Illegal Poems and Words in Old Norse


Hi, I’m Old Norse specialist Dr. Jackson Crawford . One thing that’s often forgotten by those that don’t often read the sagas is that Norse Society was very litigious The Medieval Scandinavian law codes are one of our major sources for information about Norse culture and their pages must number in the hundreds . One of the most interesting and archaic is Grágás . A series of laws developed in Iceland before Iceland joined the Norwegian Kingdom in 1262 These laws which I’ll use as an example here include many kinds of words that a man can be found legally culpable for having said . Some of the most surprising include the working of (this is the word used in Old Norse when you make poetry as you work it) yrkja is the making of mansǫngvar . Literally maiden-songs : love songs The idea seems to be that if you compose a love poem about a woman that you might make her fall in love with you and then her father who has the right to marry her off then has to deal with the fact that she’s in love with someone he doesn’t want to marry her to . The penalty for composing love poetry is death . Or full outlawry . Which means exile from Iceland forever and no protection from the law while you live there . There are also words that it is illegal to call another man . The specific words vary from a very short list to a very long list in different law codes . Grágás simply says in the main text that if a man utters words that it is illegal to kill him for that the man that those words have been said about has to prosecute for it . Presumably to find out if the words are true . One of the specific words it’s illegal to call another man is argr or ragr . This is kind of a general locker room insult . It means cowardly, weak, homosexual . This is the most horrible thing you can call another man in Old Norse but there’s also another word specifically forbidden is stroðinn that means a man that has been sexually violated by another man . So much the same meaning as argr or ragr . And in other places you see other words considered forbidden like merr which means mare . You can work out the obvious sexual implications of why calling a man a mare would be offensive . And you also find in the sagas many other words that are considered to bring upon the speaker a liability of death . Like calling a man blauðr . Which means moist or wet and this has connotations of a feminine trait . So even though we think of the Vikings as solving everything with axes and swords they do fight with words and with law and in many of the Icelandic sagas we find law cases brought against men for using forbidden words . Or people killing each other over simple words . Over the last part of December I’m planning on doing a summary of Njál’s saga with some brief commentary and we’ll see a little bit about the kind of insults that begin bloodshed in the Society in that saga . Well, from above Georgetown, Colorado I’m wishing you all the best .

50 thoughts on “Illegal Poems and Words in Old Norse

  1. Well this has to be the most intriguing thing I've seen today. Glad I'm subscribed to you dr. Crawford. Thank you for uploading

  2. I knew this was a thing but didn't know the specific words. Fascinating as always, thank you !

  3. Interesting — it sounds like such speech was more than just an insult in the modern sense, but a way to magically change the world.

  4. Your Colorado landscape backgrounds are breathtaking. All the nature also sets a mood for a different time, before sprawling cityscapes.

  5. Njáls saga? Sweet. I believe parts of Færeyínga saga are from Njáls saga, so that's going to be interesting to see. As always, if you need help with anything Faroese, please, don't hesitate to let me know. 🙂

  6. He probably could've gotten more views with the title "Viking swearing", but chooses to keep it professional and accurate. I like it!

  7. Can’t wait for Njáls saga, that one’s fun. Especially when the guy gets cursed to not have a boner when sleeping with his wife. At the same time, it’s a hard saga to get through.

  8. As always, thank you for you video. I had tried to search you channel for this type of information via the keywords laws and customs. This is inline i feel with that topic. Thanks Dr.Crawford.

  9. I've read that the outlawing of love poems has to do with the belief that poems can carry magic in them, and thus a love poem can act as a spell that forces the woman to fall in love with the poet. Is there any basis to this?

  10. Yes, your honour, I was taking an innocent bath, when out of the blue, the defendant called me a moist potato soup

  11. I have a feeling that it was worse for a man to behave like a woman than for another to call him out on it, but you have the sources, doctor. I have heard that we all start up as females in our mother's womb, and that male attributes occur later in the process so in a sense we are all women… I would not call a man that to insult the female gender, but to address behaviour that through my experience isn't constructive in the bigger picture(peace and prosperity for all). In this perspective I find it better if the men show some judgement and don't jump on every chance to play the victim to gain prestige and good PR for their next conquest, be it a woman or an election. But hey, that's just me. Anyway, thanks for yet another quality video, dr. Crawford.

  12. ya look kinda wet t' me. sounds kinda rude doesn't it. gives new meaning to wet behind the ears. har har har
    thank yew dr jackson nothin worse than a mare wieldin an axe and recitin maidin poems up and down the fjord i always say.
    the guys so wyrd he'd back onto a spear. oh dear. thank yew gare

  13. Came for the information about Norse culture, stayed for the awkward sexual euphemisms.

  14. most offensive word in Mongolia = Lalar = Muslim, then Pisda = Pisshole comes from Russian Pisdek. Asshole is not offensive 😛

  15. I have never been interested in languages and language history before i saw your videos, you are really a great speaker.

