English Words with Old Norse Roots

Even if we don't know much Greek or Latin, we know that much of the English we speak is derived from those two languages. English has common words with roots in many different languages, though, and one of the most interesting is Old Norse, which dates from the 8th Century. Old Norse speakers colonized England centuries ago and these 10 words, and many more, are part of their legacy to modern-day speakers of English.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. awkward
    lacking grace or skill in manner or movement or performance
    Once an awkward mix of supreme talents, James, Wade and Bosh now complement one another with remarkable grace.
    —New York Times (May 4, 2014)
    From Old Norse Öfugr, which meant "turned backward."
  2. geyser
    a spring that discharges hot water and steam
    Random explosions of noise erupt like geysers spouting at will.
    —BBC (Apr 12, 2014)
    The verb Geysa, "to gush" gave English a noun geyser.
  3. irk
    irritate or vex
    Hardliners, irked by the foreign policy shift since Rouhani was elected in June, have repeatedly criticized the deal.
    Reuters (Feb 10, 2014)
    From Yrkja , a verb meaning "to work."
  4. kindle
    catch fire
    Every player participates in clinics, like the one on Wednesday, which was free, to kindle interest in a potential fan base.
    —New York Times (Apr 17, 2014)
    From kynda, "to light a fire."
  5. muggy
    hot or warm and humid
    It also works in warm, muggy areas where air conditioning is a big portion of utility costs.
    -Forbes (Jan 6, 2014)
    muggy is an adjective, but its source mugga was a noun, meaning "drizzle or mist."
  6. ransack
    search thoroughly
    We answered the students’ questions about character development and symbolism, while imagining our house ransacked, stripped of valuables.
    —Salon (Apr 12, 2014)
    From rannsaka "to search the house."
  7. steak
    a slice of meat cut from the fleshy part of an animal
    At Lucky's, a steak worthy of The Flintstones comes with mashed Yukon potatoes and sage-spiked gravy.
    -Southern Living (Apr 29, 2014)
    The English noun steak is derived from steik, a verb meaning "to fry"
  8. whirl
    turn in a twisting or spinning motion
    They whirl gleefully around a flagpole that now flies the Russian flag.
    —Slate (Mar 14, 2014)
    From hrvifla meaning "to go around."
  9. berserk
    frenzied as if possessed by a demon
    And in 2009, Serena Williams famously went berserk on a line judge at the US Open, threatening to shove a ball in an uncomfortable place.
    —Salon (Feb 10, 2014)
    From the noun berserkr which literally meant "bear shirt" and came to mean "warriors clothed in bearskin."
  10. blunder
    an embarrassing mistake
    "The Sleep-walkers" analyses the run-up to the war and paints a picture of blunders and misunderstandings in the complexities of European imperial politics.
    —BBC (Mar 2, 2014)
    From the verb blundra, "shut one's eye."

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