76: kronärtskocka

Not long after arriving in Sweden, I went to a dinner; the first course was soup; the soup was kronärtskocka. It took us  a while to work out the translation, but then it’s obvious enough that ärtskocka = artichoke. Both the Swedish and the English derive from the Italian arcicioffo (artichokes being native to southern Europe), and ultimately from Arabic.

Or rather, kronärtskocka = globe artichoke, Cynara scolymus. The other thing we call an artichoke in both Swedish and English is Helicanthus tuberosus, the Jerusalem artichoke or jordärtskocka, which is a sunflower, not an artichoke (although both are members of the Family Asteraceae), and has nothing to do with Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem artichoke is native to North America, and it’s said that its English name derives from the Italian girasole, sunflower, which it resembles, and the fact that the edible root tastes like artichoke, according to the explorer Samuel de Champlain. Speaking of tastes, I’d like someday to try that other cousin of the globe artichoke, the cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, which apparently has a very sexy flavour.

The Swedish names for these vegetables are certainly more descriptive than the English: kron (crown) is the top of the plant, while jord (earth) is the root.

It’s difficult to look up words like kronärtskocka in the Swedish Academy’s wonderful dictionary, SAOB. The entry for kronärtskocka has the derivation as kron + ärtskocka, but unfortunately SAOB hasn’t got that far yet: as of this writing, the dictionary is up to the word tyna. In the Swedish alphabet, words starting with å-, ä-, and ö- come after z- words.

Trying to work out the translation of ärtskocka, one dead end is that it has nothing to do with ärt = pea. But there’s apparently another subtle distinction in Swedish: ärt (plural ärter) is the plant, while ärta (plural ärtor) is the little green seed (frö). If that seems too complicated, just remember ärtsoppa. Mmmm….! Who needs cardoons? Or artichoke soup, come to think of it.

Published in: on January 9, 2012 at 11:57  Comments (1)  
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73: lussekatt

Today (December 13) is St Lucy’s Day, Luciadagen. Lucy/Lucia lived in Syracuse, Sicily, from 283-304. She was martyred when she (a Christian) refused to marry a non-Christian. Her name derives from the Latin, lux, light, and indeed she is patron saint of the blind. A common story is that her eyes were removed at some point during her martyrdom, but this seems to be a later addition.

Lucia is a major celebration in modern-day Sweden, dating from the 1760s.  Most towns will elect a Lucia, who will then, dressed in white with candles in her hair, lead an entourage while singing Lucia songs. All the while, dark and (maybe) snow outside. It’s really quite a moving ceremony. Interestingly, the best examplar I could find on youtube is a Swedish Lucia held in Barcelona:

What about the word? Lussekatt is a type of bun eaten at Lucia. It’s coloured with saffron, and the basic shape is this:

I’ve heard a suggestion that these remind you of poor Saint Lucy’s eyes, but it’s more likely that they remind you of a cat, curled-up asleep, hence the name lussekatt. Or half the name, anyway. SAOB lists many words under the headword lucia, lussekatt being one of them. The earliest reference is to 1898, in Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfarts Tidning. But SAOB also gives an alternate name for lussekatt: dövelskatt. Dövel is a Swedish dialect word for djävul, devil. And therein lies the rub.

The lusse- in lussekatt is related not to Lucia, but to Lucifer, the devil himself. Rather than explaining in detail, I’ll give you some further reading below. Strange as it may seem, the etymology of Lucifer is also connected to light. It seems the key biblical passage is Isiah 14:12, here’s the King James version:

12How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

Some food for thought on a dark day in Sweden! Here are the links:
Lucia – legend, myt och fakta (SVT)
Faktoider: Lussekatter
How to make Lussekatter (Community of Sweden)
Saint Lucy (wikipedia)
Lucifer (wikipedia)

Published in: on December 13, 2011 at 09:02  Leave a Comment  
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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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v19: jordgubbe

Swedish jordgubbe = strawberry. And interestingly, both words are different from the name for this (accessory) fruit in other Germanic languages, for example:

German: Erdbeere
Dutch: aardbei
Danish, Norwegian: jordbær

All these words refer to the Garden Strawberry, Fragaria × ananassa, the most commonly cultivated of the Fragaria species, which happens to be an octoploid (eight sets of seven chromosomes) species, and therefore apparently more robust and producing larger fruit. Another well-known strawberry in Sweden is the smultron, or Woodland Strawberry, Fragaria vesca, which is a diploid (two sets of seven chromosomes) species.