  16. I grew up in the North of England and we'd call some "wet" if they were being a wimp or being whiny.

  17. I have read that the 'Gragas' were actually the Norwegian lws while something called 'The Grey Goose Laws' were the Icelandic version. In any case, these were how the laws went in both places after full Christianization. Was not at all this way prior to that.

  18. Blautr is the Norse word for moist.
    Blauðr means soft, weak and is metaphorically feminine but only applies to animals in old Norse.
    as opposed to Hvatr hard, fierce, erect being masculine opposite. kottrinn inn blauði "soft cat", seems to have been a slang term for male impotence. Calling a man Blauðr is the equivalent of bitch. weakling.

  19. Glad I subscribed and became a Patreon (first time I've ever done that). Excellent source of information! And while I've been interested in Norse and Pre-Christian Germanic history for a long time I still have learned so many new things and new ways of looking at the sources. Well spoken and well layed out videos! The backgrounds certainly don't hurt either.

  20. How would you politely call someone "wet" or "damp" or what have you if you actually meant it literally? I can think of quite a few possible occasions where someone might want to draw attention to the fact that someone else is covered in water, but would there be a way to do that without having to use the no no word?

  21. "with law our land shall rise, but it will perish with lawlessness." (Njal, from _Njal's Saga_)

  22. At the bottom of Guanella pass! Lol all it takes are some man made structures and I can confidently identify where you are.

    EDIT: Oh, actually said it at the end. Well then…

  23. So even the Vikings had political correctness? Gee, and I thought I had it rough when a bunch of men (of whom I will say nothing except that they were All Men) got upset with me for using the word "catamite" and explaining to them that pretty much all references to same-sex relationships in the pre-Christian world did NOT follow the modern idea of two healthy adults of the same social status consensually sharing a bed! 😉

  24. question….is there or do you know of a book or some source that would have a list of words and commands to teach my dogs?? I would like to speak to my animals in only old Norse commands. Thank you for what you do here Mr. Crawford!

  25. Hey Jackson, great vids!!! I'm currently doing research on the ancient serpentine or Dragon-like rulers found in most of the literature from cultures at every corner of the globe. Is there anything of that sort in Norse stories or mythologies besides Beowulf? Thanks…..

  26. Interesting … I would infer that these types of insults were illegal because, if there weren't a process to handle them, Norse men would all too regularly be pushing one another to violence. Like if I'm bigger than my neighbor, and I call him "moist", he is pretty much obligated to fight me to defend his honor, and I can kill him easily and take his stuff. EXCEPT that I broke the law, so he can put me before a judge to determine whether I was right to call him "moist". Pretty much like slander and libel today.

  27. What about 'ergi'? How about 'nīþ'? Or níðingr/ᚾᛁᚦᛁᚴᛦ? Is argr a form of ergi? OK. I am buying the book you recommend. Grágás I and will see if I want to buy II. Along with the Burgundy Kings, I'm going to go broke buying all these recommended books. I have yours on order.

  28. Was this before or after christianity was adopted in norse civilizations?

  29. I'll preface this by saying I am only recently becoming more seriously interested in the Norse sagas and history of Nordic peoples, and am new to the channel so I am sorry if this has been talked about already. I would love to know more about pre-Christian Norse society, and to some extent, how the shift in religion changed the culture after 1000AD, but iirc there's not much we do know about it because of lack of sources. One thing that's bugging me is that Olaf Tryggvason supposedly saw a seer that told him exactly what was gonna happen, even his baptism and transition to Christianity. Wouldn't that have just lent more credence to the legitimacy of the Norse religion? Even if Christianity was (yet again) meant to be used as a tool of power and unity, I would think that if we know the tale now, they would have known the tale then as well. Seems strange to me.

  30. We probably should outlaw those seductive love songs which show seduce women. The casting of spells an enchantment through word Wizardry. So often a forked tongue seduces a woman to betray her husband and dishonor her family.

  31. Your studies have brought you very close to the very origins of the Anglo-American Common Law. "Mansongvar" must have developed into the Common Law Cause of Action for Seduction. The father can sue the lover who seduced his daughter for the loss of her services. She just pines around and doesn't do her chores. so a wrong was done to the parents. Related causes of action were Alienation of Affection, which is the husband's cause of action against the seducer of his wife, and Breach of Promise to Marry, which is an emancipated woman's cause of action against the man who seduced her but doesn't want to marry her. The Sagas may well be more important to the understanding of Anglo-American law, government and society than the more traditional Greek and Roman histories upon which generations of the elite were weaned.

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