Víking – ’rower shifting’? An etymological contribution

Víking – ’rower shifting’? An etymological contributionVikings


By Eldar Heide
Arkiv för nordisk filologi, No.120 (2005)
Introduction: There is an extensive literature on the etymology of víking f. ‘freebooting voyage’ and víkingr m. ‘sea warrior’, but none of the well-known suggestions are satisfactory. However, a more plausible explanation was presented by Bertil Daggfeldt as early as in 1983, but is not very well known. Daggfeldt “suggests a possible derivation from Old Swedish vika (‘turn, shift; Old Norse vikja [sic]) meaning the shifts of oarsmen (and also the distance at sea between two shifts). “Vikings” would then be “men rowing in shifts”.  I agree with Daggfeldt’s idea, but his formulation of it can hardly be correct, so in the following, I will try to refine and complement it.
First, I will discuss the most important of the earlier explanations. The most common theories are that víking(r) is derived:
1. From the feminine vík ’bay’ – the Vikings would seek shelter in bays and attack merchant ships from there, or make land raids from there. In this theory, mainly the masculine víkingr is taken into account.
2. From Vík(in) f. ‘The Norwegian Skagerrak coast’ – the first Vikings came from there. In this theory as well, mainly the masculinevíkingr is taken into account.
3. From the verb víka in a sense ‘withdraw, leave’, referring to pirates who withdraw as soon as they have got their booty. In this theory, too, mainly the masculine víkingr is taken into account.
4. From a feminine vík derived from the verb vík(j)a, with the meaning ‘deviation, detour’. This would be the original sense of the feminine víking, and from it, the masculine would be derived. A víkingr would then be ‘a person who makes a detour from home’.
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About Gaby F

lectora, estudiosa de la historia antigua, especialmente la mitología germánica, indoeuropea. ".
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