Ljå | means scythe in Norwegian | Norway

Ljå is a Norwegian noun that means a scythe - an old agricultural cutting-tool used when mowing the grass to make hay, or when harvesting the grain crops.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
A man mowing the meadow using his ljå around 1950 - in Bagn, Valdres, Oppland, Norway. | Photo: Mittet & Co. AS DeOldify cc pdm.
A man mowing the meadow using his ljå around 1950 - in Bagn, Valdres, Oppland, Norway. | Photo: Mittet & Co. AS DeOldify cc pdm.

Pronunciation

Ljå

The grammar

noun | masculine | the indefinite form: en ljå (a ljå) | the definite form: ljåen (the ljå) | comes from the Old Norse word (genitive ljá).

What does the word mean?

An old agricultural tool

A ljå is a scythe, an old agricultural tool that consists of a slightly curved steel blade attached to a long wooden or metal shaft. In Norway, the tool was mainly used to cut grass to make hay during the summer, and sometimes to cut the grain crops in the autumn.

Different sizes

Historically, the Norwegian farmer had both a full-sized ljå and a half-sized ljå – also called a langljå and a kortljå – or a langorv or a stuttorv. Orv is another word for skaft, which means shaft.

The landscape determines the tool

The farmer uses the langljå in larger, flattish meadows, with fewer obstacles that can ruin the blade, like stones or roots.

The half-sized version, which has both a shorter shaft and a smaller blade, is often used in steeper terrain, and when cutting grass in sections where it is difficult to protect the blade. It is usually handled using just one arm, and is quicker to manoeuvre and easier to control.

A sigd is not a ljå

The half-sized ljå must not be confused with a sigd – a sickle – which is a similar tool. The sigd has a smaller, crescent-shaped blade and a very short handle. The sigd was often used when cutting the grain crops, which has straws that are tougher to cut through. When using the sigd, the person using it grasps a handful of straw with one hand pulling it upwards, and cutting it using the sigd with the other.

Standing upright – or having to bend down

With the full-sized ljå, the person using it can stand upright, but when using the kortljå or the sigd, she or he must bend down halfway or all the way to the ground.

Similar or related words

Høyonna: is what the Norwegians call the haymaking period.
Kantslått: is the process of cutting grass that is more difficult to get to, or that grows in small patches here and there: along the edges of a field, a road, etc. Read more about kantslåtten here.
Slipestein: means a grindstone. The ljå-blade was often thoroughly sharpened using the slipestein in the evening, preparing it for use the following morning.
Bryne: a bryne is a whetstone, a type of stone used to sharpen the blade of the ljå when out working in the field.
Hein: means a hone, a small whetstone, historically often used to sharpen the old-fashioned razor blade. In English, the word is used in expressions like to hone your craft.
Snidill: a tool similar to the sickle – but used to cut branches off leafy trees to be used as animal fodder.

More on the historical context

Simple tools

The historical farmer only had simple tools to his disposal, and the ljå was an important one. Dried grass – høy – was the main type of fodder for most of the farm-animals, and the farmer had to harvest lots of it to tide them over the long winter.

Best to cut the grass when it is wet

It is said that the best time to cut the grass using a ljå is early in the morning, when the grass is still moist with dew. The sharp blade bites better on the wet grass.

Drying the grass on a haydrying rack

Historically, the Norwegian farmers established natural meadows in the outfields and cut the grass there. Depending on the location and the weather, the grass was dried on the ground, or on a haydrying rack – a hesje. Hanging the grass on the rack was often the preferred option, as leaving the grass on the ground, especially in wet weather, could ruin the entire crop.

All hands on deck

Both the women and the men on the farm took part in the haymaking process, and the children too. The men worked the scythes, and the women and the children used wooden rakes to gather the grass before placing it on the hesje. When the hay was dry and ready, it was time to get it indoors, into small temporary haybarns in the outfields, or into the main barn back home on the farm.

Examples from books and stories

Anna Helene Tobiassen Smeden i eldre tid 1981
I heile Hornindal var smedar i kvar gard før. Kom ein etter dalen om vinteren, hamra det frå kvart tun, det var ljåsmedane. Å smede ljå var ein bygdeleveveg, dei reiste og selde ljå på Møre og opp over Nordland.
In Hornindal, there were blacksmiths on every farm back then. If you came up through the valley on a winter’s day, you could hear the sound of the hammer coming from every farmyard, the sound of the blacksmith. Making ljås was a local way of life, and they later travelled up to sell them on Møre, and in Nordland.

Audun Dybdahl For, fe og melkestell i eldre tid 1985
På gamle primstaver markeres gjerne Knutsok den 10. juli med en ljå eller en rive som tegn på at det var naturlig å begynne slåtten.
On old calendar sticks, the feast day of Saint Canute (Knutsok) on 10 July is usually marked with a ljå or a rake, a sign indicating the start of the haymaking season.

Sources: Nasjonalbiblioteket nb.no | Einar Haugen’s Norwegian-English dictionary | Det Norske Akademis ordbok | Bokmålsordboka and Nynorskordboka.

Our most recent posts

My Norwegian heritage

The word ski comes from the Old Norse language, with the meaning cleft wood. The old Norwegians were master hunters, and have been skiing for over 5000 years.
For the old Norwegians, making butter was simply a way of preserving the fresh summer milk - turning it into a type of food that could be stored.
On an island in the Arctic Ocean, deep inside a permafrost mountain, we find a treasure trove of food-plant seeds: the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
With the birth of the new Norwegian national state in 1814, came big ideas. And one of them was to establish better transportation systems.
In the old Norwegian farming society, a husmann was a man who was allowed to build his home on a small section of a farm’s land, and pay with his labour instead of rent.
A loved child goes by many names, says a Norwegian expression. This certainly applies to the country Norway. But what does the name really mean?
The horse no longer roams wild in the Norwegian landscape. But it still has an important place in the Norwegian psyche.
In my childhood, life was simple. And the small joys of Christmas lifted our spirits - and delivered us safely into the new year.
On 18 November 1905, after a supportive referendum, the Norwegian parliament unanimously elected the Danish Prince Carl as the country’s new king.
It is said that all people are equal in Heaven. But the historical churchyard shows us that no such equality applied here on Earth.
In the olden days, people dressed up warmly and got out onto the fjord or lake to catch their Sunday dinner. Enjoy!
The Norwegian landscape is wild and beautiful. And it is a lot more than just fjords and mountains.
Do you have trouble sleeping? Here are some examples of how the old Norwegians used Mother Nature’s very own remedies to cure their ailments.
The traditional Sami houses, the goahti, were in use until well into our own time. Anders Larsen tells us how he remembers them from the coastal Sami communities in northern Norway.
Skibladner is one of the world's oldest paddle steamers still in regular service. She was launched in 1856, and sails on Norway's largest lake, Mjøsa.
The traditional Norwegians are drawn to their cabins, whether it be in the mountains, in the forest, or by the sea. Some would say that they are a people obsessed.
Old objects tell stories, silent stories about a time gone by.
Once upon a time in the distant past, imagine yourself sitting in a small boat, facing this mighty gateway into the bowels of the land.
Are you hailing from Sykkylven in Møre og Romsdal, Norway? Well, then you might be related to the great film and television icon that was James Arness.
After a troubled ten-year courtship, the current King Harald V of Norway finally got to marry his Miss Sonja Haraldsen on the 29th of August 1968.
Åre is a Norwegian noun that means an open fireplace, placed on the floor in the middle of a room. The smoke goes up and out through a vent in the roof - the ljore.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history