v34: farlig

You may be surprised to know that Swedish has no word for grandfather. Instead, one must choose between farfar (paternal grandfather) and morfar (maternal grandfather). The same same pattern is true for other kinship terms, such as morbror (uncle; mother’s brother) and systerdotter (niece; sister’s daughter). As far as I can work out from Wiktionary, other languages that have distinct words for maternal and paternal grandfathers are Norwegian (but not Danish?), Thai, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Navajo.

Right next to far (father, shortened form of fader) in the dictionary is fara (danger). By now you should be able to guess that farlig is the adjective derived from fara. The two words, far and fara, have unrelated etymologies, which means they ought to be a good source of puns. And here is one: the forthcoming film Dumma Mej (Swedish version of Despicable Me) has the following line in its advertising:

En del kallar honom farlig. De kallar honom far.
Some call him dangerous. They call him Dad.

So it’s true: making puns in Swedish is just like doing it in English. And in case you’re wondering, fatherly = faderlig.

Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 13:18  Leave a Comment  
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v33: gärna

One small phrase I can’t quite come to terms with is Betala gärna med mynt. It appears on the little boxes at supermarket checkouts where you are supposed to insert coins. In general, gärna = willingly, gladly, with pleasure. So it’s like the coin machine is asking you to be happy. My colleagues suggest that please is an appropriate translation for gärna in this instance, so Please pay with coins is the literal translation, whereas I would prefer Please insert coins here. But here are a couple more examples of gärna in use:


Both of these examples seem to be saying that you can do this (borrow an IKEA catalogue or pay by credit card) if you want to, whereas the supermarket staff aren’t giving you a choice: you’re obliged to put coins in the little box.

Of course, gärna is related to the English yearn, and the original (Germanic) meaning seems to derive from wanting to do something.

Apart from its translation, gärna is interesting because it’s a sentential adverb (it modifies the whole sentence), and because it has irregular comparative and superlative forms:

gärna; hellre; helst
willingly; more willingly; most willingly

In case you’re wondering, the usage is something like this:

Han dricker hellre öl än vin
He prefers (drinking) beer to wine

Finally, here is a useful phrase for you, using gärna and kunna, to be able (which has present tense kan and preterite kunde) :

kan/kunde lika gärna…
might/could just as well…

Here are some examples:

Kan lika gärna sälja ringmuren
Might just as well sell the city walls

Jag kan lika gärna gå och dö
I might just as well go and die

Vi kunde lika gärna aldrig nånsin mötts
We could just as easily have never ever met

(The last being lyrics from the Lisa Ekdahl song, Vem Vet)

Published in: on September 17, 2010 at 16:08  Comments (4)  
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v32: jätte

In Norse mythology, giants feature at both creation (the frost giant Ymir was the first living creature), and at the end of the world, Ragnarök, which features a great battle between the gods and the giants. In Swedish, giant = jätte (old Norse jotunn), and the word is thought to be cognate with äta, to eat, thus meaning a being who eats a lot.

The usual translation of very in Swedish is mycket:

mycket bra = very good

This word is regarded in both English and Swedish as an adverb, in this case an adverb modifying an adjective, rather than a verb (or even a whole sentence, as I described earlier). But the word jätte is also commonly used as an intensifier, in which case, unlike mycket, it is prefixed onto the word it modifies:

jättebra/jättefin = very good, terrific
jätterolig = very funny
jätteglad = very happy
jättesnygg = gorgeous

I’m sure you’ve noticed the posts have been slowing down a little, sometimes both in frequency and size, but I’m hoping to persist for at least a little longer. To all of you who’ve read thus far:

Tack så jättemycket!

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 17:14  Comments (3)  
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v31: inställd

I received an email last week that football training was inställd. Norstedts wasn’t very helpful:

  • vara inställd beredd på ngt be prepared for sth
  • vara inställd på att (+ inf.) a) be prepared to + inf. b) ämna intend to + inf.
  • vara sympatiskt inställd till ngt be sympathetic towards…
  • vänligt inställd favourably (kindly) disposed; jfr äv. inställa, ställa in

That is, not even a definition for inställd, just a series of set phrases to demonstrate usage.

Swedish has many compound verbs, that is, words formed by prefixing another word (which may be a noun, adjective, verb, or other prefix) onto a verb. To start with, I’m just looking at a group of prefixes called particles. There are inseparable particles, which are always prefixed, for example, tyda = to interpret, as in the online dictionary tyda.se. Add be- and you have betyda = to mean. Inseparable particles include:

an- anklaga to accuse
er- erbjuda to offer
sam- samarbeta to cooperate
van- vansköta to neglect

But there are also separable particles, such as:

sätta på to switch on
om tycka om to like
ihåg komma ihåg to remember

And some particles are used both ways, in which case, apparently, the separated form has the more concrete meaning:

Han strök under ordet.
He underlined the word.

Han underströk ordet.
He emphasised the word.

Lampan lyste upp rummet.
The lamp lit up the room.

Vi upplyste honom.
We enlightened him.

Which brings me back to inställd. It’s the past participle of inställa, a compound verb which is a cognate to the English verb install, but see if you can figure out the connection between inställa and the separated compound ställa in:

ställa in
to put in
ställa in bilen i garaget
put the car in the garage

to cancel
inställa förhandlingarna
discontinue negotiations

Published in: on September 3, 2010 at 14:42  Comments (1)  
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