Norwegian word of the day: Idrett

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

A sporty word that doesn’t quite mean “sport” but does tell us something about shared Scandinavian identity.


Idrett means “sports”, even though the word sport exists in Norwegian. In modern Norwegian, sports clubs will typically have idrettsklubb in their name. Idrett has been around since the nineteenth century and comes from the Icelandic íþrótt, which also 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”).

What separates sport from idrett is that idrett requires some kind of strength or physical exertion. Meanwhile, a sport can be considered any game. For example, darts would fall under the sports category, while cross-country skiing would be considered a sport or idrett. 

What makes this interesting is that in English, many would say that darts is a “game” and not a sport. 

The English word “sport” is English in origin and not Scandinavian in origin. Sport comes from the Old French desport, meaning “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. 

Why do I need to know idrett

Scandinavianism is the idea that the Scandinavian countries should be closer, or perhaps even one country. The movement was primarily literary, linguistic and cultural, promoting a shared Scandinavian cultural heritage. 

Norway itself had been in union with either Sweden or Denmark for centuries. Scandinavism was started by Danish and Swedish university students in the 1840s in the southern Swedish region of Skåne and paralleled the unifications happening in Italy and Germany during the same period. 

After Denmark lost the Second Schleswig-Holstein War in 1864 and the King of Sweden and Norway declined to help the Danes in the conflict, the movement lost its traction. 


The movement also promoted the close relation of the Scandinavian languages, although not necessarily a new common “Scandinavian” language.

Around this time, there were movements in Norway to make the language more unique to Norway and less Danish. This can perhaps be seen as a direct pushback to Scandinavianism. 

Two separate movements to make the Norwegian language “more Norwegian” resulted in the formation of both Landsmål and Riksmål in the mid-1800sLandsmål would become known as Nynorsk, and Riksmål would become the dominant form of Norwegian today, Bokmål

Both Nynorsk and Bokmål are recognised as official languages in Norway today. 

Despite the shift away from Danish, the languages of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian can still be considered mutually intelligible. 


Although Danes and Swedes can sometimes struggle to understand one another. Norwegian can often be seen as a bridge between Danish and Swedish. 

Still, some linguists go as far as to say the three are a language continuum, or in other words, dialects of the same language: 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.


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