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.


11 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.

  5. Hello! I believe I remember you saying in an earlier episode that the Scots were not Celtic, yet in this episode you refer to the Celtic people of Scotland. To what/whom are you referring?


    • Hi Elizabeth. I don’t think I ever said that the Scots were not Celtic. The Scots actually originated in Ireland and migrated to northern Britain in the very early Middle Ages. I think you may be recalling a comment I made about the Picts who lived in northern Britain before the Scots arrived. The Picts were not Celtic. Their culture was eventually displaced by the Celtic culture of the Scots. I hope that helps. See Episode 28 for more details.

  6. This episode reminds me of one of the last episodes of “The Last Kingdom” on Netflix that is based around this time in early England. Very interesting how the story tried to stay true to history.

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