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What is a Skål?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A skål is a Scandinavian toast of friendship and goodwill that may be offered when drinking, sitting down to eat, or at a formal event. Some fans of Scandinavian culture have popularized the the toast beyond its native countries, and it can often be heard in many peculiar corners of the world, especially in regions with a large Scandinavian population. The word may also be spelled skal or skaal.

Like other toasts, a skål implies a wish for good fortune and good health, and it carries very friendly connotations. There are a number of different ways to say it, ranging from a series of individual toasts in which everyone toasts everyone else, taking a sip of a drink with each toast, and a collective skål shouted out by a group of drinkers or diners. As one might imagine, in a series of individual toasts in which everyone salutes each person individually, one tends to become rather intoxicated by the end.

Several Norse poems saluting famous figures have included a “skål” or two in the lines, as in the case of “Gustaf's skål,” an 18th century song which the king later adopted as his official anthem, because he was so fond of it. In poems such as this, the celebrant is typically highly praised, with lines like “the greatest king in the north.” At some parties, people may improvise their own extended speech or toast, especially at an event where people are celebrating a marriage or another major life event.

As a casual toast, “skål” can be likened to “cheers” or “slainte,” words which often pop up in bars as people salute each other before each round of drinks. The word has become so associated with drinking that several companies that make beer and liquor have a drink that use it as a name in their lines. In a reference to the harsh winters in Scandinavia, a skål is often a winter beer.

Several organizations also use the term in their names, referencing the idea that they were founded to celebrate friendship and goodwill.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon310528 — On Dec 24, 2012

I live in Denmark and I agree with posters 19 and 20. In Scandinavia, this is used as the Germans say "Prost" (and not "Zum wohl" which has another deeper meaning; -wishing you and every one else around "may it do you good". In Czech/Poland/Slowakia: "Na Zdrawie")

Don't exaggerate the meaning of this daily life greeting! Despite the colourful imagination of many a modern city-living human, you didn't need a skull of a dead monk, or whatever, to have a drink of whatever alcoholic beverage was available in those days.

Viking life was mainly simple, daily demanding work of fishing, farming, forestry and craft, etc.

And despite the nice explanation on this page, when drinking nowadays we do greet everyone with skål. It doesn't mean we are friends with you -- just straight on polite. --Lars

By anon266567 — On May 07, 2012

Skal = Bowl

Skalkap = Bowl Hat (Helmet)

Skull Cap = Helmet

Skal is related to, but does not directly translate into, "skull."

People need to keep in mind that during their time, the Norse kept language to only the necessary.

The nature of our current use of the word "skull" is certainly a reference to the bowl-like qualities of the cranium, but should not be exaggerated. Much like the words mit, or paw, mean hand.

Unless an insane individual decided to make it literal, no one ever used a skull as a bowl/cup, even in Norse times.

Just think of all the strange colloquial terms we use, and have forgotten (or perhaps never known) where the reference came from.

By anon250012 — On Feb 24, 2012

That made me laugh! I think it's the other way around, that the British people made up some rumours about the vikings such as: "The vikings will cut your head of and drink from it They raise it up and call it 'skål'," which means bowl, by the way. The British were overruled by the Romans before the Vikings. That's why many English words are very similar to Latin (so are Spanish. French etc.).

So the British people would probably only have known the word 'cranium' back then and of course, their own way of saying it. Later on, they adopted the word "skull" from vikings with the belief that it meant cranium.

By anon177841 — On May 19, 2011

It seems that this scandinavian toast gave origin to the brand name "SKOL" of the first and one of the most popular Brazilian beers, nowadays produced by AmBev.

By anon163982 — On Mar 29, 2011

Interesting. I wonder if this is related to the modern Australian English drinking cry of "Skull!" (usually repeated), which is intended to prompt the drinker to finish their glass of whatever they're drinking.

And there actually is definitely a link between "skull" (in the sense of your head-bone), and "skaal", if "skaal" came from an Old Norse word for cup or bowl. After all, the inside of a skull is rather round and bowl-shaped, regardless of whether any vikings ever drank from one. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the words were linked through the Viking influence on northern England/Scotland in the centuries prior to 1000AD, or even through the Proto-Germanic language that prevailed before the later Germanic (English's primary forerunner) and the Scandinavian language groups branched off. These two languages *are* distant cousins, really!

By anon162893 — On Mar 25, 2011

I read an interesting book by Michael Crichton called "Eaters of the Dead." I am Norwegian so I report this with much reverence for my ancestors. The time of the Vikings was a rough, barbaric time. Read this book. It is actually a journal from about 945 AD.

