v51: älskogskrank

The cold time of year in Sweden is also a common time for people to become ill. Perhaps with the common cold: common cold = förkylning, where kyla = both the noun cold and the verb to cool, whereas the adjective cold = kall. In Swedish, sick = sjuk, and if you’re very sick you may end up in a sjukhus = hospital.

ambulansUnfortunately, you may travel there in an ambulans = ambulance. I say unfortunately because ambulance derives ultimately from the Latin ambulare, to walk (seemingly referring to movable hospitals following the troops on the battlefront, for example during the Crimean War in the 1850s), whereas other languages have much more imaginative words for ambulance, such as German Krankenwagen (sick car), Icelandic sjúkrabíll (sick car), and Hungarian mentőautó (rescue car).

This Swedish tongue-twister may make you feel sjuk:

Sju skönsjungande sjuksköterskor skötte sjuttiosju sjösjuka sjömän på skeppet “Shanghai”.

Seven singing nurses took care of seventy-seven seasick seamen on the ship ‘Shanghai’.

However, there are more interesting ways to be sick in Sweden.

Vinterkräksjuka (literally, winter vomiting sickness) is a viral gastroenteritis caused by viruses of the Caliciviridae family (notably Norovirus, or the Norwalk agent). These are responsible for most cases of epidemic gastroenteritis in adults, so why don’t we have a word for it in English?

Älskogskrank = lovesick, from älska = to love + håg = mind, inclination + krank = sick. Sjuk may be the more common word, but krank seems the more poetic. SAOB offers four ways to experience krank:

avundskrank = sick with envy
bröstkrank = chest sick = consumptive
kärlekskrank = lovesick
älskogskrank = lovesick

Maybe that’s why Swedish employers offer sjukpenning (sickness benefit) rather than *krankpenning?

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 18:32  Comments (2)  
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v50: vuxen

You’ll recall that Swedish and English are both Germanic languages. The common ancestor to Swedish and English is called Proto-Germanic, and was spoken by Germanic tribes living around 500 BCE (the end of the Nordic Bronze Age) in what is now Denmark, southern Sweden, and northern Germany. These tribes included the Angles, who gave their name to England and English.

Swedish and English have many similar words, and this can be explained either by a common ancestry, or by more recent borrowings (restaurang = restaurant was borrowed from French by both Swedish and English). Similarity among “basic vocabulary” such as kinship terms, numbers, body parts, and pronouns is more likely explained by a common ancestry. So here are some interesting bits of etymology I discovered when looking at words for people.

Child in Swedish is barn, related to bära, to carry or bear. In English, the sense of bear meaning give birth (yes, birth is related also, with the -th suffix apparently meaning process) is perhaps not so common, but it lives on in the past participle, born.

Incidentally, spädbarn = infant, with späd meaning tender, tiny, delicate. The latter is related to spä = to dilute, and probably also to spad = liquid. So that’s the connection between a young child and a glass of water!

The one common Swedish word I just couldn’t see an English cognate for was vuxen = adult. But there is one – any ideas? There are not even any other (apart from the obvious) vux- words in Swedish; instead, related words begin with väx-, and have meanings to do with growth and change: växa = to grow; växel = both gear (on a bicycle), small change, points (on a railway), and switchboard; växelkurs = exchange rate; växla = to change; växt (noun) = both growth and plant; and växthus = greenhouse. And the related English word? Remembering that the v/w distinction is only a recent one in Swedish, the word is wax, to increase, used for example in relation to phases of the moon. And also related, believe it or not, is waist, I guess because it’s the part of the body that grows (in adults, no less).

Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 17:04  Comments (3)  
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