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Old Norse Ship Names and Ship Terms

Viking ship at the Vikingsheimar Museum - Iceland

Old Norse Ship Names and Ship Terms

By Rudolf Simek

Northern Studies, Volume 13, 1979

Viking ship at the Vikingsheimar Museum - Iceland
Viking ship at the Vikingsheimar Museum – Iceland

Introduction: The nautical language of the North Sea Germanic area is a very elaborate and rich terminology. This was no less true at the time I am dealing with, namely the period from the Viking Age up to about 1400 A.D. This nautical language seems heavily dominated by the North Germanic languages, especially Old Norse.

Therefore it may well be justified to take Old Norse as a starting point when one is dealing with the North Sea Germanic nautical terminology. In the bit of research I have done on this field so far I have mainly concentrated on the words meaning the ship as a whole. But there are of course many other aspects to the nautical language, such as shipbuilding, ship equipment, board life, journeys, and navigation. This last aspect, navigation, is an especially tricky one. Alan Binns from Newcastle has done important research in this field.


But as I said, I will limit myself to the words and phrases meaning the ship as a whole. And here we have to deal with three groups of terms: firstly, proper names, of which about 150 are handed down to us, secondly, terms just meaning ship or boat of one kind or another, and here we know of about 260 expressions of this sort, and thirdly, poetical circumscriptions, so called kenningar, of which I found about 560 in Old Norse poetry.

Click here to read this article from the Scottish Society for Northern Studies

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