Swedish word of the day: bärsärkagång

Alex Rodallec
Alex Rodallec - [email protected]
Swedish word of the day: bärsärkagång
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today’s word is the battle style of a legendary Viking warrior.


Bärsärkagång originally meant ‘the walk of a berserker’ or in other words the violent rampage of a berserker during combat. Today it means ‘a violent rampage during a fit of rage’, but it is mostly used to describe a rowdy night on the town or even any loud and disorderly behaviour (not necessarily violent) by anyone at all.

Imagine, for instance, someone that barges into the office and starts moving around furniture without any concern for whoever is working there at the moment. You might accuse them of enacting a bärsärkagång. 


There is much myth surrounding the actual berserkers of the Viking age, and their origin is even older.

Rooted in the old Germanic mythology that predated the Vikings, the bärsärkare was a warrior devoted to Odin/Wotan, the king of gods. A warrior who, according to legend would attack the enemy during battles while roaring in a fit of ecstatic rage, and who was supposedly impervious to enemy attacks.

The interpretation of the Old Norse word berserkr is either ‘bear shirt’ or ‘bare of shirt’, that is, wearing no shirt. There are depictions of berserkers both naked and with bear pelts and chain mail. 

Whatever they actually wore in battle, they are often described as large men wearing a bear’s pelt or even as actual bears in some instances – berserkers were also thought to be shapeshifters. And then there were the ulfheðnar, the wolf’s coats, who, you guessed it, wore wolf pelts. 

The stories surrounding berserkers are many. It is said they induced their state with fly agaric mushrooms or alcohol, but the symptoms of frothing at the mouth, biting one’s shield, and flying into a fit or rage are more consistent with the use of henbane, another poisonous plant.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or even epilepsy and other mental illnesses have also been put forward as potential explanations for the legendary warlike state of the berserkers.


There are also many tales of them plaguing the population, but fortunately for those living in Scandinavia today these warriors are no longer around. Now we can have a laugh at what used to be something incredibly violent and bloody.

If you are ever out on the town with your friends and you have caused a bit of a mayhem, preferably without injuring anyone or destroying public or private property, but perhaps being rowdy and too loud, partaking of a bit too much of the sacrament – then you can say that you gick bärsärkagång (‘went berserking’) on the town.

Best of luck, and stay safe!

Example sentences:

Vi var ute på stan igår och gick bärsärkagång.

We had a hell of a night out on the town yesterday.

Visste du att bärsärkargång finns på engelska? Berserk.

Did you know that ‘bärsärkargång’ exists in English? Berserk. 

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.


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