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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v49: andra

Here is a list of the first ten cardinal (one, two, three,…) and ordinal (first, second, third,…) numbers in Swedish. Do you notice anything strange?:

1 ett första
2 två andra
3 tre tredje
4 fyra fjärde
5 fem femte
6 sex sjätte
7 sju sjunde
8 åtta åttonde
9 nio nionde
10 tio tionde

It strikes me that andra is the odd one out, don’t you think?

The English other is from Old English oþer, in turn from Proto-Germanic *antharaz, meaning the other one out of two things. In this exact meaning it was replaced in English around the 14th century by second, from the Latin secundus, following. Sequel has the same origin. The unit of time, second, is also directly related, being the result of dividing an hour into sixty equal parts a first time (to get minutes), and then a second time.

In Swedish, however, andra (ultimately the same origin as English other) still means both second and other. Andra, like an adjective, has a number of forms:

annan = indefinite singular common
annat = indefinite singular neuter
andra = indefinite plural
andra = definite

The word annandag (“second day”) is used in connection with a couple of Swedish public holidays, annandag påsk (Easter Monday) and annandag jul (Boxing Day). A third, annandag pingst (Whit Monday), was a public holiday until 2004; in 2005 it was replaced as a public holiday by Sweden’s National Day on 6 June. The latter commemorates the election of Gustav Vasa as King of Sweden on 6 June 1523, marking the effective end of the Kalmar Union, and thus the independence of Sweden. The date did not, however, become Sweden’s official National Day until 1983.

Published in: on February 4, 2011 at 15:48  Comments (1)  
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v48: geggig

I thought it was about time for some more food words. Geggig = gooey, messy. Related words are gegga: gegga med = mess with; and geggamoja = goo, etc. Tracking the etymology gets complicated. SAOB has no entry for gegg-, whereas NEO has geggamoja, “probably” from a Swedish dialect word gegga, spit + moj, rubbish. So I’m sticking (well, that’s a rather loose pun) with the theory that geggig was invented by a scrabble player faced with a rack full of g’s. Gegga med seems to be generally used in connection with food, or even mess.

Apparently unrelated, moja sig = gona sig = have a good time.

Closely related (texture-wise) is kladdig, sticky: kladdkaka is a popular Swedish dessert: the measure of a good kladdkaka is to some extent its stickiness.

One of my favourites, and a word that should apply to all food, is mumsig (delicious). Also mums! = yum! and mumsa = munch.

The Swedish culture education word this week is fredagsmys. It refers to enjoying a relaxing break at the end of the week, where mys = relaxation, but the concept often involves food. I asked Google whether it’s possible to have mys on other days of the week, and it told me (K = thousands of results):

måndagsmys 49.0K
tisdagsmys 33.5K
onsdagsmys 43.8K
torsdagsmys 39.4K
fredagsmys 318K
lördagsmys 41.0K
söndagsmys 33.4K

Another alternative is helgmys (helg = weekend), with 88.0K results. So if you want some mys, best have it on Friday!

Published in: on February 1, 2011 at 07:49  Leave a Comment  
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v47: istapp

istapparIstapp (plural istappar) = icicle. Another Swedish word for icicle is ispigg (the SAOB definition of istapp is simply ispigg), where pigg = spike, quill, as discussed previously. So what about tapp?

As usual, here things get somewhat confusing. SAOB says tapp has a Germanic origin, meaning tapered. However, according to Oxford, taper is derived from the latin papyrus, and refers to the shape of a candle, the wicks of which were made from papyrus pith. Tapp also means tap, in the sense of the spout part of a tap; the whole appliance (faucet) is a kran. So you can see that they all seem to be linked together somehow.

The verb tappa tells you many things that can be done with a tapp, such as tappa upp ett bad, run a bath.

Etymology aside, other nice tapering thing is a molntapp, wisp of cloud.

But by far the most curious word on this page must be icicle, which is apparently derived from ice + ickle, where ickle is an English dialect word meaning icicle. Go figure! Or, beware of etymology:


Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 14:06  Comments (4)  
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v46: sånt

Sånt is a tricky word to look up in a dictionary because it is both an inflected form and a contraction. Sånt is a contraction of sådant, the neuter form of sådan, such.sånt It appears in the phrase sånt är livet (such is life), but Google also finds many business names with sånt, including Ballonger & Sånt, Kaffe & Sånt, Spel & Sånt, Inreda & Sånt, and Silver & Sånt (notably, all with & rather than och). Incidentally, silver is the same word in both Swedish and English, and related words are found as far afield as Russian cеребро.They are all thought to derive ultimately from an Akkadian word.

I googled the various forms of sådan and their contractions, and found that sånt appears to be the only one for which the contraction is the more common form (M = millions of results):

common sådan 14.6M sån 3.25M
neuter sådant 3.86M sånt 9.41M
plural sådana 3.78M såna 1.40M

As a comparison, here are the results for någon (some, any), which behaves similarly to sådan in its inflections and contractions:

common någon 28.3M nån 10.6M
neuter något 29.2M nåt 5.03M
plural några 25.6M nåra 0.18M


Något för alla
Something for everyone

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 15:54  Leave a Comment  
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v45: oslagbara

oslagbaraHere’s one to test your skills. The sign at the right says Fyrverkerier till oslagbara priser, Fireworks for ??? prices.

So what about oslagbara? The -a ending is the plural marker, agreeing with priser, so the whole word can be broken down into o-slag-bar-a, which translates as un-???-able-[plural]. Which only leaves one small part of the word left to work out. Unfortunately this small piece is the key to the meaning.

