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Danish word of the day: Nytårsforsæt

It’s a word to remember all year round.

What is nytårsforsæt? 

Nytår is “New Year” (from ny, “new”, and år, “year”).

Forsæt is a word that is most common in legal terminology, where it means “intent”. So a forsætlig lovovertrædelse (“intentional offence”) is one that was committed on purpose and can therefore be given a harsher punishment.

In the context of nytårsforsæt, the forsæt is an intention or decision to do something you haven’t been doing up to that point. The normal word for “decision” in spoken Danish is beslutning.

This means that nytårsforsæt is a New Year’s resolution: a decision made at the turn of the year to do something new or differently from now on.

Like New Year’s resolutions anywhere else, a nytårsforsæt could be an act: eat more healthily, exercise more, read more books; or a way of thinking: don’t stress about the small things, live for the moment, be more patient.

Why do I need to know nytårsforsæt?

It’s the time of year when many New Year’s resolutions are being made (and possibly also broken), so you might have heard the term already.

However, it is sometimes replaced in everyday speech by the incorrect nytårsfortsæt – a word that doesn’t actually exist but, because fortsæt (with a “t”) means “continue”, kind of makes sense in the context of a New Year’s resolution.

If you split the word fortsæt into fort sæt, it can also mean a “fort set”: in other words, a set that can be used to make a fort (think building bricks or Lego).

People keen to point out the incorrect word might comment that their only nytårsfortsæt this year will be made from small plastic bricks, so remember to pronounce your New Year’s resolution without the t.


Mit nytårsforsæt er at være bedre til at tilgive folk, når de begår små fejl.

 My New Year’s resolution is to be better at forgiving people when they make small mistakes.

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Danish word of the day: Idræt

A sporty word that doesn’t quite mean “sport”, but does tell us something about shared Scandinavian identity.

Danish word of the day: Idræt

What is idræt?

Idræt means “sports” even though the word sport exists in Danish. 

In modern Danish, you’ll most likely hear it as the name of a school subject (the equivalent of P.E.), but idræt has been around since the nineteenth century and comes from the Icelandic íþrótt, which also means “sport”. 

The Icelandic íþrótt originated in the Old Norse íþrótt (“art, craft, skill, sport”) which is itself a compound of  (“work, diligence, id”) and þrótr (“bravery, strength, powers”).

So why not just sport? Well, simply put, sport is not Scandinavian in origin. The English word “sport” comes from the Old French desportdeport which meant “game, amusement” – think of the games in Olympic Games. 

Íþrótt was instead borrowed from Icelandic as a more Nordic alternative to the English-French sport during the heyday of a movement called Nordism, which stemmed from Scandinavism, also known as Scandinavianism or pan-Scandinavianism. 

Why do I need to know idræt?

So what was Scandinavism? In short, it is the idea that the Scandinavian countries should be closer, perhaps even one country. The movement was primarily literary, linguistic and cultural, promoting a shared Scandinavian cultural heritage.

Scandinavism was started by Danish and Swedish university students in the 1840s, in the southern Swedish region of Skåne, and paralleled the unifications happening in Italy and Germany during the same period. It lost its momentum after Denmark lost the Second Schleswig-Holstein War in 1864 and the King of Sweden and Norway declined to help the Danes in the conflict.

The movement also promoted the close relation of the Scandinavian languages, although not necessarily a new common “Scandinavian” language.

It should be noted here that Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are considered mutually intelligible, although any Swede spending a weekend trying to talk to Danes in Copenhagen may disagree with that assessment.

Nevertheless, some linguists go as far as to say the three are a language continuum, or in other words, dialects of the same language: the North Germanic Dialect Continuum.

Icelandic and Faroese are different enough to be regarded as separate languages, but they should perhaps also be included as belonging in terms of culture.