The coining of quisling

Cartoon: Stig Höök / Satirarkivet
“Til audiens hos Hitler” (To audience before Hitler), a caricature of Quisling by Stig Höök.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Quisling is a term that originated in Norway. In the Scandinavian languages and in English, it denotes a person who collaborates with an enemy, and in general it’s a synonym for traitor. It comes from the surname of Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), the Norwegian military officer and politician who headed a domestic collaborationist regime during the occupation of the country by Nazi Germany during World War II.

In Norwegian, Quisling as a term first appeared in print on Jan. 2, 1933, in a newspaper interview with Arbeiderparti (Labor Party) politician Oscar Torp (1893-1958). He meant it to designate a follower of Vidkun Quisling, who then was establishing the Nasjonal Samling (National Unity) fascist party modeled on the German Nazi party. Subsequently, other newspapers adopted the same usage.

After Norway was invaded on April 9, 1940, Quisling gradually became an attributive (a word that assigns an attribute to a subject) and then an adjective. As the war wore on, that became its everyday usage. In January 1944, Stig Höök, the pseudonym of Ragnvald Blix (1882-1958), the Norwegian anti-Nazi caricaturist and cartoonist who had fled the country to take refuge in Sweden, drew what became the most known caricature of Vidkun Quisling. First published in Jan. 26, 1944, edition of Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, a Swedish liberal daily newspaper published in Gothenburg from 1832 to 1973, it depicts Quisling arriving to audience before Hitler. His right arm raised in the Nazi salute, he announces “I’m quisling!” to which the doorman asks: “And your name?”

In English, on April 19, 1940, The Times newspaper of London published an editorial entitled “Quislings everywhere.” It contained the assertion that “To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for a traitor… they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Aurally it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous.” Thereafter, other newspapers picked up the term. Subsequently, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) took the word into international usage.

Coincidentally, in Norwegian, there’s a term with a meaning opposite that of Quisling. It’s Jøssing, a patriot who took part in the successful British naval rescue on Feb. 16, 1940, of prisoners held on a German warship on the Jøssingfjorden in Rogaland County.

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

This article originally appeared in the November 2, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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