Norwegian word of the day: Medlidenhet

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
Norwegian word of the day: Medlidenhet
Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

Today's Norwegian word of the day can be used to express the sadness you feel when a loved one – or a complete stranger – is having a hard time.


What is medlidenhet?

Medlidenhet consists of three parts: med, which means 'co-' or 'with'; lide which is the infinitive form of the verb "to suffer", and het, a suffix which turns an adjective into a noun (like -ness in English).

Its closest English equivalent is 'compassion', the act of feeling kind-hearted sympathetic concern or sadness for another person who is suffering or has been affected by some kind of misfortune.

Why do I need to know medlidenhet?  

Today, its meaning is figurative, but in the old Norse languages, it could also literally mean that a person shared an affliction with someone else, or, for example, that a body part was affected by pain elsewhere in the body.

The influence of this can be seen in the modern expression jeg føler med deg, "I'm feeling with you", which indicates that you feel the other person's pain, so strongly that you are even prepared to carry some of it in a philosophical sense.

The use of å føle ("to feel") here is worth noting because it is a component of a similar word, medfølelse, which is a synonym to medlidenhet, but has a milder meaning which is closer to the English' sympathy'.

You could also say it's the direct opposite to skadefryd, the sense of joy taken from another's misfortune, a word which is loaned to many other languages in its German form, Schadenfreude.


Use it like this:

Der var en stor bølge af medlidenhet i den norske befolkning etter at nyheten om naturkatastrofen ble kjent.

There was a wave of compassion throughout the Norwegian public after the news of the natural catastrophe broke.


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