Nordic, Scandinavian: What's the Difference?

Slate's Culture Blog
July 10 2009 4:48 PM

Nordic, Scandinavian: What's the Difference?

In his Wednesday Culturebox on Norwegian and Swedish crime lit , Nathaniel Rich used Scandinavian and Nordic interchangeably, spurring an exchange in our reader discussion forum over whether these two terms are, in fact, synonymous. A frayster who goes by the handle "lazygirl" argues that "Nordic [means] Iceland and Finland. Denmark, Norway and Sweden are Scandinavian." Lapskojs disagrees, claiming that Nordic not only refers to Iceland and Finland, but to the aforementioned Scandinavian countries plus the Faroe Islands. Who's right?

Technically, the term Scandinavia refers to a geographical region, the Scandinavian Peninsula, which encompasses Norway, Sweden, and part of Finland. It may also refer to a language group, Continental Scandinavian, that is descended from Old Norse and includes Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. (Technically, Faroese and Icelandic are descended from Old Norse as well, but they belong to a different group called Insular Scandinavian.) Nordic is a cultural term and includes these three countries plus Finland, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. All of these territories were once united under the Kalmar Union of the 14 th century. It dissolved in 1523, but the cultures remained similar with a predominately Lutheran population. They currently participate in the Nordic Council, founded in 1953, and, except for Greeland, still have similar flags featuring the " Nordic cross ."

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Lapskjos is right.