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Whether you’ve heard it in a Viking TV show or at a sports game, a cry of “skol” has meanings dating back more than 1,000 years.

But what does “skol” mean? And is it even a real word? What about that Viking Skol Clap you may have seen if you’re an NFL fan?

Well, you’ll be happy to hear that skol is a real word – kind of – and the meaning of skol is pretty consistent in most of Scandinavian, including in Viking times. 

However, you might want to double check your spelling here and be absolutely sure you’re using it the right way, as you’ll see below.

Viking saying skol meaning cheers

What does “skol” mean when people say it?

“Skol” (or “skål” as it’s written in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish and “skál” in Faroese and Icelandic) is a Nordic word for “cheers”. The word derives from the Old Norse words skál meaning “bowl” or “cup” and kál which means “to drink”.

This reflects the fact that in earlier times, people would gather together and pass a bowl around to drink from the same one as an expression of camaraderie.

The term is still used today in Scandinavia to have a drink and cheer with friends. In addition, it’s also used by various sporting teams that claim some sort of link to the Vikings, as I’ll go through in more detail below.

Is the word spelled “skål” or “skol”?

The word is spelled “skål” in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish and “skál” in Faroese and Icelandic. This means that it isn’t spelled “skol” by native speakers as none of the Scandinavian countries spell it like that. Instead, this is the phonetic spelling of the word used by English speakers.

That is, the word in the various Scandinavian languages is basically pronounced like “skol”, so it can be helpful to have this spelling when learning how to say the word. 

This is especially the case when your mother tongue doesn’t have the “å” or “á” characters, so you wouldn’t be expected to know that they more or less sound like “oh” in English.

two women saying skol to mean cheers with their drinks like the Vikings

Is “skol” a real word?

No, “skol” is not a word in any of the Scandinavian countries. It is a misspelling of “skål” in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish and “skál” in Faroese and Icelandic based on how foreigners hear the pronunciation of each of these words.

That said, while “skol” has no meaning in the Scandinavian languages, it’s a more or less accurate way to spell the way you pronounce those words. Just remember to keep your lips quite rounded and relatively closed when saying the word to get as close as possible to the real way to say it (so it shouldn’t be pronounced like “scowl”, for example).

Why do Vikings say “skol” (skål)?

Skål, pronounced “skol”, is a traditional Scandinavian toast, originally from Denmark. It is often translated as “cheers” or “good health.” The word is cognate with the English word “skull”. The toast can be used to express good luck, as well as to salute someone who has done something extraordinary.

This is why you’ll often hear the word “skål” (or what sounds like “skol”) in TV shows featuring Viking characters – they’re usually giving a cheer before drinking.

Related: What Language Did the Vikings Speak? (Ultimate Guide)

Vikings didn’t write their history down so we cannot say for certain that they said the word “skol”. However, it seems likely given the presence of this word in most of the Scandinavian languages, indicating that it has been passed down from history.

In addition, clear evidence is available showing that alcohol played a large part in Nordic life, so there’s a very good chance that the meaning of “skol” was also the same then. 

barrels of wine that, when drunk, the Vikings would say skol to mean cheers

In fact, the Vikings drank less water than ale at that time, given that ale had to be boiled and so was safer to drink. It’s also interesting to note that, for a long time, Viking women were the only ones allowed to serve ale – and even after men got involved, they still remained the main servers.

Examples of this include:

  • Odin, who was the king of the Nordic gods (and the god of alcohol, among other things. You may also know him as Odin with the lost eye), only drank wine
  • As mead was the drink of the gods, only poets or scholars consumed it
  • Alcohol was critical in formalizing treaties, land agreements, marriages and wills
  • A mead hall was a symbol of prestige and any leader who wanted the respect of his people had to build one and stock it well
  • The first three drinks of the evening were dedicated to Odin (as the king of the gods and the god of alcohol), Njord (as god of the sea) and Freyja (the goddess of fertility), emphasizing the important role of alcohol, the sea and farming in Nordic society.
  • Similarly, as alcohol came from the gods, what people said while drunk was considered sacred and true
  • In Valhalla, the souls of warriors who were killed in battle only drink mead

What does “skoll” mean in Old Norse?

