In "Kristin Lavransdatter" by Sigrid Undset (1929), translated into English by Tiina Nunnally :

“Perhaps someday the night will come when you and I dare to fall asleep together—I don’t know what you will think once you have considered that. I have kept vigil here in the night. There is still so much between us, more than if a naked sword had lain between you and me. Tell me, will you have affection for me after this night is over?”

Q: What does 'naked sword' really mean? If it is expressed in another word, what would it be?

I am not a native speaker of English.

2 Answers 2


The contributor @FeliniusRex is correct about the literal meaning of "naked sword", but in this case it looks like it is also a reference to the legend of Tristan and Isolde, which is a famous romantic story from medieval times.

In the legend, Tristan (a young man) is sent to another country to bring back Isolde (a princess) to marry his uncle, King Mark. On the journey, Tristan and Isolde fall in love and he runs away with her. Quoting from the link above:

The lovers flee into the forest of Morrois and remain there until one day Mark discovers them asleep with a naked sword between them.

In the legend, they have the naked sword between them because they are being chased by the King and they want to be able to defend themselves quickly if he finds them while they sleep. If the sword is already out of its scabbard and close at hand, it can be picked up and used right away.

In the book you are quoting, we have this sentence:

There is still so much between us, more than if a naked sword had lain between you and me.

Here the speaker is using this reference to the legend of Tristan and Isolde and saying that their bond is even greater than the bond between these famous and legendary lovers. You could paraphrase it as:

There is still so much between us, more even than between the famous lovers, Tristan and Isolde.

  • 4
    I think you have the correct cultural reference but have the meaning backwards. When the speaker says "so much between us" he is speaking of obstacles between them, not in the modern sense of feelings for one another. In legend a naked sword laid between a man and a woman on a bed represents a pledge to abstain from sexual intercourse. That is what it means when Aladdin sleeps on the same bed as the princess after having the genie kidnap her, and that is how King Mark interprets it. It is an extreme version of a bundling board.
    – David42
    Jan 6, 2021 at 23:02

The phrase "naked sword" means a sword unsheathed, out of its scabbard. See the definition of "naked" in Merriam-Webster:

  1. devoid of customary or natural covering : BARE: such as
    a) not enclosed in a scabbard
    a naked sword
  • Completely unnecessary edit. Not cool. Jan 7, 2021 at 4:29
  • 1
    If you don’t tag someone, they don’t get notified of your comment. If you don’t like the edit, roll it back. It was intended to help get your answer upvotes by pulling in the relevant off-site information so no-one has to navigate to another page to see it. Telling someone “click this link to get a complete answer” isn’t very helpful.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 7, 2021 at 15:48
  • Well, it looks like we disagree on what is required in an answer. Jan 7, 2021 at 16:05
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    – ColleenV
    Jan 7, 2021 at 17:18
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    Well, I’ll stop trying to teach the pigs to sing, but your disagreement isn’t with me, but rather with the Stack Exchange network’s guidelines.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 7, 2021 at 18:48

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