Tuesday 17 July 2007

Phrase of the Day 119: 'go berserk''

"to go berserk"

definition: to behave in a frenzied and violent manner.

example: "My girlfriend went berserk when I told her I was having an affair"

origin: this term has something in common with 'run amok'. The two phrases, as well as sounding rather similar, mean virtually the same thing. Their sources though could hardly be further apart. 'Run amok' derives from the Far East, whereas 'go berserk' is of Viking (Norse) origin. In that tradition a 'Berserker' was a warrior of great strength and courage, who fought with wild ferocity. The word is believed to be derived from 'bear sark', i.e. bear coat. That berserker fighting tradition, in which the warriors took on the spirit (or even in their belief, the shape) of bears whilst foaming at the mouth and gnawing the edges of their shields, is the source of the Vikings' fierce reputation. It dates back to the first millennium but had died out by the 1100s and thereafter the word berserker didn't feature widely in the English language until the 19th century. There is a rival, but less widely accepted, version of the derivation. In this the Vikings were supposed to show their bravery by going into battle with their sark jackets open, i.e. 'bare-sark'.

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