say, oh, Hey, you know, we've got this horn. Would you like it? The European traders go, oh, it's a unicorn horn because huge mythology around magical properties and helping dispel being melancholy and poisons, which obviously is a big deal. You don't want to be poisoned by your enemies.

They sell, they are literally worth their weight in gold and the Vikings go, oh yeah, ka-ching! So they go straight back hunting the poor old narwhals. They give us the word narwhal to the English language as well. They name it and they trade a whole load of them. And this lasts for centuries. Right. So they they're happy to bolster these stories.

And the 15 hundreds queen Elizabeth, the first of England received a carved and jewel encrusted, narwhal tusk, admittedly, not from a Viking but still as a gift. And it would be worth 5 million Sterling today. It was pinned as a sea unicorn and it was named the horn of Windsor. There you go. I don't know if she still has it.

I couldn't find that out. So if anybody knows, I'd love to know.

Oh, wow. That's really cool. All right. Well, grace, where can people find more?

And the blog is the best place to find me. So every Monday I take another word from English and I mess around with it and find out what I can and discover weird and wacky stories from history.

Um, all, any word at all, and occasionally a foreign word, if it's cool enough. Uh, but every Monday on the word foolery blogs. So that's And obviously I've got lots of books, so we've got Words the Vikings Gave Us the one that's just age and, uh, I'm sure in your archives somewhere, you have me chatting about pirates and all sorts of nautical, booty and phrases like skyscraper and golly wobbler and scuttle Bush.

Um, so that was the Words The Sea Gave Us. Uh, so yeah, there's a bit of a theme emerging of me liking pirates Vikings. I haven't decided to the murderous villian I will expose the next time will be, I have no idea where we're playing with Vikings. When I've discovered some more psychopaths to talk about it, I'll be back.

Dan: Fair enough. All right, grace. Thank you very much for being with us and, uh, everybody go out and get the book Words The Vikings Gave Us. Yep.

Shauna: And visit her blog,



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