To make it easy for you, oslagbara = unbeatable. It’s related to the verb slå = beat (in the sense of both hit and defeat), and the noun slag = hit, knock, punch. SAOB says slag is derived from the Old Swedish slagh. The closest English word is slay, which the Online Etymology Dictionary traces back to the Proto-Germanic slakhanan. A slagman is a batsman, and slagverk are percussion instruments.

Melodifestivalen is the competition to decide the Swedish entry into the Eurovision song contest; the first semi-final for 2011 is in Luleå on February 5. The common type of music in the competition is a form of light pop known in Sweden as schlager (leading to the competition being referred to as Schlagerfestivalen!). The word schlager itself has the same origin as slag, and seems to refer not to the beat of the music but its impact, just like the English hit.

Published in: on January 18, 2011 at 08:13  Leave a Comment  
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v44: mellan

I’ve been remiss not to talk about prepositions yet, but they can be tricky. For instance, once you learn that i means in, or possibly at, it’s confusing to then know that in telling the time, ten to eight is tio i åtta. So I’ll start with an easy one: mellan = between.

Apart from the obvious, mellan also appears in expressions such as Mellanamerika (Central America), mellanmjölk (medium-fat milk), and mellanmål (snack, literally between-meal).

mellanMellandag, originally meaning any days between two points in time, has since the late 1800s come to refer to the days between Christmas and New Year (see SAOB for the history). But now the most common use seems to be in the expression mellandagsrea, which Norstedts translates as year-end sales (so they can extend well into January).

A specific sort of mellandag is the klämdag, which is a working day that falls between a public holiday and a weekend (so a common time to choose to take a day off work). From klämma, to squeeze, so literally a squeeze-day.

Published in: on January 14, 2011 at 08:05  Leave a Comment  
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v43: julklapp

Sweden (and most of Europe) is having a particularly white Christmas this year. As with most countries, Christmas in Sweden brings with it a sackload of traditions: here are a few interesting ones, in chronological order. There are a couple of nice videoclips for you to watch, but I couldn’t embed them, so you’ll have to follow the links.

In the lead-up to Christmas, there’s any number of places to go out for julbord, literally Christmas table, but Christmas buffet will do nicely. The first video is from SVT’s Julkalendern (another tradition, by the way). Do watch the whole episode, but I love the bit from 5:00 onwards describing the julbord: 49 sorters sill! (49 types of herring!)

Presents are distributed on 24 December, julafton (Christmas Eve). A standard scenario is that the father goes out to buy a newspaper, and while he’s out, Father Christmas appears and hands out the presents. Don’t believe me? Well, it’s the only way you’re going to understand the second video, from ICA, where the others get excited when Stig says he’s going out to buy a newspaper.

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, a big thing on Christmas Eve is to watch Donald Duck (Kalle Anka) cartoons on TV at 3pm. I’m not even going to bother to try and explain that one!

Finally, julklapp = Christmas present, but klapp means tap or knock, and isn’t used to mean present at any other time of the year. This one really does have a nice story behind it: it’s from a practice which dates back to the 1600s of knocking on someone’s door, then when they open the door, throwing in the present and running away before one can be recognised.

God jul!

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 16:05  Comments (1)  
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v42: blinka

Swedish doesn’t appear to have separate words for blink (closing both eyes for a short time) and wink (closing just one eye): blinka covers both meanings. However, Swedish does have a word, blunda, meaning to shut one’s eyes. Blinka and blunda belong to separate word groupings, both of which are interesting:

Blinka words (root meaning: to shine):

blinka (verb) blink, wink
blank (adj) bright, shining / blanka (verb) polish
blek (adj) pale / bleka (verb) bleach
blick (noun) glance

A very common word is ögonblick (moment), not an eye-blink as I originally thought, but an eye-glance.

Blunda words (root meaning: unclear):

blunda (verb) shut one’s eyes
blind (adj) blind
blända (verb) blind, dazzle

Note also the particle verb blända av: in theory meaning darken or dim, but used particularly to mean dip one’s headlights (example here).

Blinka also means twinkle, as in Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, the nursery rhyme written in 1806 by Jane Taylor, and a great one for students of Swedish: you can learn vocabulary, pronounciation and grammar, all in a few short lines (I’ll leave the translation up to you):

Blinka lilla stjärna där
hur jag undrar vad du är
Fjärran lockar du min syn
lik en diamant i skyn
Blinka lilla stjärna där
hur jag undrar vad du är

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 14:46  Comments (1)  
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v41: fingo

An odd one this week. Do you even think fingo is a real Swedish word? It doesn’t look Swedish, and you can test this by searching for *ingo in Norstedts. The results are bingo, dingo, and flamingo, all clearly loan words. A search for fingo in online resources finds no hits, except for Norstedts, which returns the entry for the auxiliary verb , with no mention of fingo. What’s going on here?

Fingo is an old Swedish word, apparently too old to appear in online dictionaries. Back in those old days, Swedish had a plural form of the verb in its various tenses. Remember that I said Modern Swedish dates from 1526, and Late Modern Swedish from 1732, so how old is too old? Surprisingly, only the early 1900s, according to Holmes and Hinchliffe, and even as late as 1945 in more formal writing. That doesn’t seem so long ago to me. See the reference for a more complete discussion, but here are a couple of examples you might want to look out for, particularly if reading religious texts (which fit into the more formal category). The first person plural imperative ends in -om, and the second person plural imperative in -en/n:

Låtom oss bedja.
Let us pray.

Bedjen och eder varda givet.
Ask and it shall be given to you.

As for fingo, it is the irregular plural form of fick, the past tense of the already irregular verb . Similarly, the even-harder-to-find gingo is the plural of gick, the past tense of .

Published in: on December 21, 2010 at 09:05  Comments (1)  
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