03 October 2020

Viking maxims

Gleanings from the ninth-century Hávamál:
"There is no better load a man can carry than much common sense; no worse a load than too much drink."

"Never part with your weapons when out in the fields; you never know when you will need your spear."

"Praise no day until evening, no wife until buried, no sword until tested, no maid until bedded, no ice until crossed, no ale until drunk."

"No need to give too much to a man, a little can buy much thanks; with half a loaf and a tilted jug I often won me a friend."

"Confide in one, never in two; confide in three, and the whole world knows."
Other items of interest:
"The Scandinavians were pioneers in the use of skis and skates.  Bone skates fashioned from the metapodials of horses, cattle and deer have been found in vast numbers at may archaeological sites in Scandinavia, and also in the Viking city of York in England; the Old Norse word for skate, isleggr, means literally "ice leg-bone."  They were simply smoothed down on one side, and cut to fit a foot.  The skate would be attached by thongs at heel and sometimes toe, and the skater would propel himself with a spiked stick, not lifting his feet from the ice."

"... was built in the traditional Icelandic fashion with thick walls of turves laid on two foundation-courses of rough stones, and with a turf roof."  TIL that "turves" is a plural of "turf."

"... when he reached Iceland the following summer, it was to be met with the news that his father had upped sticks and started a new life in Greenland..."  Etymology apparently from the use of "stick" to refer to a ship's mast, which would be elevated when preparing to sail.  In Britain the phrase is colloquially used to refer to packing up and moving one's habitation.  A more familiar version would be to "pull up stakes," which I always assumed referred to corner markers on a parcel of land.

"In Main Street" [Alexandria, Minnesota] itself the eye is gladdened by the sight of a huge concrete sculpture of a Viking warrior with a targe bearing the words 'Alexandria - Birthplace of America.'"  Etymology ultimately from the Old Norse targa ("round shield') and related to the Old French targe ("buckler'), a targe was a small shield.  And from it we get the word target.  New word for me; you learn something every day.
This was an interesting book and a worthwhile read.  Magnus Magnusson is a proper scholar, so this isn't just a pretty coffee-table book.  Profusely illustrated, with extensive detail about Viking history in continental Europe, Scandinavia, Britain, Iceland, Greenland, and North America.


  1. Good recommendation, thanks!

  2. Translator of FIVE of the Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness’ novels: https://laxnessintranslation.blogspot.com/2011/03/translators-and-translations.html

  3. Magnus Magnusson was an Icelandic/British journalist and the host of our quiz Mastermind for many years.


    1. I lived in London for 6 months during a sabbatical in 1988, and the flat I rented had a tiny TV that received only I think 2 channels. Fortunately one of them carried Mastermind, which I thoroughly enjoyed watching. I have found some episodes from recent years available via Amazon Prime videos and via YouTube.

  4. This is a good place to post a message I sent some friends earlier this week:
    While translating an email from Swedish yesterday, I realized that, in addition to 6 out of 7 days of the week, there are many other English words which were given to us by the Scandinavians.
    Words like:
    blood, skull, knife, club, hammer, gauntlet, plunder, rib, bone, scrape, rotten, knot, creep, mistake, mire, muck, berserk, gang and of course "viking", from which the English learned the meaning of the rest of these words 😃

    (I didn't know I knew that much Swedish!)

    1. Plus smorgasbord and moped and others:



  5. many of those are similar to ones from other cultures / ethnicities.


  6. ‘Up sticks’ is quite common in the UK. It carries a sense that a move was made without much thought or effort and might have a mild positive or negative connotation. In the passage quoted above, for example, the protagonist might have been quite irritated that his father had moved quickly and without bothering to tell him. On the other hand, it could be used in more positive sense as in: ‘I hated my job in the city so I upped sticks and moved to the country.’ This suggests that the speaker found it a relatively simple and uncomplicated move to make.


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