Norsemen played linguistic jokes

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Editor: Thank you for the accounts of Geoff Rolling’s trip to Newfoundland, especially those penned by your reporter. They are most enjoyable.

I must point out, however, that the assertion of Harry Baglole — an error made by others before him — that the Vinland of the Sagas (Sögur) means “Wine Land” confuses two languages, namely Old Norse and French. “Vin” in Old Norse (a language I studied at the University of Toronto) means “Vine” not “Wine”.

Icelanders drank a variant of “mead”, a cousin of the drink of their Anglo-Saxon neighbours in England (“Angle-Land”).

The Norsemen often played linguistic jokes, such as the naming of the barren and frozen Greenland (“Groenland”). Some fell for that hoax too, but more returned to Iceland which, in their tongue means “Island” — the original use of the name by the way.

Leif Eriksson and Thorfinn Karlsefne would have enjoyed the joke. I know I did.

Colmán O'Hare,


Organizations: University of Toronto

Geographic location: Newfoundland, England, Iceland Charlottetown

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