The Viking and the Red Man

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Fiction over fact
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How it didn't happen
Sherwin did have a way with language―although lacking in talent and patience as a philologist, he would have made a great dadaist poet. I for one absolutely cherish his ability to produce funny-sounding words without meaning.
—Anders Kvernberg[1]

The Viking and the Red Man: The Old Norse Origin of the Algonquin Language[note 1] is an etymological dictionary in eight volumes published between 1940 and 1956 by the Norwegian-American Reider Thorbjorn Sherwin (1894-??) in which he attempts to demonstrate a linguistic connection between Old Norse and Algonquian.[2] The book is essentially a list of Algonquian words, where each word is followed by Sherwin's attempt to derive it from Old Norse. In short, it's an example of pseudolinguistics.

Of ghouls and... fogcomeouts?[edit]

Sherwin's methodology consists of taking an Algonquian word (or multiple cognates of the same word in different Algonquian languages) and finding an Old Norse or Norwegian word or group of words that resembles it, with the latter often having only a tenuous semantic connection to the former. Just look at the entry for the word skudakumootc:

SKUDAKUMOOTC,1 a ghost, apparition (Rand-Clark)
skodda (Norse dialect), noun, fog, heavy haze that covers the earth and obstructs the view
koma (kem, kom, etc.), verb, to come, arrive; koma uut, to get out, come out
1 skodda koma uut, "comes out of the haze”

The problem with this kind of methodology is that it could be used to derive any word from any language. After all, who's to say that skudakumootc isn't really from "ask the dead guy much", or the French est-ce que des gars meurent? ("are some guys dying?") Or, for that matter, that the German word Schadenfreude isn't from the English "shake the friend off"?

In reality, if Algonquian were descended from Old Norse (or if it borrowed words from Old Norse; it's not clear which of these situations Sherwin believes to be the case), then there should be regular sound correspondences between the two languages that could be applied to find the Old Norse equivalents of Algonquian words. But instead of showing that such correspondences exist, Sherwin prefers to merely pile up as many Old Norse or Norwegian words as he can until he gets a result that sounds more or less like whatever Algonquian word he's currently looking at.


Unsurprisingly, The Viking and the Red Man has not been favorably received by academics, with two book reviews in scholarly journals panning it.[3][4]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Despite the name, the book is actually about Algonquian as a whole (which is considered to be a language family, not a single language), not just the Algonquin languageWikipedia.


  1. Book review: The Viking And The Red Man
  2. The Viking and the red man; the Old Norse origin of the Algonquin language, by Reider T. Sherwin HathiTrust.
  3. Siebert, Frank T. "The Viking and the Red Man, the Old Norse Origin of the Algonquin Language by Reider T. Sherwin".
  4. Hollander, Lee M. "The Viking and the Red Man. The Old Norse Origin of the Algonquin Language. By Reider T. Sherwin".