Health and Happiness! (Period greetings in Old Norse.)

Posted: December 17, 2014 in Old Norse Language and Culture
Tags: , , , ,

Heil ok Sael!

Proper greeting has apparently become an issue among heathens and viking-wannabes (like myself) recently (or at least I just heard about it) and here’s my input.

In Old Norse, there are two main words that mean “greeting.” Those words are the commonly known “heilsa” and the less common “kvethja” (which was probably used more often to mean farewell.) These words are verbs, and not actually greetings. Its important to note that the verb “hailsa” would require a dative noun form and not an accusative form.

One might write a sentence: Heilsa Igor, Sven upp Hondina. (There are umlauts and stuff in there and I am an amateur with a keyboard.) This would translate to: “Greeting Igor, Sven raised his hand.”

To say “Heilsa, Igor!” would sound rather like someone unfamiliar with English saying, “Thanking you” rather than “Thank you” or “Greeting you” rather than simply “Greetings” (which works in English but not ON.)

The word “heilsa” also translates to “health” and the relationship between health and greeting should be obvious. Still, in Old Norse and Icelandic, simply saying “health” is not the same as wishing one health.

What Sven might say would be a simple “heill” or a variant recognizing his audience, male or female, singular or plural. “Heilir” for a group of men. “Heilar” for a group of women.

For greeting a group of mixed gender, one would simply say “Heil” just as one would for greeting a single woman. Less formally, one might say “Sit Heill” which would be an invitation to sit and get comfortable.

The difference between “L” and “LL” in Old Norse really is simply the length of the sound. “Heill” sounds like “hail” and “Heil” almost sounds like “hey.”

But my personal favorite Old Norse greeting is “Heil ok Sael” which is to wish someone “health and happiness.” But no variant of this greeting is EVER used in Scandanavia today as it has connections to the Nazi Occupation.

I will continue to use it, even though I have no racist sympathies.

FROM: An Icelandic-English Dictionary by Cleasby/Vigfusson (1874)

heilsa, u, f. [Dan. helsen; Swed. helsa], health, Fms. vii. 241, x. 215, Sks. 620. Al. 24, Hom. 10, Bs. i. 337; sterk, góð h., strong, good health; veyk, lin, tæp h., poor, weak health, passim. COMPDS: heilsu-bót, f. health-bettering, healing, Hkr. ii. 386; til heilsubótar, Magn. 414, Bs. heilsu-bragð, n. a cure, ek skal sýna þér öruggt h., Fb. i. 439. heilsu-drykkr, m. a potion, draught, Al. 24, 656 B. 12. heilsu-far, n. state of health, Grett. 153. heilsu-gjafari, a, m. a healer, eccl. heilsu-gjöf, f. a ‘gift of health,’ cure, Fas. iii. 277, Magn. 532: eccl. salvation, Stj. 141. heilsu-góðr, adj. in good health. heilsu-gæði, n. strong health. heilsu-lauss, adj. ‘health-less,’ in bad health. heilsu-leysi, n. bad health. Mar. heilsu-linr, adj. = heilsulítill. heilsu-lítill, adj. in weak health, Sturl. iii. 34. heilsu-orð, n. a word of salvation, (MS.) 656 and 555 heilsu-ráð, n. counsel whereby to recover health, Fms. ii. 229. heilsu-samligr, adj. (-liga, adv.), wholesome, salutary, Bs. heilsu-samr, adj. wholesome, Sks. 96. heilsu-sterkr, adj. strong in health. heilsu-tapan, f. perdition, eccl., K. Á. 76. heilsu-tæpr, adj. in poor health. heilsu-veiki, f. weak health. heilsu-veykr, adj. having weak health.

heilsa, að, [Dan. hilse], to say hail to one, greet one, with dat.; it was an ancient custom for the host to welcome (heilsa) the stranger, as may be seen from the following references :– Osvífr (the guest) kvaddi út Höskuld ok Rút (the master of the house), þeir gengu út báðir ok heilsuðu Osvífi, Nj. 21; hann (the master) gengr út ok heilsar Gísla (dat. the stranger), Gísl. 83; kona ein gékk til hurðar ok heilsar þeim ok spyrr þá at nafni, Fbr. 44 new Ed.; Þorsteinn gékk þegar til búðar Þorkels, en hann (Thorkel) heilsar honum vel ok spyrr hvat hann árnar, Lv. 33; Ólafr gengr inn á gólfit … en enginn heilsar honum ok þögðu allir, Háv. 39; in case the host was a great personage (a king, earl, or the like), the stranger used in token of honour or homage to walk up to him and greet him, ‘sit hail!’ ok er hann kom inn, heilsaði hann konungi, konungr tók kveðju hans, Eg. 63; jarlinn (the guest) gékk fyrir hann (the host in his high-seat) ok heilsaði honum, Ó. H. 66; Haukr heilsaði konungi, Fb. i. 47: h. á en, id.; Ásgrímr (the guest) gékk at honum ok heilsaði á hann, Nj. 182, Fms. i. 16; ok er hann kemr á fund Knúts konungs, gékk hann fyrir hann ok heilsar upp á konunginn, konungr tók ekki kveðju hans, xi. 264. In mod. usage a coming guest is said ‘heilsa,’ a parting guest ‘kveðja,’ q.v.

FROM: A CONCISE DICTIONARY OF OLD ICELANDIC (OI and Old Norwegian being WEST ON and Old Danish being EAST ON)
heilsa (að), v. to say hail to one, greet one (= biðja e-n heilan vera), with dat. h. á. e-n = h. e-m.
heilsa, f. (1) health; (2) restoration to health (hann var feginn heilsu sinni); (3) salvation.
heilsan, f. salutation, greeting.


heill, a. (1) hale, sound; illa h., in ill health; hann sagði at þar var vel heilt, he said they were all well there; kona eigi heil, enceinte; grœða e-n at heilu, to heal one fully; (2) whole, healed, in respect of wounds or illness, with gen. (verða h. sára sinna); er um heilt bezt at binda, it is better to bind a hale than a hurt limb; (3) blessed, happy; njótið heilir handa, ‘bless your hands’, well done; kom heill! welcome, hail! far h., farewell! (4) whole, entire; h. hleifr, a whole loaf; sjau hundruð heil, full seven hundred; (5) true, upright; ráða e-m heilt, to give one a wholesome (good) advice; af heilum hug, af heilu, sincerely; heilt ráð, wholesome advice; heil kenning, a useful, profitable lesson.


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