Tag Archives: Imported words

Ombudsman – a common English word!

Back in Viking times many Scandinavian words entered the English language. But in recent times,  there have been far fewer. But, as you may know, ombudsman is now a commonly used word in English.  When and why did this Swedish word first enter the English language? It’s an interesting story. I

The word itself is quite old. In medieval times in Scandinavia it was used to describe the messenger who delivered the king’s message to the local chieftains. The first modern Swedish ombudsman was created in the constitution of 1809 (justitie ombudsman), They had broad powers and had the right of an extraordinary prosecutor who could take legal steps against officials for failure to discharge their duties properly. In the early 20th century, Denmark, Norway and Finland also established ombudsmen.

In the post WW2 world, the idea of having a parliamentary watchdog of this kind was very attractive and the term began to appear in quasi-official use in several countries in the early 1960s. In 1962, New Zealand was the first country outside of Scandinavia to appoint one, and four years later the UK created the first Parliamentary Ombudsman. Many countries followed suit. Since then the idea has spread and there are ombudsmen in many walks of British life. It’s worth noting though that the British version has a narrower, weaker range of powers than the Scandinavian equivalent. Complaints can only be submitted via your MP.

One would have thought the word would have settled in and been accepted by now.

Not if one is to believe some of the comments on the UK Financial Ombudsman’s site. They asked the public what they thought of their name. There were some quite reasonable comments. But Enraged of Tunbridge Wells was foaming at the mouth:

“Ombudsman” is an unintelligible, lugubrious, pretentious, imported name, which should have been stifled at birth!”

Xenolingophobia of the first order!