Norwegian words in English: Ski

Photo: Lawaschgiri / Wikimedia Commons To this day, the Norwegian word for a rail fence is “skigard.”

Photo: Lawaschgiri / Wikimedia Commons
To this day, the Norwegian word for a rail fence is “skigard.”

M. Michael Brady
The Foreigner

The word ski apparently always has been in Norwegian. The Old Norse spelling was skið, which means “cleft wood,” from the indoeuropean skeit, meaning “something cut.”

The first use of the word was to designate a long, thin piece of split wood. To this day, the traditional Norwegian rail fence is called a skigard.

There’s no record of when the word was applied to the long, slender pieces of wood fastened underfoot to walk on snow. A petroglyph on the island of Rødøy in Nordland County depicts a person on skis. It dates from ca. 2000 BC, which suggests that skis for winter transportation predate Norwegian history.

That said, the Vikings are known to have skied, and there are two skiing deities in Nordic mythology, Ullr the ski god, and Skade the ski goddess.

The first written record of the word ski in English was in Pontoppidan’s Natural History of Norway in the Monthly Review of Literary Journal by Several Hands, Vol. XII, 1755, published in London.

Curiously, ski became the verb to ski and the noun skier in English. Not so in Norwegian. The verb for moving about in terrain on skis is å gå på ski, literally “walk on skis,” and a person skiing is said to be en skiløper, literally “a ski runner.”

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit

It also appeared in the Nov. 21, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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