I am aware that this is a controversial topic, but in a universe where around c. 500 BCE a population of Canaanite mariners did manage to set up a trading post in what is now Sweden: how plausible is a Semitic etymology for a toponym like Oslo? Are there any other toponyms that could at least hypothetically come from a similar origin? Or is the whole idea too far-fetched?

I realize as I ask this that the first order of business would be to determine if there were, indeed, Phoenicians or other Semitic language speakers anywhere past Gibraltar around that time. Trying to find recent research on the hypothetical creolization of proto-Germanic by contact with a Semitic language, so any references on either side of the argument will be greatly appreciated.

cf. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%C3%93sl%C3%B3#Old_Norse

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    The notion of Phoenicians in Germanic-speaking areas is not new – it’s a pet theory of Theo Vennemann, in particular. It’s not widely accepted, though (in fact it’s fairly widely rejected). If there were in fact Phoenicians there at the time, it’s hard to definitely argue against Semitic origins of some names, except in terms of phonetics. In the case of Oslo, the normal etymology from PG *ansu-lauhō ‘divine meadow’ has the advantage of explaining the n in the Dutch form Ansloo – where would that come from if the name were Phoenician? Feb 25, 2023 at 10:45
  • The Dutch example is great! Thank you.
    – rcgy
    Feb 25, 2023 at 10:48

2 Answers 2


The original name of the city was Ánslo, and the decomposition into *ansuz + *lauhō is uncontroversial and completely non-problematic. One can always conjecture that true source was something else, such as a root wṣl or nzl. One might imagine an ancient Semitic-speaking explorer declaring "I arrive!" (perhaps "they arrived!" but that is less sensible semantically) or, after leaving the boat "I descend!". If this happened about 500 BCE, it is excruciatingly improbably that this uninhabited or sparsely and nameless place would have had the population continuity where people remembered "Some guy said Ánslo 1500 years ago, let's name this town Ánslo".

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    That Wikipedia page seems less than trustworthy. It doesn’t give any resolvable sources for the forms quoted, and they don’t hold up to scrutiny. For one thing, the descendent of PG *lauhō in ON has a long vowel, so all the Mediaeval forms of the name should end in -ló. The claim that it was spelt Ánsló in the Middle Ages also seems anachronistic, since nasal vowels in ON were not generally written with an actual nasal (except in loans in other languages, like in Dutch Ansloo or Irish Aṁlaiḃ < ON Óláfʀ). [That’s not to say the etymology isn’t correct, of course!] Feb 25, 2023 at 17:31
  • @JanusBahsJacquet note that the wiki page also suggest derivation from áss "ridge" < amsaz before it suggests a derivation from ás < ansuz (despite claiming the spelling Ánslo)
    – Tristan
    Feb 27, 2023 at 9:50
  • @Tristan Very true – that just adds to the confusion! Either would actually work equally well as the historical origin, since *ans and *ams coalesced as *ãːs in Pre-Nordic. I’m not sure exactly if the later o-like quality must be due to u-umlaut (limiting the pre-form to *ansuz, not *amsaz). Spurious changes from nasalised á to nasalised ǫ́ are not unheard of. Feb 27, 2023 at 10:05

The existing answer has addressed the plausibility of the Germanic etymology. I will address the plausibility of the Semitic etymology.

First of all, Phoenician, like all other Northwest Semitic languages has no I-w roots (roots with a w as the first radical), having shifted them all to I-y (with a y as the first radical).

Phoenician also retained ṣ as an affricate /ts/ (occasionally metathesised to /st/) until Late Neo-Punic (well after the conquest of Carthage by Rome in the Third Punic War).

The root y-ṣ-l (which would be the Phoenician reflex of Proto-Semitic w-ṣ-l) is also not attested in Phoenician.

A derivation from w-ṣ-l would therefore require the name to come from an non-Northwest-Semitic language which reduced ṣ to a simple fricative (e.g. Arabic), none of which are known to have had any presence West of Egypt prior to the spread of Islam. Derivation from this root is completely implausible.

The other answer also mentions a root n-z-l which hits other problems. Phoenician z was either /zd/ or /dz/ (possibly depending on position). As the form of the name we see with a (possibly erroneous) n is Ánslo we'd need a form prefixed with ʔa- or ʕa-, neither of which are common in nouns. This also gives a form with a three-consonant cluster (something that isn't allowed in Phoenician, or indeed most Semitic phonologies more generally), and one where the n would be expected to assimilate to the z. It's also completely implausible as an origin.

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