Is to go berserk used by native speakers or is it obsolete?

  • 15
    A Google search for "went beserk" finds newspaper stories as recent as 13 November 2019 "Thug 'went berserk in city centre restaurant, battering people with a heavy gold chain and threatening to shoot them', witness claims" - Manchester Evening News. It is a very commonly used expression. Nov 26, 2019 at 12:31
  • 6
    It's not obsolete (in the US), and is generally understood, but my perception is that it's rarer than it was 50 years ago.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 26, 2019 at 12:43
  • 5
    Check ten Reddit discussions from today completely at random, and in nine of them someone will have used the term.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 26, 2019 at 22:36
  • 3
    @HotLicks NGrams disagrees with you on that trend
    – Kevin
    Nov 27, 2019 at 19:21
  • 5
    Squirrels in a certain coastal town in Mississippi, are prone to 'go berserk', especially in houses of worship.
    – Glen Yates
    Nov 27, 2019 at 19:28

6 Answers 6


NO, it is not an obsolete expression:

go berserk:

(informal) to become very angry and violent.

  • Dad went berserk when he found out.

(Longman Dictionary)

From: Dailysignal.com 15 November 2019:

Why the Left Went Berserk After William Barr’s Notre Dame Speech.

From Mancherstereveningnews.co.uk 19 November 2019

Drunk teenager went berserk after being told she couldn't use restaurant toilet

Google Books shows its usage as been on the increse since it was first introduced in the early 20th century.

A brief history of the term “berserk” from the Grammarist:

In Old Norse writings, berserkers are warriors who fight in a furious, uncontrollable, possibly drug-induced trance that gives them great strength and courage. The word came to English in the early 19th century and was initially used mainly in reference to the warriors, but it was soon shortened to berserk and gained its secondary, now more common meaning: frenetically upset or violent. The adjective is often embedded in the verb phrase go berserk, similar in construction and meaning to phrases such as go crazy and go insane.

Berserk is more closely synonymous with wild and frantic than with crazy and insane, which are broad enough to cover behaviors that are only moderately out of the ordinary. A berserk state is an extreme one, and the berserk person is not easily calmed.


Word of caution

Google is not an academic authority and these results will be very biased towards written English and a more computer-savvy demographic. Nonetheless, it's a really fast way to get some intuition in phrase usage.

Google Trends shows terms found in Google searches which may or may not be indicative of usage in spoken language. It should not be treated as authoritative. Google claims it is measuring "Interest over time" which might be a proxy for usage.

This answers the second part of OP's question:

How to check if a phrase is obsolete?

An easy method to check for the popularity and trends of certain phrases is by using Google Trends. In your case, 'go berserk' shows higher usage until 2006 after which it decreased in usage, except for a large peak in popularity around 2016.

Further nice features of Google Trends are:

  • Comparing different expressions for popularity → find the more common expressions
  • Geographic usage of expressions → This is especially useful for situations of US vs UK English

Small example

This analysis is based on some of the alternatives suggested in the comments. It clearly shows that all suggested alternatives (beast mode and go ham) are more popular, with 'beast mode' being the most popular. By looking at the trend you see that it has probably reached the peak of its popularity and has already started going out of style.

Geographic data shows that 'going ham' is mainly used in the UK, where it is just as popular as 'beast mode'.

  • I don't think that any resource which measures online occurrences can capture a valid cut-off for "obsolescence". Online is barely a generation old.
    – Beanluc
    Nov 27, 2019 at 16:57
  • There's also the question of what sub-group of speakers you're looking at. "Berserk" might be common usage among the better-educated, but replaced by "beast mode" and similar expressions among heavy users of social media.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 27, 2019 at 23:24
  • 1
    @jamesqf What the heck is beast mode, for the love of all that's unholy?
    – tchrist
    Nov 28, 2019 at 1:28
  • 1
    @tchrist: Honestly, I haven't a clue (beyond obvious guesses from context), having never seen the expression before reading the comments and this answer. But then, I have never aspired to hipness :-)
    – jamesqf
    Nov 28, 2019 at 3:55

A Google search for pages with instances of either "go berserk" or "went berserk" returns 1.7 million combined results.

