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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v53: reklam

Reklam = advertising. It’s a word you see often on letterboxes: Ingen Reklam Tack = No Advertising Material:

The fact that reklam and advertising are such common words caused me to miss that there is an obvious cognate in English: reclaim. But how does that work?

The Latin clamare means to cry out, proclaim. Then reclamare means to call back or maybe to protest, you can see how both of these could give rise (via French) to the English reclaim.

The Swedish verb reklamera originally (since 1682) means complain about or put in a claim for, but it also has a newer (since 1915), but now outdated, meaning, to advertise. These days, to advertise is annonsera or göra reklam.

I can sort of see the connections going on here, but not quite. Clearly, reklam is much closer in meaning to the Latin clamare than to reclamare, but I guess this illustrates how meanings drift and intertwine over the centuries.

After not thinking about reklam for many months, what spurred my interest was that there was one Hungarian word I recognised on my trip to Budapest: reklám.

Published in: on November 30, 2011 at 05:00  Comments (1)  
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v52: påse

Påse (bag) was one of the first words I had to learn. Sweden is keen on recycling, and you have to pay for bags at the supermarket, so:

Vill du ha en påse?
Do you want a bag?

Påse is related to the English purse, but what about the etymology of these two words? It’s a lot more complicated than I would have thought, and the sources I’ve found are not consistent. My impression is that it all goes back to a Proto-Indo-European stem *bus-, which evolved into two families of words.

The b- family are words such as English reimburse, bursar, and Swedish börs (Stock Exchange or purse, according to Norstedts). Some of these are later borrowings from French.

Then we have Grimm’s Law, or the First Germanic Sound Shift, which describes a series of changes in consonant pronounciations as the Germanic languages branched off from the Indo-European family a few thousand years ago. So, for example, b became p, p became f, d became t, and so on. Go have a look at the Wikipedia article for an idea. Thus the PIE b- words evolved into the Germanic p- words, of which påse is an example.

Why is that complicated? Well, Old English seems to have had both b- words and p- words for bags, and it’s difficult to say which lineage purse comes from. The Wiktionary article on purse gives you some idea what I mean.

This is connected to my previous post about getting sick. You may know the following common childhood vaccinations:

MMR: measles, mumps, rubella
MPR: mässling, påssjuka, röda hund

DTP: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis
DSK: difteri, stelkramp, kikhosta

Mumps is påssjuka in Swedish: “bag sickness”. That’s an easy one because the swollen parotid gland looks like a bag hanging down from the jaw. But what about rubella? Röda hund does literally mean red dog, I found a few theories about why, but nothing convincing. If anyone out there knows, please tell me!

Published in: on November 26, 2011 at 02:23  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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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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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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v35: skilsmässa

The word mässa in Swedish means either a (religious) mass or a (trade-) fair. The etymologies are connected, markets often being held in connection with important days in the church calendar. However I was a bit puzzled by skilsmässa (divorce), which is derived from skilja (to separate) + mässa.

My sources give the origin of skilsmässa as a mass held at the end of a meeting, that, is some kind of separation ceremony.  However in connection with this etymology Norstedt’s uses the word troligen (probably), whereas SAOB says both omtvistat (disputed) and möjl[igen] (possibly). So you be the judge…

The word brassy in English has a sense of cheap and flashy, which apparently dates from the 1800s, as opposed to the related sense debased, which is cited in the 1500s. Both meanings relate to the contrast between brass and gold. English brass = Swedish mässing, which is quite unrelated to mässa but I’m including it here because in researching mässa I found the expression i bara mässingen (completely naked). Unlike the English use, there is no reference to gold here. Instead, the expression refers to silver-coated brass objects, where the silver has worn off, allowing the brass beneath to be seen.

Published in: on October 6, 2010 at 12:15  Leave a Comment  
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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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v30: igelkott

What do a leech and a hedgehog have in common? Both prick/stab/stick into you, apparently. One Swedish word for this is igel, so leech = igel (or blodigel); hedgehog = igelkott. Igel is an unusual term; the only other related words Norstedts has are hästigel (horse leech), igelknopp (burr-reed), and igelkottsunge (young hedgehog). The usual verb to use for prick/stab/stick into is sticka.  The -kott in igelkott is also an unusual usage: it derives from kotte, which now means (pine)cone, but originally meant little clump.

The actual prickly bit of a hedgehog is a tagg, also found in taggtråd (barbed wire, literally spike thread).

Other prickly animals are the piggsvin (porcupine, literally quill pig) and the myrpiggsvin (echidna, literally ant quill pig).

Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 12:51  Comments (1)  
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