Back to the words. The straw in strawberry may refer to the external seeds which cover the fruit. And jordgubbe = jord (earth; the two words have the same Germanic root) + gubbe (a Swedish dialect word meaning little lump).

The Swedish word sounds odd because the word gubbe commonly means old man, a word which Norstedts describes as having uncertain origin, but probably originally children’s talk for someone tjockt, klumpigt och böjt (stout, clumsy and bent)!

Another nice Swedish strawberry word is smultronställe = smultron + ställe (place), which means not just a good place to find wild strawberries, but in general, a favourite haunt.

Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 15:28  Leave a Comment  
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v8: morot

Another vegetable whose Swedish name bears little resemblance to the English is morot (en morot; plural morötter), carrot. The end of each word means root (indeed rot = root), but the English word derives from the Latin carota, and ultimately from ker- (horn). I was hoping to find an explanation of the Swedish etymology, but so far I haven’t. However, I was interested to see the languages that unexpectedly (to me) do and don’t have a similar word for carrot to the Swedish:

Norwegian: gulrot; Danish: gulerod; Icelandic: gulrót

German: Möhre, Mohrrübe

Lithuanian: morka; Polish: marchew;
Romanian: morcov; Russian: морковка

Published in: on February 28, 2010 at 20:51  Comments (3)  
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v48: spiskummin

Supermarket shopping in a foreign country can be fun. It’s always interesting to see the range of food available, and also how it’s categorised. For example, I am used to spreads such as jams, honey, and peanut butter being together, whereas in Swedish supermarkets honey is with sugar and peanut butter is somewhere else entirely (I always forget where). Generally, supermarket shopping in Sweden has not been too problematic, with some exceptions. The first is dairy products: there seem to be an awful lot of varieties of milk, cream, yoghurt, and possibly other things, that all come in essentially the same packaging. I still haven’t sorted out what they all are.

Second is bread. There are many new choices in what I regard as “normal” bread (for example, potatislimpa), let alone crispread (knäckebröd). And it’s a long process to buy each one and taste them all until you finally find the one you like best!

Third is spices (spice=krydda; spices=kryddor). Many of them look pretty much the same in those little bottles, don’t they? And sometimes the names can  be difficult to translate, even the common ones; for example, UNT recently gave the following list of the spices that were most commonly imported into Sweden in 2008:

peppar pepper 1800 ton
chili chili 1700 ton
ingefära ginger 612 ton
kanel cinnamon 400 ton
kardemumma cardamom 256 ton
kryddnejlika cloves 148 ton
muskot nutmeg 63 ton
saffran saffron 3-4 ton

Once you’ve got the names down pat, there’s only one main trap for spice-buyers: (spis)kummin.

Swedish kummin is caraway (Carum carvi), whereas spiskummin is cumin (Cuminum cyminum). Both names are derived from the Latin cuminum, and their plants and seeds (fruits) do look somewhat alike. They both belong to the family Apiaceum, but then, so do celery, parsley, coriander, and fennel. However, carroway is native to Europe, while cumin is not. So in many European countries, carroway is called cumin, whereas cumin is called something equivalent to “foreign cumin”. For a much better explanation of this, read Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.

In the Swedish name, spiskumin, spis means food or stove, and spisa is both an old Swedish word meaning eat, and a new Swedish word meaning listen to (jazz) music. Seriously! If I read SAOB correctly, the former meaning dates from the 16th century, and the latter is from the 1930s. This might help you make more sense of this line in the children’s song Var bor du lilla råtta? (Where do you live little rat?) by Britt Hallqvist:

Vad vill du ha att spisa? Korv och jazz.
What do you want to eat/listen to? Sausage and jazz.

Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 14:40  Comments (1)  
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v46: glögg

Glögg is Swedish mulled wine, and now is the season for drinking it. The word glögg is derived from glödga, to warm up. The English word mull, similarly, means to warm up, spice, and sweeten wine. So my question is, if glögg is (by definition) warm, does the bottle contain glögg?

Each year since 2003, Blossa has brought out an annual glögg flavour (available since the first week of October!). Just so you know, Blossa claims to be the market leader for glögg in Sweden. Blossa is owned by V&S (Vin & Spirit AB), maybe best known for Absolut Vodka. V&S was founded in 1917 as a national monopoly for the production, import, export and wholesale trade of alcoholic beverages in Sweden, and was only recently (July 2008) sold by the Swedish government to the French giant Pernod Ricard (they own everything not owned by Diageo). This year’s flavour is Clementin(e).

Glödlampa is Swedish for incandescent bulb. Now have you figured out that glö- is related to glow? But the bulb in the box is neither incandescent or glowing.

What would be your reaction if I offerred you a glass of glögg and gave you something cold, straight from the bottle? Think about coffee (another popular drink here): if you ask for coffee, you expect it to be served hot. But cold coffee is still coffee, and when I buy coffee from the supermarket, it is not even a liquid. So I think we have to admit that the definition of glögg must be expanded to include the non-heated version. Alcohol-free glögg and decaffeinated coffee? You will have to puzzle those out for yourself.

The current (13th) edition of SAOL lists a number of words beginning with glö-. They are either glöd- or glög- words, as described, or glöm- words, from glömma, forget. SAOL is kind enough to provide list of words left out in moving from the 12th to the 13th edition. One word I already miss is glöta, to dig around. This would have been the last word in the glö- series, but I’m happy to make do with the next word in the list, g-moll, which sounds like someone you might meet in a speakeasy, but is in fact G-minor.

After ten editions of “words from sweden”, it’s time for some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there are plenty more interesting words for me to write about, I hope to continue for a while yet. The bad news is that I’ll be cutting back on the picture clues for next week’s word. Mainly because it means I won’t have to think two weeks ahead for each post, but also because I want to explore areas of grammar which are difficult to photgraph (but I’ll try), and other words where I’d like a photograph of my own, but can’t get one. But mainly because I don’t want to think two weeks ahead.

See you next week!

Published in: on November 12, 2009 at 19:47  Comments (1)  
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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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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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v37: mjäll

I was reading the restaurant reviews in Uppsala Nya Tidning (UNT) using Google Translate (GT), when I saw the following interesting description of a meal:

UNT: Rödingen (270 kronor) serveras mjäll och fin med paksoi, en asiatisk bladgrönsak, som är fyllig och saftig.

GT: Charles (270 SEK) served dandruff and fine with paksoi, an Asian leaf vegetable, which is rich and juicy.

Interestingly, when I first read it a few months ago, the translation of Rödingen was (correctly) Char, so I remain bemused as to how GT improves its translations. But dandruff?! Something one might expect to find at the hairdresser next door, but not on one’s fish! A much better translation is tender. That is, the word mjäll has two meanings, which have an interesting connection. Think about it for a minute, then read on to find out more.

I admit , I did make it a bit tricky by translating mjäll as tender; Norstedts is more helpful; their online dictionary says:

mjäll = transparently (diaphanously) white

Their etymological dictionary says:

som har en fin och mjuk konsistens
having a  fine and smooth consistency

That is, tender is a good translation for mjäll only when talking about cooked fish, but now you can see how other words, like Swedish mjöl (flour) and mala (grind) and English meal and mill are also related.

Next week’s clue:


Windmill; nice tie-in I thought.

What colour is the wind (this works just as well in English as in Swedish)?

Published in: on September 7, 2009 at 14:33  Comments (1)  
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