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The word ski comes from the Old Norse word skíð which means "cleft wood","stick of wood" or "ski". In Old Norse common phrases describing skiing were fara á skíðum (to travel, move fast on skis), renna (to move swiftly) and skríða á skíðum (to stride on skis). In modern Norwegian the word ski has largely retained the Old Norse meaning in words for split firewood, wood building materials (such as bargeboards) and roundpole fence.In Norwegian this word is usually pronounced [ˈʂiː]. In Swedish, another language evolved from Old Norse, the word is skidor (plural, pronounced [ˈɧîːdʊr]; singular: skida).

English and French use the original Norwegian spelling ski, and modify the pronunciation. Prior to 1920, English usage of skee and snow-shoe was often seen. In Italian, it is pronounced similarly to Norwegian, but the spelling is modified accordingly: sci [ˈʃi]Portuguese and Spanish adapt the word to their linguistic rules: esqui and esquí. In German, spellings Ski and Schi are in use, both pronounced [ˈʃiː]. In Dutch, the word is ski and the pronunciation was originally [ˈʃiː] as in Norwegian, but since approximately the 1960s changed to [ˈskiː]. In Welsh the word is spelled sgi.Many languages make a verb form out of the noun, such as to ski in English, skier in French, esquiar in Spanish and Portuguese, sciare in Italian, skiën in Dutch, or Schi laufen or Schi fahren (as above also Ski laufen or Ski fahren) in German. Norwegian and Swedish do not form a verb from the noun.

Finnish has its own ancient words for skis and skiing: "ski" is suksi and "skiing" is hiihtää. The word suksi goes back to the Proto-Uralic period, with cognates such as Erzya soksMansi tåut and Nganasan tuta.The Sami also have their own words for "skis" and "skiing": for example, the Lule Sami word for "ski" is sabek and skis are called sabega. The Sami use cuoigat for the verb "to ski" (the term may date back to 10,000 years before present).