Folk, a much-used word

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Folk is one Norwegian word that needs no translation.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Folk is a much-used word. It appears in all the Germanic languages, though occasionally respelled, as Volk in German. The definition of folk in the electronic version of the complete Oxford English Dictionary is 10 pages long in printout. In Norwegian it’s among the most frequently used words in compounds, in which it’s joined with another noun, usually with the letter e; the Clue Norwegian-English dictionary has 153 compound words beginning with folk plus folklore, a loanword from English.

The history of the word folk starts with its first appearance in Old Norse and Old English. Through the centuries, the spelling and sense of folk are well preserved, which may explain the word’s prevalence today. Among the folk compound words in Norwegian are proper names that reflect the evolution of the society of the country when they entered the language in the 19th and 20th centuries; the following is a selection of the seven most-known ones:

• In 1864, the first Folkehøgskole (folk high school) was established in Norway, modeled after the first such school established in Denmark in 1844.

• In 1882, playwright Henrik Ibsen published En Folkefiende (An Enemy of the People).

• In 1920, Folkeforbundet became the Norwegian translation of League of Nations, the international organization that existed until 1946.

• From 1932 to 1935, the Folketeatret (literally “People’s Theatre”) was built in Oslo, an initiative that aimed to provide theatre for working class people.

• In 1949, the year of first import, Folkevogn became the everyday Norwegian name of the German car brand Volkswagen, itself a compound of the German nouns Volk and Wagen.

• In 1965, Folkeuniversitetet became the official name of non-academic adult education.

• In 1970, Folkeregister (National Register) was set up to provide national registration of all residents.

Along the way, folk compound words came into the language, most reflecting the trends of their times of first use. Perhaps the most recent addition came in 1997: folke­finansering, the Norwegian term for crowd funding, the modern form of alternative financing made possible by the internet.

This article originally appeared in Norwegian on the Clue Dictionaries language blog at

This article originally appeared in the May 19, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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