13 February 2010

One Norwegian mile = seven English miles

I encountered that conversion in a footnote in O. E. Rolvaag's 1933 book The Boat of Longing, which I've been reading this week.  The book won't make my list of recommended books, but this particular comment was curious:
Most of the crew made ready for church.  Now it is a good Norwegian mile from Röstnes Harbour to where the church lies in Nordland, but that fact deterred no man, even though he might have to tramp the whole distance in sea boots.  
Here's the Wiki:
A mil is a unit of length, usually used to measure geographic distance, fairly common in Norway and Sweden. Today, it measures by definition 10 kilometres, (≈6.2 (statute) miles) but earlier in history it had different values.

The word is derived from the same source as English mile, a measurement which has had many different definitions throughout Europe, historically. In Sweden and Norway, a (statute) mile is often called "engelsk mil", lit. English mil(e).

In Norway and Sweden, the old "land mile" or "long mile" was 36,000 feet: because of the different definitions of foot then in use, in Norway this was 11,295 m and in Sweden 10,688 m... The distance was equal to an older unit of measurement, the "rast" ("rest", "pause"), representing a suitable distance between rests when walking.

The mil is currently never used on road signs as kilometre is the standard for all formal written distances, but very common in colloquial speech involving distances greater than ten kilometres, such as (directly translated) "There are about 52 mil between Trondheim and Oslo".  It is also used commonly for measuring vehicle fuel consumption ("litre per mil").
Rolvaag's paragraph makes more sense for a seven mile distance than for a mere one mile.  I'm impressed to note that my ancestors considered 6-7 miles to be a "suitable distance between rests when walking," and I'm pleased to now have in my repertoire a phrase I can use at a sporting event to tell someone "You were out by a Norwegian mile!"


  1. Being a (Swedish-speaking) Finn and familiar with the Scandinavian mil, I was positively surprised to learn about using the word rast as a unit of length.

    Thanks, Minnesotastan!

  2. I wonder if that's a source for this common phrase "he won by a country mile"

  3. Interesting thought, Kathryn. That may be how the idiom originated. Tx.


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