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Norwegian word of the day: Gift

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

Today’s Norwegian word of the day is a false friend, and it has two very different meanings.

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What is gift

Gift is a “false friend”. This is a word that looks like it could be the same as in another language but has a completely different meaning. 

So gift in Norwegian isn’t present, instead, it means both ‘married’ (when used as an adjective) and ‘posion’ (when used as a noun). 

While the connection might seem strange (insert eye-rolling comment about the pain of being married), the word’s origins make quite a lot of sense. 

Both forms of gift have their roots in the Old Norse word gipt, which meant ‘something given’. Over the years, the meaning changed very little in English, which is where the word ‘gift’ comes from, but in the Nordic languages, the word developed into giva, which became closely associated with marriage.

Long before the advent of the modern marriage in which both parties are equal, fathers would literally ‘give away’ their daughters for marriage. 

Medgift is the Norwegian word for dowry, and gift came to be used as the adjective meaning married (literally, ‘given’), but today, there is no negative or sexist connotation, and it describes married men as well as women.

If you are married, you would say “jeg er gift” regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. 

Why do I need to know gift

We’ve already explained briefly what a false friend is. The Norwegian word gift is a step beyond that. This is because it has two distinct meanings, neither of which is the same as ‘gift’ in English. 

In Germany, the word went on a very different etymological journey. Several centuries ago, gift was used to mean ’a present’, but over the years, the meaning changed until it became used solely as a euphemism for poison somewhere around the year 800.

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At some later point, the Nordic language borrowed the noun gift (poison) back from German.

To avoid confusion, it helps to learn the related words to each use of gift.

The verb ‘to marry’ is å gifte seg (reflexive) or å bli gift, while the noun (marriage) is et ekteskap.

In the sense of ‘poison’, the adjective ‘poisonous’ is giftig and the verb ‘to poison (someone)’ is at forgifte (noen). Sports fans might also have heard the word giftig used to describe a footballer who is particularly dangerous in front of goal.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian word for a gift (present) is the distinct but related en gave.

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