This was originally published in my work Slack on 2016-10-06, but I’ve since been convinced that more people than just those few who can even read it there might be interested. I’ve edited it for clarity and correctness. I’m going to migrate all my Linguistics Minutes over to my blog and probably post future ones here.
In the north of France is the region of Normandy, so called because it was “settled” by the Normans or the North Men. They were Scandinavians who habitually raided the southern coast of the North Sea and then sort of decided to not go home one time.
They were led by a man named Rolf the Ganger. So, ganger is a weird word, right? It’s related to more familiar words, though: gang, gangly and gangplank, for instance. The word gang used to be a verb about walking. A gang is a group of people who walk together. Someone who is gangly has long legs, good for walking. And, well, you “walk the plank”, which explains gangplank.
Rolf was called “the Ganger” because he was allegedly so tall he couldn’t ride a horse without his feet dragging on the ground so that he walked everywhere. A seriously big dude.
There is a legend that after Rolf had settled his folks down in what is now Normandy, some French king (I’m not sure which one, since France wasn’t actually a unified kingdom yet, but this would have probably been some Frankish king ruling a population of mostly culturally Roman folks) wanted to make sure to enforce his power over the region.
So he rides up with all his armed dudes and was like, “Hi and welcome to my kingdom. It’s cool if you live here and you can run the place and whatever,” because he wasn’t willing or able to expend the military effort to kick the Normans out, “You just have to swear fealty to me, then we’re good.”
And Rolf was like, “So… what’s that entail, then?”
“Just kiss my foot,” the king said.
So Rolf bends down, grabs the king by the ankle, lifts him upside down and kisses his foot.
I am certain this story is only some small percentage true. But the image it paints is too enjoyable not to share. Rolf’s descendant (son or grandson or something; I can’t remember) was the Norman king that led the invasion of Britain in 1066 that wreaked havoc with all our vowels and introduced most of the huge number of Latin-derivative words we have in English today. So thanks for that, too, Rolf.
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