The week's unfolding tragedy in Norway, in which a right-wing nationalist named Anders Breivik killed scores of innocents in Oslo and on a nearby island-retreat, brings to mind another extreme and widely condemned Norwegian, whose name, Vidkun Quisling, has become part of the English lexicon. Quisling - a prominent Norwegian politician since the 1920s - had views on Aryan nationalism and Norwegian exceptionalism, and a mistrust of Jews, that led him into an association with Hitler and to his eventual leadership of a pro-Nazi puppet government in Oslo for most of World War II. The Times in London promptly condemned him in an editorial titled Quislings Everywhere - a comment so widely read that the word instantly became common currency, being taken to mean
a traitor to one's country: a collaborationist; esp. during the war of 1939-45
The parallels between the ultra-Nordic leanings of both Quisling and Breivik are startling - both serving as reminders of the capacity for extremism among peoples who believe themselves to belong to a racial stock displaying, as each would put it, purity.
Quisling - with the capital initial soon dropped - is a word fortunate in its sonorous appositeness, suggesting as it does a kind of slithery derangement. It was little surprise that the verb to quisle soon entered the English language, somewhat more so that a weird back-formed noun quisler was soon born - unneeded, since we already had quisling.
It seems doubtful that a word Breivik will ever enjoy popular currency. This young man's fate, if the courts find him guilty and sane, will most probably condemn him to prison for a very long while. Vidkun Quisling, said by his supporters to be a gentle and intelligent man - and like Breivik, strikingly and disarmingly blond and handsome - was found guilty of treason in 1945, and shot.