|White snow and red blood, eh? Who'd have thought?|
Noun & adjective. Also (archaic) baresark, bersark; (chiefly as noun) berserker, -kar. Early 19th century.
[Old Norse berserkr, accusative berserk (Icelandic berserkur), probably from birn-, bjorn BEAR noun + serkr coat, SARK noun, but also explained as from BARE adjective.]
A noun. A wild Norse warriour who fought with frenzied fury. E19
B adjective. Wild, frenzied. Especially in go berserk. M19
I was really hoping to find a historically accurate depiction of a Norse berserker to lead this post but, alas, after way too much time spent searching, I couldn't. Being something of a cliché, I found plenty of pictures, of course: vampire berserkers, demon berserkers, berserkers with bionic arms, berserkers carrying swords the size of trucks, even hamster berserkers. You'll have to settle with this, however: the cover of William Meikle's book Berserker. No, I've never heard of him (or it) either, but it has good reviews on Amazon so if it floats your longboat you should have a squizz.
As for the word berserk, well it's just rather interesting, isn't it? Rather like the word amok, we use it a lot without giving much thought to the historical depth that lies behind it. Personally, I find it rather pleasing to think that an adjective derived from frenzied, bloodthirsty, possibly drug-addled Norse warriors can now be applied to Cindy, the receptionist that got drunk at the office Christmas party, overturned a table of drinks and accused Malinda from accounting of sleeping with her husband. That's rather cool.
Have you gone beserk recently? Is the berserker your favoured character class when playing Dungeons & Dragons? Have you, like me, struggled in vain to find accurate artwork depicting berserkers (apparently they're not ideal portrait models)? Do please comment below.