By Tette Hofstra
TijdSchrift voor Skandinavistiek Vol. 24 (2003)
Introduction: In this article changing views, not only of Viking activities, but also of the etymology and meaning of the word viking will be discussed. Particular attention will be paid to the Netherlands.
Outside Scandinavia, post-mediaeval interest in Old Scandinavian culture including Vikings arose in England at the end of the seventeenth century and France in the middle of the eighteenth century. Other countries followed suit, and this ultimately led to the incorporation of the word viking into Modern Dutch. The Modern Dutch word viking (also vikinger, wiking, wikinger) was introduced from German or English; the earliest entry in the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal, the large Dictionary of the Dutch Language, is from the year 1835. Both in German and in English, the word had been reintroduced in the beginning of the nineteenth century; in German the word begins with w- (Wiking), in English several spellings were used, e.g. vikingr (= Old Icelandic víkingr), vikinger, vikingir, wiking, before viking became the standard form. Dutch viking with v- reflects English influence.
Dahlerup’s dictionary of the Danish language mentions viking in an Early New Danish text from 1633; it also has some examples from the eighteenth century. According to Hellberg, in Swedish the word viking (vikingr, vikingur) can be found for the first time in the sixties and seventies of the seventeenth century; Vikingen (1811) became the title of a famous poem by the Swedish poet Erik Gustaf Geijer.
What Vikings did has given rise to many questions. To the linguist, however, the word viking causes a serious and, as will be shown, probably unsolvable problem: scholars disagree on how the mediaeval word came into being, where it arose, and what it originally meant.