Monday, October 30, 2006

The Daily Hump: Berserker

No, Berserker is not just the title track off the great 1984 Gary Numan album. The word also refers to a band of Norse warriors who worked themselves into a frenzy before getting early medieval on whomever had the misfortune of crossing paths with them. Unlike their Viking namesakes, today you don't need to rape or pillage the local populace to be "going berserk"; no, the standard is much much lower--you just need to be mentally or emotionally upset. Thus, the word, which entered our language in the early 19th c., has lost a lot of its oomph, imho.

But enough lamenting--berserker is from the Old Norse berserkr which the AHD defines as a "wild warrior or champion". The word likely comes from the compound bear-sark, sark being a fairly archaic word meaning "shirt" (side note: per the OED, sark still means "shirt" in modern Scandinavian languages). This descriptive name refers to the bear hides that the warriors would wear as they marauded around the North Atlantic from the 9th through 11th centuries.

Most of what we know about berserkers comes from the sagas, specifically Egils saga, most likely written in the 13th c by Snorri Sturluson. I've been to Borg, home of Egils saga's protagonist, Egills Skallagrímsson, but alas, found no berserkers.

See also apeshit.

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:: posted by David, 8:22 AM


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