No Sense of Humour? Humour Words in Old Norse

Hannah Burrows* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The Old Norse language, dialects of which were spoken across Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, has no equivalent of the Modern English umbrella term ‘humour’. (Of course, neither do many languages, dead or living: Old Norse acts as a case study here for a methodology that could be applied to multiple other instances.) One way, then, to approach a culture’s sense of what for Modern English speakers falls under ‘humour’, is to examine its own vocabulary of terms relating to phenomena like amusement, entertainment, jokes, and so on, and the contexts in which they appear. This allows for a culturally specific mapping of what forms of ‘humour’ were prevalent, appropriate, prized, or otherwise. The chapter offers contextual discussion of Old Norse terms like gaman (amusement), skemmtun (entertainment), leikr (game, play), hlægi (ridicule), glens (jesting), háð (mockery), and others. In doing so it aims to highlight the problems and complexities of translation and interpretation from a linguistic and cultural context in which there are often no easy one-on-one correspondences with Modern English vocabulary and terminology, as well as to show where continuities with Modern English can be found.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Humour, History and Methodology
EditorsDaniel Derrin, Hannah Burrows
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-56646-3
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-56645-6
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

First Online 13 January 2021


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