Americas and the Caribbean
Steve Taylore-Knowles looks at the stories behind the English language.
King Canute (or Cnut), the Viking who ruled England from 1017 to 1035, is remembered in popular consciousness, if at all, for standing on the beach and futilely commanding the tide to turn. While it’s often mistakenly seen as a ridiculous act of royal hubris, in fact Canute was specifically making the point that the powers of an earthly king have limits.
Canute’s grandfather was Harald I of Denmark, son of Gorm the Old. Harald ruled Denmark from 958 to 986 and is credited with doing two things. The first is converting Denmark to Christianity. His father was apparently a die-hard worshipper of the Norse god, Odin (or Woden as he was known in the Anglo-Saxon world and whose name is immortalised in Wednesday, from Old English Wodnes daeg, ‘Woden’s Day’). After Gorm’s death, Harald converted and encouraged the spread of Christianity.
Harald’s other achievement was that he (briefly) ruled over the whole of Denmark and Norway. Following the assassination of Harald Greyhide of Norway, Haarkon Sigurdsson, the son of a rival whom Greyhide had had killed, took over with the support of Harald of Denmark, with Harald as king and Haarkon as vassal, ruling on Harald’s behalf.
So what about Bluetooth? Harald’s nickname was Harald Bluetooth (Haraldr blatonn in Old Norse). It’s not entirely clear why, but it could refer to his actually having a blue (or dark) tooth, perhaps as a result of an accident. What’s all that got to do with mobile phones? (If you got to this point and didn’t realise that Bluetooth had a connection with mobile phones, consider calling somebody aged 12-16 to explain it to you.) The Bluetooth standard defines a system for connecting devices over short ranges using certain radio frequencies. It’s used in PDAs, laptops and mobile phones. It was developed by a group of companies who adopted the codename Bluetooth, since the technology enables many different devices to work together, just as Harald Bluetooth united many warring factions in Denmark and Norway. The strange Bluetooth symbol actually consists of runes representing Harald Bluetooth’s initials.