Episode 52: Bloody Axes and a Battle Royal

In the mid-900s, the English king battled a grand alliance of Celtic and Viking leaders at a place called Brunanburh.  The result was an Anglo-Saxon victory, and one of the more important poems composed during the Old English period. But the Anglo-Saxon victory did little to secure the region around York. The Viking influence remained strong there, and control of York passed between the English and the Vikings. One consequence of that prominent Viking presence was the continuing flow of Norse words into the northern English dialects. We continue to explore the influence of Scandinavian vocabulary on Modern English.


8 thoughts on “Episode 52: Bloody Axes and a Battle Royal

  1. Apropos the comment that the word “starved” is now limited to “died of hunger”.

    It did have a somewhat broader sense till more recently, being used for died of hunger or cold. (I think this was particularly true for the North Country, but I may be misremembering.)

    My feeling is that this latter, now archaic, sense of the term is the one meant in John Keats’ line:

    “I saw their starved lips in the gloam”

    The “pale warriors'” lips, I take it, are _cold_, which is another way of saying they’re dead … (though somehow also not in this poem, I suppose).

  2. Regarding “starve”; I am currently studying the dialect of Lancashire, which was part of old Northumbria, and here “starve” means exclusively “cold” as in a person being cold. If you say the weather is cold the word is “cowd”. the word for “hungry” is “clem”, so a Lancastrian would say “I’m fair clemt” or “I’m clemt deeoth (to death)”.

    Incidentally Lancastrians generally use “aye”, “nay” or “fra” instead of “yes”, “no” or “from”.

    Lancashire’s an interesting dialect because the county was originally part of Celtic speaking Strathclyde and only later became part of Anglo-Norse speaking Northumbria.

    I was told about this website by a friend at a Christmas party last December and I have become hooked. I have read about the History of English but this is up there with the best.

    Keep up the good work – I’m looking forward to the other episodes.

    • Thanks! Very interesting comments about the modern use of “starve.” I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast.

    • When I read this, I had a sudden flash of memory of hearing “starved with the cold” as a phrase I had heard …and that turns out to be the case. It is a colloquialism in Northern Ireland, where my husband’s family is from. And that is where I had heard it, or possibly read in a book of Ulster phrases.

  3. Hi Kevin, I love the podcast and I’m slowly working my way through to the present. Do you have a source for the history of the tradition of smashing a bottle of wine to christen a ship? Thanks!

  4. Seems the modern English words, “withhold” and “withstand” retain the Norse meaning of “With” as “against,” as a prefix or first part of the compound word.

Comments are closed.