Printable Version
Pronunciation: bÍr-zÍrk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Frenzied, wild, out of control, acting in a crazy, reckless manner.

Notes: As the Word History below suggests, berserk is about serious lapses in acceptable behavior. Reserve it for noteworthy temper tantrums and don't apply it to peevish behavior. Someone who goes berserk may be called a berserker, though some prefer to use the adjective itself as a noun: a berserk.

In Play: This is a fairly common household word already: "A good way to send Naomi berserk is to offer parenting advice when her two brats are screaming." However, sports seem to bring on this state more than other human activities, "I would tell Dad what caused his golf clubs to slide into the pond, but he might go berserk and hit me with the one that is left."

Word History: This word comes from the name of an Old Norse warrior, a berserkr, a compound made up of some ancestor of bjørn "bear" (possibly bera, though we are not certain) + serkr "shirt." The berserkrs wore bearskin hides and went into battle screaming, foaming at the mouth, and gnawing at their shields (not unlike Mel Gibson in Braveheart). This word is Old Norse, suggesting that it might have entered English with the Viking invasions beginning in the late 700s. However, it doesn't appear in print until the early 19th century, introduced in a story by Sir Walter Scott. (Lest Rob Towart go berserk at the snub, we now thank him for the suggestion of today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!