v44: lördag

I was taught that the days of the week in English were named for Germanic gods (plus the sun and the moon), so it’s reasonable to expect the names to be similar in Swedish. Let’s have a look:

Monday = måndag
Tuesday = tisdag
Wednesday = onsdag
Thursday = torsdag
Friday = fredag
Saturday = lördag
Sunday = söndag

Well, the similarities are obvious, apart from lördag. It turns out that Saturday is named for Saturn, who was a Roman, rather than Germanic, god. What about lördag? According to Wikipedia, the name derives from the old habit of bathing on this day (löga = bathe).

However, a much more important tradition observed on Saturdays in modern-day Sweden is that of lördagsgodis (Saturday sweets). Apparently this dates back to the 1950s/1960s as an effort to prevent tooth decay. That is, tooth decay would be reduced if children ate sweets on only one day per week. Reasonable enough, you may think, but the background to this is rather dark.

The Vipeholm experiments were carried out on the background of poor dental health in Sweden at that time, and involved the (essentially) force-feeding of high carbohydrate toffee (Vipeholm toffee, “specially formulated to maximise retention of the sugar on the teeth”) to a group of patients at the Vipeholm institute for the mentally retarded in Lund during 1945-1955.  These experiments led to a very good understanding of the relationship between sugar intake and tooth decay, but flew in the face of modern medical ethical principles. Even back then, the Nuremberg Code, outlined in 1947, specified the need for consent, which was not obtained (from either the subjects, their next-of-kin, or patient representatives) at Vipeholm.

Dental health in Sweden is now excellent, owing to a combination of fluoridated toothpaste, widespread availability of dental services, promotion of dental hygeine, and lördagsgodis. But not fluoridated water. I wouldn’t put you through the pain of trying to use the internet to research water fluoridation, as it’s one of those areas dominated by pressure groups and pseudo-science, but you may be interested to know, contrary to what you may hear, that water fluoridation was never banned in Sweden; instead Parliament in 1971 repealed an Act which allowed water fluoridation (for example, read here). Not being allowed is not the same thing as being banned, is it?

Enjoy your godis!

Next week:


What verb do these two instruments have in common?

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 09:19  Leave a Comment  
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v43: skär

I just read an article (Taft C, Sivik L. Salient color terms in four languages. ScandJPsych 1997; 38: 29-34), which looked at lists of colour names elicited from subjects in four languages, including Swedish.

Their findings were compared to Berlin and Kay’s description of 11 basic colour terms (white, black, gray, red, green, blue, yellow, orange, brown, purple, pink).

An interesting result (according to Taft and Sivik) was that there are two words for pink in Swedish: rosa (mentioned by 100% of subjects) and skär (mentioned by 80%), and also for purple: lila and violett (both 100%). I hadn’t heard of skär (in the colour sense), so I checked with colleagues, who said skär is not really a common word for pink, and is used when talking about unpleasant shades of pink. So Swedish has the word grisskär (pig-pink). Sorry, pigs!

I also learnt that lila is the most common word for purple, but there are further alternatives, including purpur and gredelin (from the French gris de lin, ‘flax gray’) . So I looked up the terms for purple on Google. Google Sweden gives the following simple search options: webben (the web) ; sidor på svenska (pages in Swedish); sidor från Sverige (pages from Sweden). I searched for five words meaning purple (or shades thereof) in Swedish, and found the following numbers of hits:

webben på svenska från Sverige
lila 16,400,000 877,000 796,000
purpur 590,000 28,500 21,600
violett 2,160,000 54,000 47,100
gredelin 79,900 66,400 461,000
indigo 28,600,000 130,000 146,000

What do you notice? What seems bizarre is that gredelin has more hits from Sweden than it does from the web in total. Huh?? Secondly, I guess we can agree that lila is the commonest term here for purple, but gredelin is definitely a good second choice. Plus, it sounds much more sophisticated, don’t you think?

(This kind of search won’t work for rosa/skär, because skär has a number of other meanings, including skerry and cut.)

Taft and Sivik also found that one Berlin and Kay non-basic colour term, beige, was mentioned by 100% of subjects, putting it ahead of both skär and grå (gray).

Back to this week’s word, I’d always believed that a French charcuterie was a pork butcher, but it’s actually a specialist in cooked meats (from chair, ‘flesh’ + cuit, ‘cooked’). Swedish has essentially the same word charkuteri (abbreviated as chark, see last week’s photo). And guess what? From the French chair is derived the Swedish skär, that is, the colour of flesh! Pig flesh, obviously.