Skoll (meaning “one who mocks”) was one of the wolves, alongside Hati (meaning “one who hates”), who pursued Sol (the sun) and Mani (the moon) through the sky in hopes of eating them. They successfully did this at Ragnarok, the collapse of the cosmos, causing the darkening and downfall of the sky and earth.

It is believed that Skoll was the wolf who chased the moon based on the following stanza in the poem Grímnismál:

Skoll is the name of the wolf

Who follows the shining priest

Into the desolate forest,

And the other is Hati,

Hróðvitnir’s son,

Who chases the bright bride of the sky.

Poetic Edda, around the 10th century AD

The word for “priest” is masculine, as is the Mani (moon), so it’s thought based on this that Skoll hunts the moon.

Ultimately, the outcome of all this is that while the word “skoll” is pronounced similarly to “skål”, they are different words with, as you can see from the above, different meanings.

You may also be interested in: Norse Runes: Ultimate Guide to the Vikings’ Nordic Alphabet

What is the Viking Skol Clap in the NFL?

The Viking Skol Clap is a tradition for fans of the NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings. It’s led by a drummer at various times throughout the game, when fans will raise their hands, clap along with the drum and yell “Skol!”. A gjallarhorn is blown at the end.

This chant was inspired by the “Viking war chant” made famous by Iceland supporters at Euro 2016. They, in turn, took it from Motherwell F.C., a Scottish soccer team.

The Gjallarhorn is a horn that was linked to the god Heimdallr and the wise being Mímir (making it different from Odin’s Horn). There are several references to it in the Prose Edda, an Old Norse book from early 13th century Iceland. One of these includes a mention that Heimdallr owns the Gjallarhorn and that “its blast can be heard in all worlds”.

You can see an example of the Viking Skol Clap here.

Why do Vikings football fans in the NFL say “skol”?

Fans of the NFL Vikings team say “skol” as part of the Viking Skol clap, given the connection of this word to the Nordic people of the Viking era. That is, “skol”, spelled “skål” means “cheers” in several Scandinavian languages and likely had the same meaning during the Viking age as well.

That said, as mentioned above, “skål”/”skol” has the meaning of “cheers” or “good health”. As such, it doesn’t really align with how it’s used in the Viking Skol Clap, which is more of an effort to pump up the team and the fans.

This can be seen in the fact that when this chant came to notoriety when Icelandic fans performed it during Euro 2016, they tended to say a loud “huh” rather than something sounding like “skol”. It’s also now been done by Iceland fans in other sports when the national team is playing, like in the video below.

This is because “skál”, pronounced similar to “skol”, means “cheers” in Icelandic even today. As you can imagine, it would be a bit weird to yell “cheers” in that context.

Nevertheless, as it’s a word that’s become associated with the Viking era, Viking football fans have adopted “skol” more for its historical meaning and connections than its actual definition. 

This is reinforced by the fact that more than 30% of Minnesotans claim Scandinavian heritage, so the name of the football team certainly makes sense in that context.

When drinking, what does “skol” mean?

When having a drink in Scandinavian countries, saying “skol” means “cheers”. You do it much like in other countries: raise your glass or bottle, say “skol” and clink them together with your drinking friends, ensuring you make eye contact with everyone in the group.

The eye contact part is very important – otherwise, it’s seven years of bad luck if you miss anyone!

And just to clarify, while the word sounds like “skol”, it’s actually spelled “skål” in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish and “skál” in Faroese and Icelandic. 

But just to be a bit different, the word used is actually “kippis” in Finland!

How do you use the word “skol” (skål)?

Skål is a word used in Scandinavian countries and some other parts of Europe to mean “cheers” or “to your health”.  The word “skol” is usually said before drinking alcohol and sometimes before eating food. However, other terms are much more common in the context of food throughout Scandinavia.

The equivalent of “have a good meal” varies between each of the Scandinavian countries:

  • In Denmark, “velbekomme”
  • In Sweden, “smaklig måltid”
  • In Norway, “håper det smaker” or “vel bekomme”
  • In Iceland, “verði þér að góðu”
  • In Finland, “hyvää ruokahaluaa”

As such, I’d stick to using “skol” only for drinks if I were you.