33 Crass and Creative Norse Nicknames

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Before surnames were a well-established way of telling one Olaf or Astrid from another, identifying nicknames were far more prevalent. Historical figures had their share of quirky epithets—from Albert the Peculiar to Zeno the Hermit—but the Norse Vikings seem to have had them beat when it comes to comical range and sheer absurdity.

Paul Peterson, now a teaching fellow in Scandinavian and German at Augustana College in Illinois, dedicated his advanced studies to Norse nicknames, completing a masters thesis and doctoral dissertation [PDF] at the University of Minnesota on the subject. He writes in the abstract, “The quantity of nicknames in Old Norse literature is incomparably rich, and recurring nicknames provide a tool for understanding saga transmission, cultural history, slang, and etymology.” Plus, some of them are really silly.

Many—although not all—of the nicknames he cites through the text are pulled from a compendium of Icelandic settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries called Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements) and fall into the following rough categories: “those describing physical features, mental characteristics, and one’s deeds or habits (good or bad).” Often, they're not exactly flattering.

Monarchical nicknames—both legendary and historical—are especially descriptive, and often survive in the Norse canon along with an explanation for the epithet that helps to contextualize the king. These include:

1. Óttarr the Vendel Crow: So given because after he was slain in a battle at Vendill, his body was eaten by crows.

2. Hálfdan the Generous and the Stingy with Food: This contradictory nickname is rooted in a surviving anecdote that claims the king paid his men well, but also starved them.

3. Walking-Hrólfr: A royal count, Hrólfr was said to be given this nickname because he was too large for any horses to carry him, and thus he walked everywhere.

4. Magnús Barefoot or Barelegged: King Magnus traveled west to the British Isles, where he and his men adopted the kilt styles worn there, and brought the fashion back to Norway. The sartorial choice was especially noteworthy after a blow to his bare leg in battle ultimately cost him his life.

5. Haraldr War Tooth: There is some discrepancy in the legends about Haraldr—whether he earned his epithet through naturally prominent (and yellow) teeth or whether he was bestowed with a mystical immunity that included re-growing a pair of teeth that were knocked out on his wedding night.

Sometimes, an explanation of the nicknames of non-royal Vikings, however obtuse, was also included in the text. Such as:

6. Billy Goat Bjǫrn: So-called because he dreamed of a “rock-dweller” and awoke to find an extra male goat amongst his herd, which quickly multiplied and made Bjorn wealthy.

7. Ǫlvir the Friend of Children: There was a low bar for earning this epithet in Medieval Iceland. Ǫlvir was a friend of children because, according to Landnámabók, “He did not allow himself to catch children on spears, as was then customary among Vikings.”

8. Þórir Leather Neck: He earned what was likely a mocking nickname after attempting to fashion armor with cheaper cowhide.

9. Ragnarr Hairy Breeches: The explanation given for this nickname—that Ragnarr was wearing his hairy breeches when he slew a serpent to win his wife’s hand in marriage—makes sense as a momentous occasion worth commemorating, but it doesn’t explain why he was wearing the fur pants to begin with.

10. Þóra Hart of the Castle: Like many women’s nicknames, this is a reference to beauty. Þóra was said to be so beautiful that she stood out from other women as a hart (or stag) stands out from other animals.

11. Þorbjǫrg Coal Brow: Her nickname is a reference to her black hair and eyebrows—but it is not intended as a compliment among Vikings.

12. Hallgerðr Long Pants: The wife of a legendary hero, Hallgerðr’s nickname refers to her abnormal height and thus, presumably, the long pants she would have to wear.

Many nicknames survive without any explanation (though many are obvious enough that you could probably guess why the epithet was given). A surprising number are openly insulting and include crude sexual allusions or “potty humor”:

13. Kolbeinn Butter Penis

14. Eysteinn Foul-Fart

15. Herjólfr Shriveled Testicle

16. Ásný Ship-Chest (or: Ásný The Busty)

17. Þórir Billy Goat’s Thigh

18. Skagi the Ruler of S**t

19. Ásgeirr the Terror of the Norwegians

20. Bǫðvarrthe Little Bear

21. Auðr the Deep-Minded

22. Finni the Dream Interpreter

23. Olaf the Witch-Breaker

24. Vemund the Word-Master

25. Hlif the Castrator of Horses

26. Astrid the Wisdom-Slope

27. Ófeigr the Grimacer

28. Tjǫrvi the Ridiculer

29. Vékell the Shape-Shifting

30. Þorfinnr the Splitter of Skulls

31. Bjarni the Tall Man with a House

32. Hjǫrleifr the Amorous

33. Þorgeirr the Frantic

[h/t Medievalists.net]

9 French Insults You Should Know

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Rawf8/iStock via Getty Images

Ah, France—internationally synonymous with fine wines, fashion, and elegant cheeses. As it turns out, the country is home to some pretty fine insults, too, as the list below demonstrates. If you need some more ways to express your distaste in a foreign language, we've also got you covered with insults in German. (If historical insults are more your speed, you can peruse these old English insults, or learn how to level a sick burn like Teddy Roosevelt.)

