Fun Etymology Tuesday – Berserk

It’s Tuesday! Again! Where does the time go? You may or may not have noticed that the HLC website was down earlier today but don’t fret! It’s up and running again, working as smoothly as ever, though we went a bit berserk when we realised that it was down.

Speaking of berserk, it’s our word of the day!

This word, though you might think it an early arrival to the English language (I mean, Vikings were around quite early on) actually wasn’t introduced in English until the mid-19th century, by the legendary Scottish poet Sir Walter Scott who used the word “berserkar”, reportedly believing that it came from Old Norse “berr”, meaning bare or naked, and “serkr”, meaning shirt.

Scott thus seems to have believed that it meant something like “warrior who fights without armour” though, while that may or may not be true, the word is more likely to hail from Old Norse “berserkr”, meaning a raging warrior of superhuman strength.

This Old Norse word is ultimately a compounded form of Proto-Germanic *ber-, meaning bear, and “serkr”, thus literally meaning “a warrior clothed in bear skin” (and perhaps insinuating the power of a bear, though that’s conjecture on our part).

Welcome back next week!

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