Wednesday, 23 July 2008


Harry Harrison's The Technicolor Time Machine is a fun and silly book about a film crew that travels back in time to 1000 to shoot a film about the Vikings' passage to North America. There is some Old Norse in the book, but unfortunately the letters þ and ð are rendered as p and o in my edition: for instance pu skalt drekka meo mer! instead of þu skalt drekka með mer! "you shall drink with me." There's also an example of the word viking not as a noun, but as a participle:

He and Ottar used to go viking together

This is a cool reanalysis of the noun viking as a verb "to vike" with the -ing suffix. One possible etymology of Old Norse víkingr is that it is a combination of vík "creek, inlet" plus the suffix -ingr, which I assume is cognate with English -ing.

A second derivation is suggested by the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology: the Old Norse word is dated from the 10th century, but the existence of Old English wīcingsċeaþa "piraticus"¹ in the 8th century, and Old Frisian wītsing, wīsing, suggests that víkingr was borrowed from Old English wīc or Old Frisian wīk in the sense of "camp": "the formation of temporary encampments being a prominent feature of viking raids." If this is true, it means that viking is derived from *weiḱ- and related to ecology and villain.

Uig, a town on the Isle of Skye, where I once spent a few days, is derived from Old Norse vík. Or so I was told.

Acephalous reports that the OED has a strange and outdated definition of viking: "One of those Scandinavian adventurers who practised piracy at sea and committed depredations on land."

1. I assume that "piraticus" refers to piracy and not spiders.


komfo,amonan said...

[...] plus the suffix -ingr, which I assume is cognate with English -ing.

I think it's not cognate with the participial -ing, rather with the one you see in Ætheling or Agilolfing.

Are Vikings no longer considered pirates and raiders by historians?

WordzGuy said...

I had heard (what, me research?) that the vik- prefix was cognate with the -wich placename suffix that one finds in such locales as, oh, Sandwich.

>Are Vikings no longer considered
>pirates and raiders by historians?

It's like child psychology -- we don't say that Billy is bad, we say that Billy did a bad thing. Sure, vikings did some looting and pillaging, but that was just their actions, not their nature. Hahahaha.

goofy said...

komfo,amonan seems to be right about the -ing.

And yeah, "vik" is cognate with the "wich" of "Sandwich" if the second derivation is correct, and "viking" was borrowed from Old English "wic".