In recent decades there has been a surge in the scholarship on climate change adaptation (CCA) terminology, and diverging interpretations of the term have emerged. Given the crucial role of local governments in building societywide adaptive capacity, understanding how municipalities understand and interpret CCA is important. In this study, we analyze 12 large-scale questionnaires from 2007 to 2020 distributed to all Norwegian municipalities. Using a combination of directed and conventional content analysis of the questions and answers, we summarize and map the progress of adaptation work over the 14 years and assess the consistency and the scope of the surveys in light of the current research on climate adaptation. We find diverging views on what adaptation entails, both from the researchers, in the phrasing of questions, and from the respondents. The empirical evidence suggests an overall imbalanced interpretation of CCA, in terms of the risks and consequences we may face, the climate to which adapting is needed, and adequate adaptation strategies. We go on to discuss the implications of these findings, highlighting the need for a shared and well-communicated framework for local CCA and a closer monitoring of the actual efforts of the municipalities. If instead left unchecked, this confusion might lead to unsustainable maladaptation at the local government level throughout Norway and beyond.