Loanword fjord is one of few in English with rare consonant combo

Words about words


Photo: Paul Edmundson / Fjord Norge
The view from Preikestolen, one of Norway’s most famous, is of Lysefjord.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Fjord is a loanword in English, from the Old Norse fjorðr, which means “lake-like body of water used for ferrying and passage.” That word has an English connection. Like the English word ford and the Scottish firth, the Old Norse word comes from the Germanic férþu, derived from the Indo-European prefix pertu, meaning “crossing place.”

The word fjord was first mentioned in print in English in 1674, in the translation from the original Latin of Opera Lapponia by University of Uppsala (Sweden) scholar and professor Johannes Schefferus (1621-1679), who in the same book also brought pulk, the word for the runner-less sledge used by the nomadic reindeer-herding Sámi, into European languages.

Geologically, a fjord is a narrow, long inlet from the sea, created by glacial erosion. That said, the word fjord is applied to many bodies of water that do not meet that geological definition. In Denmark, some shallow lagoons are named fjord, though they are topographically more like the Scottish loch.

Likewise, the Limfjord in Denmark is actually a sound, because it separates an island from the rest of Jutland. The Ringkøbing Fjord on the west coast of Jutland is actually a lagoon. The bodies of water called fjord on the Baltic Sea coast of Denmark were gouged out by ice moving from sea to land, not from land to sea as in the geological definition of a fjord.

Definitions aside, the word fjord is distinctive in English by being one of only two words to start with the two-letter sequence fj. The other is fjeld, also from Norwegian, from Old Norse fiall, meaning an elevated rocky plateau with almost no vegetation.

Originally published in Norwegian on the Clue dictionaries blog at

M. Michael Brady was educated as a scientist and, with time, turned to writing and translating.

This article originally appeared in the October 5, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.