Old Norse for Modern Times

By Ian Stuart Sharpe

Have you ever wanted to wield the silver tongue of Loki – or to hammer home your point like a Thundergod?

Medievalists know full well that Old Norse is the language of legends and the stuff of sagas, the inspiration for Tolkien and Marvel, for award-winning manga and epic video games. It is the language of cleverly crafted kennings, blood-curdling curses and pithy retorts to Ragnarök. And so, it is clearly time for it to make a comeback.


Old Norse for Modern Times is a partly humorous guide to the Old Norse language, containing translations of modern English phrases into mostly literal Norse equivalents. The book is designed for a light-hearted study aide, a tool for role-players and recreationists, and the perfect birthday present for Vikings fans.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought this book would be a good idea. Not exactly necessary, mind you – but amusing. In the author blurb attached to my novels, I always mention how I one won a prize at school for Outstanding Progress and chose a dictionary as a reward, secretly wishing it had been an Old Norse phrasebook.

I was partly inspired by Latin for All Occasions (Lingua Latina Occasionibus Omnibus), a 1990 book by Henry Beard, who translated expressions like “Get your ducks in a row” to Anates tuas in acie instrue. As Beard notes, the significance of having ducks lined up would be lost on an ancient Roman (or indeed to a non-American), which is what makes it even more hilarious.


Beard’s book has two limitations. Firstly, what have the Romans ever done for us? And secondly, an awful lot has changed since the 90s. The world is unrecognizable to me in 30 short years, let alone someone from our far flung past. I think, at root, Old Norse for Modern Times is an attempt to make sense of it all, through the unique perspective of a Norseman. A group of warriors, merchants and sailors who uncovered all manner of strange and exciting new things as they explored the world. A culture that praised poets and worshiped wordplay. A civilization that has already given us hundreds of words and place names still in common use.

Who better than the Norse to tell us that Thor must be mightily pissed off (Þórr mun reiður vera), or that Winter is coming (Vetr kømr)? Going Kraken-fishing simply sounds better in Old Norse (We’re going to need a bigger boat/ Þurfa munu vér skip stærra). And of course, ordering the next beer… (This drink, I like it! ANOTHER! Líkar mér drykkr þessi! ANNAN!)

It should be noted that I’m not doing this alone. Josh Gillingham, author of the Gatwatch is co-authoring along with Dr. Arngrímur Vídalín, Adjunct Professor of Icelandic Literature at the Faculty of Subject Teacher Education at the University of Iceland’s School of Education. His field is Nordic medieval literature, but he also studies Icelandic literature of later ages. He has published extensively on monsters in Old Norse literature and is currently working on the translation of Alice in Wonderland into Old Norse. We literally couldn’t do it without him!


Check out the Preview Page on Kickstarter here, and make sure to register your interest!

Ian Stuart Sharpe is the author of the Vikingverse series. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


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