Up to index  English and Old Norse

or why Danish is a lot like English.

Danish and English both belong to the Germanic family of languages so it shares many words with German and English. English speakers will recognize many "loan words" in Danish which have been borrowed from English in recent times as English has become an international language. But the deeper connections between Danish and English go back to Viking times and before that to the Angles, Saxon and Jutes who settled Britain before Roman times. The famous Viking raiders of the middle ages were actually Danish farmers and many of them settled permanently in England during the Viking expansions between about 700 and 1100 AD. I have heard it said that up to a third of England's population was of Danish origin towards the end of that time. Canute the Great, who became Denmark's king in 1018, conquered England fifty years before William the Conqueror and remained king of England for twenty five years. Many old English words are of Danish origin.

Here are a few English words which are identified by the Oxford dictionary as being from Old Norse. As you can see, they are usually short words of one or two syllables and they refer to things which would have been familiar to Danish farmers in the middle ages.

English Modern Danish Notes
arm arm
book bog The noun, not the verb.
calf kalv
cake kage
can kan, kunne The verb, not the noun. Kan is present of kunne.
cold kold
come kom, komme kom is the present of komme
cow ko
ear øre
eye øje j in Danish is pronounced as y in English, which explains the English spelling.
fish fisk
gum gumme Fleshy part of mouth. The other meaning of resin is from Greek and French rather than Danish.
head hoved
hot hed
ice is
hail hagl As in pellets of frozen rain. Pronounced the same as in English.
know kende Know of rather than know about.
lamb lam
lay lagde, lægge As in to put down. lagde is the present of lægge.
leg læg læg only refers to the calf part of the leg.
land land
long lang Same two meanings - of length and to yearn.
man mand
rib ribbe
ring ring, ringe Same two meanings - ring is a circle, ringe is to ring.
see se
set sætte The verb.
slay slå slå means to beat or hit, not necessarily to death.
small små små is only for plural things.
snake slange
snail snegl Pronounced the same as in English
snow sne
stone sten
tide tid, tidevand tid in Danish mean time or season and is pronounced teeth. tidevand means tidal cycle of the ocean.
time time time in Danish means an hour and is pronounced teema
tooth tand
warm varm
wind vind


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Copyright © Gordon Smyth