The story of the word 'bluetooth' by English with Stephen

Bluetooth: An origins story

Below, you will find the transcript for the episode.

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Hello and welcome to Learning English with Stephen. My name is Stephen Greene and I am your host.

This podcast is all about different ways to learn English. In the last episode, we looked at why vocabulary is more important than grammar. This episode is the first in a series that will look at the history or words.

My idea here is that some words have great stories. Humans love stories. From young children to old grandparents, we love listening, reading and watching stories. Books, soap operas and movies are all part of the essential human experience of telling stories.

I also think we learn a lot by listening to stories. I use stories a lot with my students. They learn from the story, but the stories are also hopefully interesting to make people want to come back for more.

So that is what I want to do with this series of podcasts, tell stories about words.

And so let’s start with our first story.

The chances are pretty good that you are listening to this episode of Learning English with Stephen using Bluetooth. Maybe you have connected your phone to your car, or maybe your computer is linked to an external speaker, if so, you are probably using a Bluetooth connection.

The original program was developed in the late 1980s at the Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson. It was designed to let computers communicate with headsets wirelessly.

Then, in 1997, a man called Jim Kardach was working for Intel who wanted a program that could bring together computers and mobile phones. While Jim Kardach was working on this project he was also reading a book by Frans G. Bengtsson called ‘The Long Ships’. This book is about the political system in Europe at the end of the 10th century when the Viking culture was at its height. One of the most important people in the book is King Harald Gormsson.

King Harald Gormsson’s nickname was Bluetooth. It seems that ‘blue’ or ‘blat’ in the language of the Vikings, could mean either ‘blue’ or more generally just ‘dark. It is probable, then, that King Buetooth had some very unhealthy and black teeth. But why would a computer engineer choose this name for a new program designed to bring together computers and mobile phones?

Well, King Bluetooth is best remembered for being the first king to unite the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway in the 10th century. This means he was able to bring two different peoples together to get them to talk to each other, which is exactly the metaphor that the engineers were looking for.

The logo for the modern Bluetooth technology is a mix of two different runes. Runes were the ancient letters that the Vikings used. The design uses the equivalent of the Viking ‘H’ for Harald with the Viking ‘B’ for Bluetooth. If you go to my website, englishwithstephen.org, I have posted images so you can see how the symbols are brought together to form the logo.

Source: medievalarchives.com

Unfortunately for King Harald, the Bluetooth technology seems to have been more successful than the king it was named after as he only managed to reign over his united kingdom for a few years before his son deposed him.

It does mean, though, that when you are listening to something in your car or on your super modern wireless headphones by Bluetooth, you are actually remembering a Viking king from over 1, 000 years ago who had very bad teeth.

I want to hear from you. Are there any words that you are interested in that you would like me to investigate their histories? Leave me a message and I will try to find an interesting story for you. Or perhaps you know the origin of a word. Let me know because I love discovering where word came from.

You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube at Learning English with Stephen. I also have a website called EnglishwithStephen.com At the site you can find other posts, interesting links and images like the one for today associated with the Bluetooth runes. Make sure you have a look and let me know what you think about the page.

By the way, I know that I used the word ‘Viking’ a lot in this podcast, a dI will probably use it again in the future because a lot of English vocabulary is influenced by the Vikings. I also know that the word ‘Viking’ is probably not the best word. Historians like to use the words ‘Norse’ or be more specific and say ‘Danes’, ‘Swedes’, or ‘Norwegians’. However, most people know and feel they understand the word ‘Viking’ so I am sticking with that. After all, this is a podcast about learning English, not history.

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12 comments

  1. I have just listened to this amazing podcast. It does not matter the English level you have. The stories are fascinating and your unique way of telling them grabs our attention from the beginning to the end. I love British accent so that I have travelled in time and space through you story telling. Many thanks!

  2. Good job, Stephen! Interesting, not long, amusing…I will definitely share with my students and friends! 🤩

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