For members


Swedish word of the day: idrott

When Scandinavism took on sports.

Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Idrott means “sports” even though the word sport exists in Swedish. Idrott has been around since 1850, and comes from the Icelandic íþrótt, which again means “sport”. 

The Icelandic íþrótt originated in the Old Norse íþrótt (“art, craft, skill, sport”) which is itself a compound of (“work, diligence, id”) and þrótr (“bravery, strength, powers”). This can also be found in the Old Swedish iþræt (“occupation, craft”).

So why not just sport? Well, simply put, sport is not Scandinavian in origin. The English word “sport” comes from the Old French desport, deport which meant “game, amusement” – think of the games in Olympic Games. Íþrótt was instead borrowed from Icelandic as a more Nordic alternative to the English-French sport during the heyday of a movement called Nordism, which stemmed from Scandinavism, also known as Scandinavianism or pan-Scandinavianism. 

So what is Scandinavism? Long story short it is the idea that the Scandinavian countries should be closer, perhaps even one country. The movement is primarily literary, linguistic and cultural, promoting a shared Scandinavian cultural heritage, with a common Scandinavian mythology and a common language, but perhaps not a new common language.

Important to note here is that Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are mutually intelligible (although any Swede spending a weekend trying to talk to Danes in Copenhagen may disagree with that assessment), with some linguists going as far as to say they are a language continuum, or in other words, dialects of the same language. Does it have a name? Yes, the North Germanic Dialect Continuum. Icelandic and Faroese are different enough to be regarded as separate languages, but they should perhaps also be included as belonging in terms of culture.

So how far did the Scandinavism movement go? The movement was started by Danish and Swedish university students in the 1840s, in the southern Swedish region of Skåne, and parallelled the unifications happening in Italy and Germany during the same period.

Though initially looked upon with suspicion by the monarchies, the movement became influential from 1846 to 1864. Its final collapse came in 1864 during the Second Schleswig-Holstein War when King Karl XV of Sweden, who was also King Karl IV of Norway, in spite of being a champion of Scandinavism, failed to help the Danes in the war against the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Empire.

The primary influence of Scandinavism was the formation of periodicals and societies promoting Scandinavian literature and languages. One of the more famous proponents was Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, known for his fairytales, among them The Little Mermaid, a famous statue of which can be found in Copenhagen. 

Why not hop on down to Kungliga Biblioteket, The Royal Library, to see if you can have a look at some periodicals from the Scandinavism movement. The Royal Library is tasked with preserving copies of most printed works in Swedish. 

And make sure to join an idrottssällskap or idrottsklubb for some exercise. Those two words, by the way, are the IS or IK that you can find in the names of many football clubs and other sports clubs. 

Example sentences:

Nu ska jag ner till klubben! Vad för klubb? Idrottsklubben älskling.

I’m going down to the club now! What club? The sports club darling.

Ska du med och idrotta i helgen?

Wanna tag along to do some sport this weekend?

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is 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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For members


​​Swedish word of the day: riksdag

When you meet for a diet in the realm.

​​Swedish word of the day: riksdag

Riksdagen is the Swedish parliament, you will find its cognates in the old Danish term for their parliament, rigsdagen, although they now use the term folketing, and in German, the Reichstag

Riks– is from rike, which means ‘realm’ or in other words ‘kingdom’ as in kungarike. Svensk ordbok, the Swedish dictionary published by the Swedish Academy, tells us that rike is attested as far back as the 11th century on rune stones, that it is of Celtic origin, and that it is related to rik, the Swedish word for ‘rich’. It is believed to be of the same origin as rex in Latin, meaning king. Which should make kungarike a pleonasm, a redundancy, though hardly anyone will know that rike has this origin.

For comparison, ‘realm’ in English is from the Old French reaume, which in modern French is royaume, meaning ‘kingdom’. This is also from roy meaning ‘king’ which ultimately derives from the Latin rex, also meaning ‘king’. The kicker here is that Old Celtic languages and Latin were fairly closely related, some argue this is the reason they were easily replaced by Latin when the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic-speaking peoples. 

The -dag part of riksdag means ‘day’, but there is more to this word in this context, meaning an ‘appointed day’ or ‘gathering’. In English you can find a similar word in ’diet’. Howso, you ask? 

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Well, ‘diet’ goes back through Old French to the Latin diaeta, which could mean ‘a public assembly’, ‘a set day of trial’ or ‘a day’s journey’. That in turn derived from the Ancient Greek δῐ́αιτα meaning ‘way of living’ or ‘living space’ or ‘decision/judgement’. Which somehow was influenced by the Latin diēs, meaning ‘day’ – things get complicated at times in etymology it seems. Going to the riksdag then is going to the ‘diet of the realm’.

The word riksdag is borrowed from the German Reichstag, though the traditional Germanic term for these meetings or governing assemblies was a ting (as in the Danish folketing, mentioned above). We also touched on this in our möte word of the day article.

Sveriges riksdag, as you may well know, is the legislature and supreme decision-making body of the Kingdom of Sweden. You can visit the riksdag at Riksdagshuset on Helgeandsholmen in Stockholm, where you can watch debates or attend a guided tour. 

So, next time your friend tells you about their new diet, you can tell them all about the etymology of the name of the Swedish parliament. Have a good weekend!

Example sentences:

Vet du varför man har ordet ‘dag’ i riksdag?

Do you know why they use the word ‘dag’ in ‘riksdag’?

Vill du följa med mig till riksdagen?

Do you wanna tag along to the Swedish parliament? 

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.