Cast: Old Norse origin, durable meaning

Words about words


Photo: Alex Maryna / Shutterstock
A Viking warrior re-enactor casts a spear.

Asker, Norway

The word cast comes from the Old Norse word kasta, a verb which means “throw” or “cast.” The meaning of kasta is durable, as it has survived unchanged in modern Icelandic and Swedish and with a change of the terminal vowel to kaste in Danish and Norwegian. 

It first appeared in English in the year 1230 in the Hali Meidenhad (literally “Holy Maidenhood”), an alliterative homily of the 13th century, extant in two manuscripts, one in the British Library in London and one in the Oxford University Bodleian Library.

In Middle English, the word “cast” in the sense of “throw” became archaic, and in everyday usage was superseded by it. Today there are 83 denotations of “cast” in the definitive 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED), arranged by principal meaning in 13 groups: 1) To throw; 2) To throw down, defeat, convict, defeat; 3) To be rid of, throw off, to shed, to discard; 4) To dig or throw up earth with a shovel; 5) To put or place by force, as into prison, or into a state of rage; 6) To calculate, forecast, reckon; 7) To turn in mind, devise, contrive; 8) To arrange the parts in a drama; 9) To shape an object by pouring fluid or molten metal, plaster, etc., into a mold and letting it harden; 10) To turn, twist, warp, or veer; 11) To plaster;  12) Specific phrases, such as in hunting and hawking; 13) Adverbial combinations.

The word “cast” also appears in compounds with specific meanings. For instance, a castaway is a shipwrecked or outcast person or anything adrift or discarded. 


Photo: Stefano Gauru / Shutterstock
“Madonna of Castaways” under the waters off Capo Carbonara in Villasimius, Italy.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 29, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.