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Vidkun Quisling, Heinrich Himmler, Josef Terboven, and Nikolaus von Falkenhorst seated in front of officers of the Waffen-SS, German Army and Air Force in 1941

A quisling (/ˈkwɪzlɪŋ/; Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈkʋɪsˈlɪŋ]), in Norwegian and other Scandinavian languages, as well as in English, is a person who collaborates with an enemy occupying force.[1][2][3] The word originates from the Norwegian war-time leader Vidkun Quisling, who headed a domestic Nazi collaborationist regime during the Second World War.


The first use of the term quisling in reference to followers of Vidkun Quisling was made by Norwegian Labour Party politician Oscar Torp, in a 2 January 1933 newspaper interview. Further uses of the term were made by Aksel Sandemose, in a Dagbladet article in 1934, and by the newspaper Vestfold Arbeiderblad, in 1936.[4]

J. R. R. Tolkien used the term in English in "On Fairy-Stories", a presentation given in 1939 and first printed in 1947.[5] The term was widely introduced to an English-speaking audience by the British newspaper The Times. It published an editorial on 19 April 1940 titled "Quislings everywhere", after the Norwegian Vidkun Quisling, who assisted Nazi Germany as it conquered his own country so that he could rule the collaborationist Norwegian government himself. The Daily Mail picked up the term four days after The Times editorial was published, by May The War Illustrated wrote of "potential Quislings" among the Dutch during the German invasion of the Netherlands, and the BBC brought the word into common use internationally.[6][7]

The Times' editorial asserted: "To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor... they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Aurally it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous."

The then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill used the term during an address to the Allied Delegates at St. James's Palace on 21 June 1941, when he said:[8] "A vile race of Quislings—to use a new word which will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuries—is hired to fawn upon the conqueror, to collaborate in his designs and to enforce his rule upon their fellow countrymen while grovelling low themselves." He used the term again in an address to both houses of Congress in the United States of America on 26 December 1941.[9] Commenting upon the effect of a number of Allied victories against Axis forces, and moreover the United States’ decision to enter the war, Churchill opined that; "Hope has returned to the hearts of scores of millions of men and women, and with that hope there burns the flame of anger against the brutal, corrupt invader. And still more fiercely burn the fires of hatred and contempt for the filthy Quislings whom he has suborned."[10] It subsequently entered the language, and became a target for political cartoonists.[11]

In the United States it was used often. Some examples: in the Warner Bros. film Edge of Darkness (1943) in reference to a traitorous villager, and in the Warner Bros. cartoon Tom Turk and Daffy (1944), uttered by a Thanksgiving turkey whose presence is betrayed to Porky Pig by Daffy Duck. Also, in a 1966 Peanuts comic strip, Linus tries to hide in Snoopy's doghouse only to have the beagle rat him out. "Traitor! Quisling! Squealer!" Linus shouts at Snoopy as his sister Lucy drags him away.

The word has also been applied to Communist figures who participated in the establishment of Communist rėgimes. As an illustration, the renegade socialist Zdenek Fierlinger of Czechoslovakia was frequently derided as "Quislinger" for his collaboration with the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.[12]

Contemporary usage[edit]

The noun has survived and is still in current use. It appeared during 2008 and 2009 in articles in The New York Times,[13] Die Zeit[14] and The Times.[15] In contrast, the back-formed verb to quisle (/ˈkwɪzəl/), has largely disappeared from contemporary usage.[16] The verb seems to have fallen out of use comparatively quickly, since by early 1944 there was evidence that H. L. Mencken—generally considered to be a leading authority on the common English usage in the United States—was not aware that it already existed.[17] The back-formed verb to quisle also gave rise to a much less common version of the noun: quisler.[18]

In contemporary usage, quisling is synonymous with traitor, and particularly applied to politicians who appear to favour the interests of other nations or cultures over their own. In American English, the term is slightly less well known than the equivalent phrase Benedict Arnold.

When one removes the ⟨q⟩ and the ⟨i⟩ in quisling, the result is usling, Norwegian for wretch. "Vidkjent Usling" (widely-known wretch) was used more or less humorously during World War II in Norway.[19] Another joke was nicknaming the two-krone banknote Quisling, and the one-krone note an usling, hence there were two uslings to one Quisling.[20]

Use in various media[edit]

In addition to the speeches, writings, political cartoons and animated cartoons mentioned in earlier sections, the following are examples of the term's use in various media to describe traitors and collaborators.


  • In the 1943 film Edge of Darkness about the Resistance in Norway, the heroine's brother is often described as a quisling.


