Nim de Metter 'n' Sned de Oxflesh

English is not really a "proper" language of its own, but a unique historic blend of languages.  Through the centuries influences from the Picts, the Celts, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Danish Vikings, and the French (and thereby Latin influence) have each put their marks on the English language we know today.  Add to this international words from especially Greek (e.g. psychosomatic) and Italian (e.g. bank) plus the names of peculiar items in African languages (gorilla), Native American (canoe, tomahawk), and Arabic (admiral and algebra) etc. etc. and you will see that English is really a conglomerate of languages.

One influence in particular is worth noticing.  As pointed out by Mario Pei: if it hadn't been for the Danish Vikings, old English would probably have stayed closer to the Anglo-Saxon as exemplified in the following sentence:

"Nim de metter and sned de oxflesh"

The statement probably doesn't make any sense at all to native speakers today, but the modern German equivalent shows its origins:

German:       Nimm  das  Messer  und  schneid das Ochsfleisch
old English:  Nim     de   metter    and  sned      de   oxflesh

In modern English the statement is:

modern English:  Take    the  knife     and  cut         the  steak
modern German:  Nimm das  Messer und  schneid das Ochsfleisch
old English:         Nim    de    metter  and   sned      de   oxflesh

When we add the modern Danish equivalent to the list, the influence is obvious:

Danish:   Tag           kniven   og    skær            stegen
English:  Take   the  knife     and  cut         the  steak
German:  Nimm das Messer und  schneid das Ochsfleisch
old Eng:  Nim    de   metter  and  sned      de   oxflesh

The only word not clearly Danish is "skær" for cut.
Danish "skær" is the same as the German "schneid",
whereas "cut" is related to the French "couteau" - a knife -
therefore not Norse, but probably Norman.

Danish is in itself a hybrid language and has much in common with especially German and French, but the words "take", "knife" and "steak" are unmistakably of Danish origin as their equivalents are quite different in German.

Anyhow, English is indeed a mix of languages, and it is perhaps precisely fitting that this hybrid tongue should be the leading language of the world (this position also owes to political factors, I know.)

However, there is another point to be made in this context:

It is interesting to notice that whereas the Vikings left very few physical traces where they went, they left something far more important instead: a mentality that is peculiar to the North-West of Europe.

A respect for individuality and a disrespect for authority and patriarchal societies - be they political or religious - is found where the Vikings lived and settled:

in Denmark, the south of Norway, in South-East England (the Danelaw), in Normandy, and in regions along the lower Rhine.

Possibly, the most tangible effect of Viking mentality on the English speaking world is the word  ombudsman (old Norse) - the official guardian of the interests of the citizens as opposed to the state.

Perhaps it is no wonder that Scandinavinas have taken a different stand on European issues in the European Union: even though their countries may have little political clout, Scandinavians cherish their political freedom and their sense of democracy which we think of as the only true democracy, i.e. respect for minoritiy rights.

The Danes are not an unruly people - on the contrary - but our sense of "equality" is perhaps a little more developed than it is seen in many other European countries.

(see also Danish words in the English Language)

October 2000
Erik Moldrup