See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
It may seem a bit silly, but this is actually a topic that every now and then causes rather heated discussions in s.c.n. So I'm going to be pretty thorough here. 2.1.1 Background The Roman historian Pliny the Elder mentions in 67 CE an island called "Scadinauia" in the sea at the edge of the world, north of Germania. This, as it dawned much later to the civilized world, was in fact no island but the southern tip of Sweden, the province of Scania (Skåne). The name is thought to be related to the word "skada", or "damage" that could be done to ships by the sand reefs outside southwestern Sweden. The "-avia" ending, on the other hand, probably comes from a word meaning "island", cf. contemporary Norwegian "øya". Thus the original definition of the word "Scandinavia" was purely geographical: it referred to the Scandinavian peninsula -- contemporary Sweden and Norway. Later, as people became more conscious of their culture, formed political unions, colonized previously uninhabited areas and conquered the land of their neighbours, the definition of the word started to stretch. "Scandinavia" became more a political and cultural concept than a geographic one. And since cultural boundaries tend to be less clearly definable than geographic ones, and political boundaries on the other hand move around quite a bit, the current use of the word is a bit of a mess. 2.1.2 What is "Nordic"? Another term used of the countries covered by this FAQ is, of course, "Nordic countries", coming originally from French ("Pays Nordiques"). It was at first used of "northern" (European) countries in general, but with the common political, economic and cultural development of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland, the term has in English widely become established as referring exclusively to said five countries (still, not everyone agrees; you may, for instance, find Canadians who are under the misconception that *they* are Nordic :-> . Some examples from dictionaries: [Webster's Third New International Dictionary] NORDIC 4. of or relating to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland. [Oxford Reference Dictionary] NORDIC 2. of Scandinavia, Finland or Iceland. In the Nordic languages, one has the term NORDEN ("Pohjola" or "Pohjoismaat" in Finnish) which is commonly used of the five Nordic countries which since 1956 cooperate in the Nordic Council. Some have tried to implant this term into English, but without much success so far. It does, however, occur every now and then in this newsgroup. In addition, it should be noted that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Latvia and especially Estonia have expressed a wish for extensive co-operation with the Nordic countries, emphasizing their many historical and cultural ties with Norden. If the Nordic Council manages to justify its existence even as Finland and Sweden have joined the EU (some politicians in the Nordic countries have questioned the importance of the NC in the current political situation), we may yet see Estonia and Latvia joining. The "Nordic race" is a topic which now and then get brought to the groups attention. Mostly by people living abroad. Usually the Nordic participants in the discussion produce disappointment on the other side, by stating that we consider the typical nordic look as un-exotic and un-sexy. Arne Kolstad writes: This is confusing, but nevertheless: While "Nordic" means somewhere a bit North; I think it is mostly understood as a (recently) politically defined collection of countries, including Scandinavia, Iceland and Finland. At least that is how it is understood in these countries. As a linguistic unity, Norden hangs well apart. In general, however, we dislike each other enough to form an active neighbourhood. Cultural relationships with other regions - Westwards for the Germanic, Eastwards for the Fennic - are interesting. If there is a political process with the outcome of defining them as Nordic (like the one some Balts are trying to establish), then so be it. I can't see, though, that poor old Scotland stands a chance as long as the evil empire rules. 2.1.3 What is "Scandinavia"? The word "Scandinavia" presents a bit more difficulty. In Nordic languages, the meaning is quite clear: Skandinavien: Sweden, Denmark, Norway (and sometimes Iceland) -- the ancient lands of the Norsemen. The Scandinavian peninsula, on the other hand, is usually simply understood as comprising Norway and Sweden, despite the unclear border to the Kola peninsula. The northernmost part of Finland is of course also situated on the Scandinavian peninsula. But in English, alas, there seems to be no standard usage. This is mainly due to the fact that English lacks a simple and clear term for the five countries, and the word "Scandinavia" tends to be used for that purpose instead. The term "Nordic countries", in its current definition, is a rather recent invention, its meaning is still a bit obscure especially to non-Europeans, it's awkward to use and to some people it carries unpleasant connotations of the Aryan "Nordic race". Therefore, you will find that it's quite common to define the word "Scandinavia" in English like this: [Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English] SCANDINAVIAN 1. of the countries Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland in northern Europe, or their people or languages. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to use the word "Scandinavia" in its more limited definition. An example: [The Concise Oxford Dictionary] SCANDINAVIAN 1. a native or inhabitant of Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland). And some encyclopaedias put it like this: [The Random House Encyclopaedia] SCANDINAVIA 1. region of northern Europe consisting of the kingdoms of Sweden, Norway and Denmark; culturally and historically Finland and Iceland are often considered part of this area. Despite the term being rather clear for the Scandinavians themselves, disputes remain about how the term would be understood and derived in English. If the word is understood as a geographic term, how can then Denmark be included - as most do. If instead it's deduced from the area where the languages are quite similar North-Germanians, should Iceland logically be excluded? At the risk of disturbing some people's sleep, we will use "Nordic" and "Scandinavian" interchangeably throughout this FAQ, for practical reasons. You have been warned. :-> 2.1.4 What is "Baltic"? "Baltic" as a single word is in itself a bit vague, because it can mean either the Baltic peninsula (Balticum) or the Baltic sea (Mare Balticum), and it depends on the context where it's used. But, when this "Baltic" is used in connection with the word "country", there are two distinct concepts: * Baltic countries - countries in Baltikum (Estonia, Lathvia, Lithuania) * Baltic Sea countries - all countries around the Baltic Sea. The latter is normally used in connection with environmental issues concerning cooperative protection of the Baltic sea, and in some other efforts of public utility - such as occasional Miss Baltic Sea contests.