"go berserk" | "went berserk"

enter image description here

It's still very much a valid and current expression.

enter image description here

  • 7
    Considering the story was in the Daily Mail, were the cows Remain voters? Nov 26, 2019 at 20:28
  • "Berserk" certainly appears more in the sort of sensationalist language you get in tabloids than in broadsheets. You'd probably have to look harder for it in, say, the Financial Times! Nov 26, 2019 at 21:53
  • 3
    ft.com/content/5331c60e-8211-11e9-9935-ad75bb96c849 "Months later, this same man’s wife told me that he actually went berserk when he rushed to the magazine stands to find he was off the list." Nov 26, 2019 at 22:10
  • 2
    "berserk" site:dailymail.co.uk = 3,170 results. "berserk" site:ft.com = 171 results. It appears 18.5x more on the Daily Mail than on the FT. Although to be fair, the DM probably churn out more articles too, so this probably isn't as scientific a comparison as I thought! Nov 26, 2019 at 22:26
  • 1
    Google n-grams books.google.com/ngrams/… shows an increasing trend from 1920 to almost the present day.
    – CJ Dennis
    Nov 27, 2019 at 10:49

Word of caution

Google Trends shows terms found in Google searches which may or may not be indicative of usage in spoken language. It should not be treated as authoritative. Google claims it is measuring "Interest over time" which might be a proxy for usage.

A more modern US expression for this is to go postal. Here's the Google Trend comparison with go berserk, showing almost an order of magnitude of difference:

enter image description here

From Wikipedia:

Going postal is an American English slang phrase referring to becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence. The expression derives from a series of incidents from 1986 onward in which United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shot and killed managers, fellow workers, and members of the police or general public.

Indeed, the search terms are not exactly the same as general use. Arguably, some of the searches for "going postal" are there because people have heard an expression which they didn't know. Still, they had to hear about it in the first place, meaning the expression is widely used.

  • 2
    That trend shows how many people searched for it, not how much it is used.
    – CJ Dennis
    Nov 27, 2019 at 10:48
  • 1
    @CJDennis People don't generally search for words which are not used much. Nov 27, 2019 at 11:39
  • 2
    I'd argue they have slightly different connotations. People (or often things) that have "gone berserk" are running around lashing out heedless of the consequences. Someone (almost never things) that has "gone postal", has just flat out had enough of something, and is running around purposely killing everyone it can. They definitely know exactly what they are doing.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 27, 2019 at 14:29
  • 2
    They definitely have different connotations. Going berserk makes me think of uncontrolled aggression, like a bull in a china shop. Going postal is more like the controlled aggression of a particularly disgruntled employee, calmly driving to work with a loaded shotgun on their last day. Nov 27, 2019 at 17:39
  • 5
    @DmitryGrigoryev Search trends do not equal usage. For instance, forsooth has more search results than go berserk, but forsooth is less common in present-day usage. And covfefe dwarfs both of them, even though that's a nonce-misspelling from a notorious Twitter user that is primarily used referentially. Search trends tell us what people look for, not what they use. trends.google.com/trends/… Nov 27, 2019 at 21:50

The word is still in common usage in games and the fantasy roleplaying community. In Dungeons and Dragons it is used to describe the behaviour of Barbarians, which is probably different from its original Viking usage but is likely far closer to the original meaning than most modern uses.

For instance consider the Troll class in World of Warcraft, which you can read more about here enter image description here

  • A MTG Alpha Berserk card is worth about $300. It's been reprinted in at least six editions.
    – Mazura
    Dec 4, 2019 at 1:26

If anything it might be increasing rather than decreasing in usage...

Comparing "to go berserk", "went berserk", "berserker", "viking", and the similar expression "to go postal" in books: Google N-Gram --- I've thrown in "berserk" as well but I'm not satisfied I understand why it's increasing so much; if used in your sense great it makes the point -- if not then the rest still show it's no less popular. Play around with it, use only expressions in the same form (e.g., "to see red/to go berserk/to go postal"; "saw red/went berserk/went postal").

In general I'd say the idea/lore of the "Berserker" is (especially in Geek circles) much more widespread than it was 20-30years ago. Each Viking movie/series inevitably havs them (e.g., https://vikings.fandom.com/wiki/The_Berserker ), many historical or fantasy RPGs have them as class (e.g., https://www.dndbeyond.com/subclasses/path-of-the-berserker ), build&conquer games have them as unit or class (e.g. https://ageofempires.fandom.com/wiki/Berserk or http://classic.battle.net/war3/orc/units/trollberserker.shtml ), ... .

I'd hazard: "going berserk" was often used as an ideomatic expression like 'down to brass tacks' (what are those? what are non-brass ones made of? is it a sailors', or builders', or others' expression? etc) equivalent to "seeing red", now people would picture it more in a Viking context.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.