1. Va te faire cuire un oeuf // "Go cook yourself an egg."

Figuratively speaking, this means “leave me alone.” Historically, the idea is that men would criticize their wives cooking dinner, who would then respond, "Go fry yourself an egg"—reminding their mates that they're incapable of cooking anything other than an egg.

2. Bête comme ses pieds // "You are as stupid as your feet."

The feet are the furthest part of the body from the brain, so supposedly, the most stupid. Besides, have you ever seen smart feet?

3. Péter plus haut de son cul // "To fart higher than your ass."

If you have gas in your stomach and try to expel it above your behind, you will fail. It's just too ambitious. This phrase means that a person is arrogant, or thinks they are able to do impossible things. They're a show-off, basically.

4. Poule mouillée // "Wet chicken"

Chickens are not known for their bravery. Especially when it rains, they try to hide, as ridiculous as that may be. A wet chicken is someone who is afraid of everything.

5. Mange tes morts // "Eat your dead."

You use this insult when you are very mad at someone. The original meaning is "You have no respect." It's said to have started among the Yenish people—a European ethnic minority with nomadic origins.

6. Sac à merde // "Bag of sh**"

No need for explanation right? Speaks for itself. Often used while driving.

7. Tête de noed // "Knot face"

Someone stupid. Literally, the knot refers to the tip of the penis, but in essence the term has a meaning similar to (but even ruder) than the English dickhead.

8. Couillon/Couillonne // "Little testicle"

A relatively mild insult that means something like "idiot" in English.

9. Con comme une valise sans poignée // "As stupid as a suitcase without a handle."

What good is a suitcase if you can't carry it? In a similar vein, "con comme un balais" means "as dumb as a broom."

15 Slang Terms You Need to Know


It’s possible to get the pants from too much honeyfuggling. Spark some conversation with these vintage and regional terms.

1. The Term: Hurkle-Durkle

The Definition: According to John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, 200 years ago to hurkle-durkle meant “To lie in bed, or to lounge after it is time to get up or go to work.” Basically, that urge we all fight every weekday morning.

2. The Term: Got the Morbs

The Definition: A phrase from 1880 meaning “temporary melancholia,” according to Passing English of the Victorian Era.

3. The Term: Stubby-Holder

The Definition: An Australian slang term for an insulated beverage holder. (A stubby is Aussie for a 375-milliliter bottle of beer, by the way.)

4. The Term: To Poke Bogey

The Definition: A 19th-century slang word for tricking someone. No one’s quite sure where the phrase came from, but it could have its roots in words for ghosts—bogey as in bogeyman, and poke may be related to an old English word for spirit.

5. The Term: Lizzie Lice

The Definition: According to Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of the Underworld, this term for a policeman who patrols in cars dates to the 1930s. You might not want to use it when you get pulled over, though. (Rat bag, for a plainclothes detective, may also be unwise.)

6. The Term: Peerie-Winkie

The Definition: Peerie is an old Scottish word meaning “little,” and a peerie-winkie is the little finger or toe. If you’re looking for a fun way to refer to your hands, use the word daddles.

7. The Term: Got the Pants

The Definition: This phrase, according to Passing English of the Victorian Era, means “panting from over-exertion.” After you take the stairs, you get the pants!

8. The Term: Toad-Strangler

The Definition: Those who live in the Gulf states are probably familiar with this term that describes a sudden, and heavy, rain.

9. The Term: Honeyfuggle

The Definition: This word technically means to deceive or to cheat, but according to the Dictionary of Regional American English, it’s also used for public displays of affection.

10. The Term: Whooperups

The Definition: A Victorian term for “inferior, noisy singers” that is just as applicable at modern-day karaoke joints.

11. The Term: Degomble

The Definition: The Antarctic Dictionary defines this as “to disencumber of snow,” usually when coming in from outside.

12. The Term: Play at Rumpscuttle and Clapperdepouch

The Definition: This 1684 phrase has nothing to do with playing games and everything to do with, uh, getting it on. You can also play at rantum-scantum (1667), couch quail (1521), or tray trippee of a die (1660).

13. The Term: Abstain from Beans

The Definition: Here’s one to keep on hand during family gatherings: According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, this is a phrase meaning “to desist from politics.” As Plutarch explained in the circa 110 CE book Of the Training of Children, the term meant “to keep out of public offices” because “anciently the choice of the officers of state was made by beans.” Literally or figuratively, it’s probably a good rule for parties.

14. The Term: Cwtch

The Definition: A very Welsh term for a hug that makes you feel warm inside. (It rhymes with “butch.”)

15. The Term: Hand in One’s Dinner Pail

The Definition: Well, maybe you don’t want an occasion to use this phrase, at least in its original meaning—it’s slang from 1937 for death. Later, the phrase would come to mean “to resign from one’s job; to stop what one is doing.”