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How Viking invasions brought trust to the English language – literally

Why the roots of the word “trust” go back to trees.

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With AAA Insurance as our partner, Vox Creative tackles the topic of trust to better understand where it comes from, and how it shapes our world. Watch, listen, and read more on Why We Trust.

“Trust” is a subject of endless fascination. From how to cultivate it to how to earn it back, how to be more trusting of others and how to trust your gut. But the meaning of the word itself is another field entirely, one rife with debate, legend, and consequence: language itself. Etymology is the study of where words come from (not to be confused with entomology, the studies of insects).

The etymology of the word for “trust” connects to the Old Norse “traust.” But how did an Old Norse word make it into 21st century English? The Vikings – who introduced significantly more words into the English language than just “trust.” In fact, according to Old Norse expert Dr. Jackson Crawford, words derived from Old Norse make up about ten percent of the thousand most common English words used daily. That bucket includes words like sister, sky, awkward, egg, blunder, sleuth, law, and rotten. As in… “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” – as penned by legendary Viking playwright William Shakespeare.

The reason that Old Norse is so prominent in the English language is a series of Viking invasions dating back to the 800s. Yet there’s not necessarily a logic that governed which modern English words derive from Old Norse versus Old English. A perfect example is “sister” and “brother.” “Sister” descends from Old Norse while “Brother” is from Old English.

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