A Scandinavian mile (Norwegian and Swedish: mil, [miːl], like "meal") is a unit of length common in Norway and Sweden, but not Denmark. Today, it is standardised as 1 mil being 10 kilometres (6.2 miles), but it had different values in the past.
The word is derived from the same Roman source as the English mile. In Sweden and Norway, the international mile is often distinguished as an "English mile" (engelsk mil), although in situations where confusion may arise it is more common for Scandinavians to describe distances in terms of the official SI unit kilometre.
In Norway and Sweden, the old "land mile" or "long mile" was 36,000 feet: because of the different definitions of foot then in use, in Norway this was 11,295 m (37,057 ft) and in Sweden 10,688 m (35,066 ft). There was also a "skogsmil" ("forest mile") that was half as long as the normal mil. i.e. a bit over 5 km (3.1 mi), and equal to an even older unit of measurement, the "rast" ("rest", "pause"), so named since it was seen as the distance a man would normally be able to walk between rests, corresponding to the league in other countries.
When the metric system was introduced, the mil was redefined to be exactly 10 km (6.2 mi). The metric system was introduced in Norway in 1875 and Sweden in 1889, after a decision by the parliament in 1876 and a ten-year transition period from 1879.
In 1887 the metric system was introduced to Finland. The traditional Finnish peninkulma, called mil in Swedish (that defined the same length), was then redefined to be exactly 10 km (6.2 mi). In Finland, however, it has been much less in use than in Sweden.
The mil is currently never used on road signs and kilometre is the standard for most formal written distances. It is however very common in colloquial speech involving 5 kilometres, which is referred to in Swedish as "half a mil" (en halvmil), or distances greater than 10 kilometres. The mil has however not lost all formal uses. Various tax deductions, for example regarding distance travelled for business purposes, are measured in mil by the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket). It is also used in the most common unit for measuring vehicle fuel consumption – "litres per mil" – and in second-hand car advertisements, where odometer readings are often quoted in mil though the car itself records kilometres.
Naomi Mitchison, in her autobiographic book You May Well Ask, relates an experience during a walking tour in Sweden: "Over in Gotland I walked again, further than I would have if I had realized that the milestones were in old Swedish miles, so that my disappointing three-mile walk along the cold sea edge under the strange ancient fortifications was really fifteen English miles".
- Old Swedish Units of Measurement - Linear Measure
- SAOB 1956. Svenska Akademiens Ordbok. Retrieved 10 July 2018
- "Riksdagens antagande af det metriska systemet". May 14, 1876. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
- Belopp och procent - inkomstår 2010/taxeringsår 2011
- Naomi Mitchison, You may well ask", London, 1979, Part I, Chap 7.