Next week:


What day is it today?

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 11:39  Comments (2)  
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v42: lök

I am an onion. Last week’s picture, that is, is a spring onion (salladslök or knipplök; Allium fistulosum). Actually I am a bit of an onion also: I was supposed to buy spring onions at the supermarket, but bought chives (gräslök; Allium schoenoprasum) instead. Onion in Swedish is lök. The prototypical onion is Allium cepa, which has many varieties, including silverlök (white onion), rödlök (red [Spanish] onion), gul lök (brown onion), and schalottenlök (shallot). Other related vegetables are purjolök (leek; Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum), and vitlök (garlic; Allium sativum). Lök also means bulb or bud, as in tulpanlök (tulip bulb) and smaklök (taste bud).

I’m still a little puzzled as to why it’s silverlök and rödlök but not *gullök (see two weeks ago for the discussion of särskrivning).

I hadn’t previously thought of either chives or garlic as being onions. The English names don’t make it obvious, whereas the Swedish ones do; I thought this was an intersting example of how even nouns can be categorised differently in two such closely-related languages as English and Swedish. I guess this will be a fruitful (vegetableful?) topic for further discussion.

Although they seem at first to be very different words, the derivations of the names of the vegetables in English and Swedish are rather interesting and overlapping: Onion in Latin is cepa (from which chives is derived, via the French cive). In Greek, apparently (my knowledge of Greek is pretty non-existent) leek is praso [πράσο] and green is prasino [πράσινο], hence the species name of leeks and chives, as well as the element Praseodymium. Leek, lök, and the -lic in garlic are related. The porrum in the botanical name for leek gives both the purjo- in purjolök, and porridge.

Next week:


I said I’d talk about colour terms again. Pigs have come in for a bit of a bashing lately thanks to swine flu. What colour are pigs?

Published in: on October 12, 2009 at 19:36  Comments (1)  
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v41: paj

As Wikipedia says, A loanword (lånord) is a word borrowed from one language and incorporated into another, however neither loanword nor borrowing correctly conveys the meaning, since no words are going to be returned.

The Romani people migrated out of India around the 11th Century CE, through the Middle East and into Europe. Romani is one of Sweden’s five official minority languages (a nice trivia question for you there); according to Språkrådet, there are around 40,000 Romani speakers in Sweden. Språkrådet lists the following Romani loanwords into Swedish: tjej (girl), haja (understand), lattjo (funny) and jycke (dog).

But the word I’m interested in, that Språkrådet doesn’t mention, is paj (broken).

As you know, in English and in Swedish, most adjectives can be placed either before the noun (attributive) or after the noun (predicative) [I know that’s not a good definition of attributive and predicative, but it will do for now]:

The big house. The house is big.
Det stora huset. Huset är stort.

But there’s a group of adjectives that don’t have this flexibility in English:

The fomer president. *The president is former.
The main reason. *The reason is main.
The man is alone. *The alone man.

(The asterisk here means the sentence is ungrammatical.) In general, the English adjectives above are reference-modifying, that is, they describe the context that the noun is in. Compare alone with lonely:

The man is lonely. The lonely man.

Lonely is referent-modifying, that is, just describing the noun itself. Similarly, in Swedish, there are also adjectives that are restricted to either attributive or predicative use. The attributive-only seem to be reference modifying:

I fjärran länder. In foreign parts.
Det dåtida Stockholm. The Stockholm of that time.

But I can’t see a pattern for the predicative only:

Arbetet var slut. Work had finished.
Bilen är sönder. The car is broken-down.

Slut and sönder may look as though they are somehow related in meaning, but then there are other words meaning broken, such as trasig, that can be used both attributively and predicatively. So maybe there’s just no rule to learn? My grammar book just says that some indeclinable adjectives can only be used attributively, some can only be used predicatively, and some can be used both ways. It doesn’t say whether there are any declinable adjectives that can only be used attributively or predicatively. What about paj? There seems to be no problem with the predicative use (Min dator är paj), but I can’t find any good examples of attributive use, or other forms of the adjective, even though they are suggested here.

The much more common meaning for paj is pie, in which case it’s a loan word from English. And there is the answer to last week’s picture clue: adjectives + bakery = paj. By the way, the best known (possibly the only non-slang) Romani loanword in English is pal.

Next week, let’s talk about food again:


What am I?

Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 20:59  Comments (1)  
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