When a warrior died they would "sacrifice" (kill) a maiden to sail off with him to Valhalla. Also, after battles some reports say they would gather up their fallen comrades and cannibalize them, believing they would take on their strength.

I have heard my relatives give the toast of Skål for years growing up. I have also heard, or read somewhere, the toast was, "To the skulls of your enemies." These were not gentle people. For them to drink from the skulls of their enemies is not out of the realm of reality, to me.

By anon152975 — On Feb 15, 2011

Hi, i am Danish, and i have heard the following explanation of the word "skaal" - some say it is the first letter of these danish/nordic words:

Sundhed (Health)

Kærlighed (Love)

Alderdom (Age)

Arvinger (Heirs)

Lykke (Happiness)

I find this explanation very charming. --The_Bert

By anon151872 — On Feb 11, 2011

Has anyone heard of the word: 'skalabatter' or 'skalabattering' which means 'a wild time on the town' or carousing or creating a general runkus around the place. I heard my Dad say it. I'm from the west of Ireland. I thought it might be a remnant of the vikings or some other scandinavian influence.

By anon124195 — On Nov 04, 2010

Just back from Stockholm where several bartenders attest to the "bowl as a communal drinking container." In fact, one twist on the story was that all the left over booze from the night before ends up in the bowl and everyone has a drink. Hmmm, tasty.

By anon115152 — On Sep 30, 2010

Here in Belgium we also say "schol" when raising a glass. That's how I found this site, searching for the meaning of "schol". I had no luck with dutch dictionaries and such, so I thought of looking up "skål", which seems to be the exact same thing. But apparently this leads to the same dead end.

Now "skål" also means bowl, but in dutch "skål" or "schaal" means plate. And last time I checked drinking from a plate is not advised. I could be wrong though and the dutch meaning could be bastardised, I'm not sure which form is the oldest. Which would mean it probably just means cup or bowl. Hope this helps.

By anon104275 — On Aug 16, 2010

I'm sure "Skål" is just the bowl thing, but seriously I think it's very possible that vikings used skulls to drink out of to toast to victory out of their fallen enemies' skulls.

I think it's a great concept, true or not. I would do it if I lived back then. If anything, it would be a massive insult to the dead drinking out of their head and well, seems that you were the one who just severed their head, why not add insult to injury?

By anon65477 — On Feb 13, 2010

First off have no idea how i ended up here, but Skål in swedish does mean is a toast. And it can also be translated to a bowl. Don't know the meaning in Danish or Norwegian though.

By anon61619 — On Jan 21, 2010

"Skål" has nothing to do with English "skull", nor are any such absurd skull-drinking customs attested among the Norse. The truth is far less sensationalistic; "skål" derives from Old Norse, and means "bowl" - as in a communal drinking vessel.

By anon44860 — On Sep 11, 2009

Skol (written skål in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, and sometimes "Skoal" in English) is the Danish/Norwegian/Swedish word for a salute or a toast, as to an admired person or group. The meaning of the Scandinavian skalli/skalle: skal means simply "shell" and skál/skål "bowl". There is a popular misconception that the toast comes from the mythical habit of Vikings to drink from cups made from the skulls of their defeated enemies.

By anon35060 — On Jul 02, 2009

in Icelandic you spell it skál...

But it's true, I've also heard that skál is related to skull. That's why I don't make toasts here in Iceland saying that word. The origins of the ceremony is revolting; vikings killing other human beings, beheading them, removing the flesh from their skull, cutting the upper part of it away, scoop out the brains and drinking mead out of it!!! absolutely repulsive!!!

would *you* ever do that?

By anon26132 — On Feb 09, 2009

skaal also comes from the english word skull ..because the vikings used to drink from the skulls from the enemies in scotland. they used the munks heads "skull" to drink mead ..so they raised the skulls and shouted skåååål ..because they had poor english accents ..skull .. so there you go...skål!!!

By anon15637 — On Jul 17, 2008

I thought that it was spelled "skoal." That is the way I remember a Norwegian and a Swede saying it. Perhaps the "a" comes out "oa."

By Janni — On Jul 17, 2008

A comment to the information upon the word "Skål" "Skaal" - the AA is a way of writing Å, for those who do not have a scandinavian keyboard.

Skaal also means a bowl and in ancient times the word skaal meant, that to propose a toast you said/yelled skaal, which meant that you should drink your bowl or ordering it to be filled.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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