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Berserk

Etymology

Comes from berserk, an alternate form of berserker, which was brought into the language by Sir Walter Scott. He took the word from Old Norse, berserkr, which meant “raging warrior” of superior strength. Mostly likely, the word is comprised of ber - “bear” and sekr - “shirt,” which translates to a warrior dressed in bearskin.

History of the word

The berserkers (berserks) were Norse warriors who fought with a furious, robot-like rigor. When berserkers fought, they wore the pelt of the bear, which looked like a robe. Previously, the word was misunderstood to be berr-, which means “bare,” implying the warriors fought naked. Now, however, this is regarded as false. The berserkers can be found in various Nordic writings, such as sagas and epics, and are often described as warriors who loot villages and kill townspeople. Eventually, they became known as superior fighters in battle, holding the same ranking as that of a royal bodyguard. Literature also describes the berserkers as being immune to blades and embers, but not immune to blunt objects, like hammers. In 1015, berserkers were outlawed from Norway and were sentenced to outlawry. By the 1100s, large groups of berserkers had disbanded and vanished.

Modern Usage of berserk

Today, the word berserker can be used to describe anyone who fights fearlessly and recklessly, without concern for his or her own life. This was introduced conceptually during the Vietnam War. The phrase “going berserk” references an overdose of opioids brought on by an adrenaline rush, which would lead a soldier to fight as such. “Going berserk” is also used to describe someone who is in a completely irrational, emotional state of mind, and cannot (or does not) control his or her actions. Berserk is still used today in literature, movies, television, and video games.