Norwegian loanwords: ombudsman

Photo: Enricokamasa / Wikimedia Georgetown University Ombuds Office sign.

Photo: Enricokamasa / Wikimedia
Georgetown University Ombuds Office sign.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Ombudsman is a loanword from the Scandinavian languages, in which it is one of the oldest designations of an official position, spelled umboðsmanðr in Old Norse. It first appeared in print in English in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica as the title of the financial controller in the Swedish Riksdag (“Parliament”); at the time there were similar posts in the Norwegian and Danish legislatures.

An ombudsman is an official appointed to investigate complaints made by the citizenry against the authorities. In Scandinavia, an ombudsman also may be a deputy of a group, such as a trade union, appointed to handle its legal affairs. In Norway, there now are five ombudsmen at the national level:
• Barneombudet (“Ombudsman for Children”)
• Forbrukerombudet (“Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman”)
• Likestillings- og diskriminerings­ombudet (“Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud”)
• Ombudsmannen for Forsvaret (“Parliamentary Ombudsman for the Norwegian Armed Forces”)
• Sivilombudsman (“Parliamentary Ombudsman for Public Administration”)

Regional and local authorities also have ombudsmen.

In the U.S., there are ombudsman offices in six federal-level entities: the Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and the United States Navy. There also are ombudsmen at the state level in at least five states and as well as in the administrations of many cities, counties, and educational institutions.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 13, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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