  • In Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Mars (1994), the term is used to describe those early colonists who joined the side of Earth and the transnationals opposing the Martian faction in the conflict of 2061.
  • Terms of Endearment, Emma's husband accused her of being a quisling where her mother was concerned.
  • In the novel World War Z (2006) by Max Brooks, quislings are humans who, after having a nervous breakdown, have started behaving similarly to zombies, often fooling fellow survivors, but never the undead they imitate.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's novel, Farnham's Freehold, at the very end, after the main characters survive a nuclear attack, their sign reads:
"Farnham's Freehold Trading Post and Restaurant Bar"
(and among the items listed for sale:)
"Steak & Fried Potatoes / Butter & some days Bread / Smoked Bear Meat / Jerked Quisling (by the neck) / Crepe Suzettes to order."
  • In the novel Hyperion by Dan Simmons, the Consul refers to himself as a quisling when telling his tale to the group of pilgrims.
  • In the series Vampire Earth by E. E. Knight, quislings are humans who work for the occupying vampire overlords, helping them to maintain their police state and harvest others.
  • In Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger (1983), the term is used by the protagonist Jon-Tom to describe the "revolutionary" group of humans who have captured him, humans convinced by Hanniwuz (a Plated Folk infiltrator among warmlanders) to assist the Plated Folk in conquering the world.[21] "I don't think your victory is assured just yet... despite all the quislings you can recruit, and I don't think there'll be all that many."
  • In Patriots by James Wesley Rawles, quislings are Americans who ally with the foreign occupiers.


  • In the pilot episode of Foyle's War (2002), apropos of DCS Foyle's having shared the facts that a murdered German ex-pat, living in England, had two brothers still in Germany, one who served in Norway, and the other a ranking officer in the Abwehr in Berlin. Foyle's MTC driver, Samantha "Sam" Stewart, replies by repeating the Mail's reportage that "Norway would never have fallen except for the Germans and their friends inside the country; Quisling. People like that".
  • In Season 1, Episode 18 "Babies & Bathwater" of the television series House, the lead character Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) when speaking to Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) makes the following direct reference:
House: You know, there’s a new biography of Quisling, I think you might like it.
Cuddy: Sure. No idea who that is.
House: Uh, Norwegian guy, World War II, traitor. The fact that I have to explain this kind of takes the edge off my flow.
  • In the first scene of the season three finale of Steven Van Zandt's Lilyhammer television series, actor Trond Fausa Aurvåg's Norwegian character, Torgeir Lien, calls another, traitorous character a quisling.
  • In the Doctor Who serial "Day of the Daleks", The Doctor refers to another character, the Controller, whose family has collaborated with the Dalek invasion of Earth in an alternate timeline of the 20th century and consequently enslaved the human race, as being a family of quislings.
  • In the Billions serial on Showtime (season 1, episode 8, "Boasts and Rails"), Bobby Axelrod is searching out a mole in his company, referring to the person as a quisling.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Quisling". Retrieved 14 December 2013. 
  2. ^ "quisling". Collins English Dictionary (10th ed.). Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  3. ^ "quisling". Princeton Wordnet dictionary. wordfind.com. 
  4. ^ Godal, Anne Marit (ed.). "Quisling". Store norske leksikon (in Norwegian). Oslo: Norsk nettleksikon. Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  5. ^ Tolkien, J.R.R (2006). The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. London: HarperCollins. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-261-10263-7. 
  6. ^ Dahl, Hans Fredrik (1995). "quisling". In Dahl; Hjeltnes; Nøkleby; Ringdal; Sørensen. Norsk krigsleksikon 1940–45 (in Norwegian). Oslo: Cappelen. p. 334. ISBN 82-02-14138-9. 
  7. ^ "First Days of 'Total War' on the Western Front". The War Illustrated. 1940-05-24. p. 540. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  8. ^ Prime Minister Winston Churchill's Speech to the Allied Delegates British Library of Information, Retrieved- January 26, 2014
  9. ^ Say Quislings Back Winnie, The Windsor Daily Star, Nov 26, 1946, Retrieved- December 14, 2013
  10. ^ "Prime Minister Winston Churchill's address to the Congress of the United States". December 26, 1941. 
  11. ^ Tangenes, Gisle (19 September 2006). "The World According to Quisling". Bits of News. 
  12. ^ Gunther, John (1961). Inside Europe Today. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 334. LCCN 61-9706
  13. ^ Cohen, Roger (22 February 2009). "What Iran's Jews say". The New York Times. 
  14. ^ "Die unerhörten Tage der Freiheit" (in German). Zeit Online. 21 August 2008. 
  15. ^ "Béla Király: Hungarian nationalist". Times Online. July 10, 2009. Archived from the original on May 24, 2010. 
  16. ^ Bolinger, Dwight L. "Among New Words" American Speech, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Apr., 1941), p. 147.
  17. ^ "Will there be a verb, to quisle?" Mencken, H.L. American Speech, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Feb., 1944), p. 13.
  18. ^ http://archives.timesunion.com/mweb/wmsql.wm.request?oneimage&imageid=6321206[dead link]
  19. ^ "jøssinghumor". Norsk krigsleksikon (in Norwegian). Retrieved 23 August 2010. 
  20. ^ "Krigshumor". Quislingutstillinga. p. 2. Retrieved 23 August 2010. 
  21. ^ : Warner Books 1983 printing, soft cover, page 329