77: skott

Sweden has a system of name days: most days on the calendar have one or more given names associated with them. Some days with fixed dates don’t have associated names; these include obvious dates such as 1 January, Nyårsdagen (New Year’s Day), and perhaps less obvious dates such as 25 March, våffeldagen (waffle day). Actually, 25 March is Marie bebådelsedag (Annunciation), previously also known as vårfrudagen (Lady Day), which was apparently misunderstood as våffeldagen. Språkrådet has a nice page about all the days in the calendar.

The list of names (namlängden; längd = list as well as length) on the Swedish calendar was substantially revised in 2001 to combine two previous lists as well as take into account changing name frequencies.

Today, 29 February, is skottdagen (leap day). The leap day was introduced with the Julian Calendar in 45BC, and originally fell on 24 February. It generally moved to 29 February sometime in the Middle Ages, but this didn’t occur in Sweden and Finland until 2000. Before this, in leap years, names associated with the days 24-28 February were shifted to the following day.

Why skott? Usually, fixed dates move forward one day of the week each year, but the effect of a leap day is to move the date forward two days, leaping over a day. In Swedish, skott commonly means a shot (from a gun), or a shoot (of a plant). Skott is related to the verb skjuta, to shoot. This verb has the present/past/supine forms skjuter/sköt/skjutit, but also forms a number of particle verbs, including skjuta in = to interpose, insert, intercalate.

Remembering the formation of the Swedish passive by adding –s, you can now translate Språkrådet’s explanation of skottdag:

Ordet skott betyder ‘något som skjutits in’
The word skott means ‘something that has been inserted’

Another nice skott phrase is this spring-appropriate expression from Norstedt’s:

skjuta skott = put forth shoots, sprout

And if you forget to send someone a message on their birthday (or name day), you should send:

Grattis i efterskott! = Belated congratulations!

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 12:58  Comments (2)  
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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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75: var

English used to have three words for where: where (location), whither (motion towards), and whence (motion from). Now we rely on context: Where are you going? clearly denotes motion towards, for example.

Swedish retains this three-way distinction for adverbs of motion, so that:

var = where (place)
vart = where (motion towards)
varifrån = where (motion from)

There’s a group of adverbs of motion that this applies to, here’s a partial list:

English location motion towards motion from
where var vart varifrån
here här hit härifrån
up uppe upp uppifrån
home hemma hem hemifrån

There are several more, you can look them up, but I’ll have some fun in showing you how they are used.

As you enter Uppsala, you are greeted by the saying

Välkommen hit; Välkommen hem:


So now you know this means

Welcome to here; Welcome to home.

The rest of the sign is also lovely:

Besök Fyrishov / Sveriges 4:e största besöksmål
Visit Fyrishov / Sweden’s 4th most popular place to visit

I’m sure my translation is rather loose, but here’s a good trivia question for you: what are the top 3?

I really like the Iranian-Swedish singer Laleh. Bjurö Klubb is a wonderful song, and if you understand the lyrics, the following video makes sense also. She’s having a conversation with a Blue Whale (blåval). The whale says:

Varje kväll du tänker högt och viftar armar
Every evening you’re thinking aloud and waving your arms

The cameraman zooms in on her hand to make sure we get the point?!? But what’s not to like about the way she pronounces viftar armar.

And then:

jag kan ta dig härifrån
I can take you away from here

Here’s the video:

Here’s an interesting way to learn some Swedish. This is Veronica Maggio singing Välkommen in. The line I’m interested in is:

Jag bor fyra trappor upp
I live four floors up

That makes sense now, I hope: this is definitely an example of motion towards.

Välkommen in!

Published in: on December 19, 2011 at 13:11  Comments (4)  
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74: rädd

The adjective rädd = afraid, scared, and is inflected as follows:

common: rädd
neuter: rätt
plural: rädda

However, according to Språkrådet, the neuter form, rätt, is rarely used.

Rädd is used in the following constructions:

rädd för = scared of something
rädd att
+infinitive = scared of doing something
rädd för att +infinitive = scared to do something:

rädd för kärleken
afraid of love
rädd att flyga
fear of flying
rädd för att misslyckas
scared to fail

The inflections of rädd are also words in themselves. Rätt means both right (the adjective correct, and the noun, a legal right), and a dish or course at a meal.

The Swedish charity Rädda Barnen has nothing to do with scared children, but is Save the Children, where rädda = save, rescue, and räddare = rescuer.

One last word for you: nöd = need, distress; so:

en hjälpare i nöden
a friend in need

So, how do you translate the following?

Räddaren i nöden

Would you believe:

The Catcher in the Rye

Published in: on December 18, 2011 at 02:16  Comments (2)  
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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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v0: interlude

Of course there is no week zero. I just thought I’d take this opportunity to comment on my own blog, a meta-post if you like.

Those of you who have been following this blog will have noticed there were no posts from 24-Mar until 26-Nov this year. The main reason for this is that I left Sweden, 😦 , so that I no longer have regular contact with Swedish, nor do I have so easy access to my invaluable swedish language consultants (you know who you are!).

However, when checking in again on my blog, I noticed a funny thing. Site “views” (that’s what WP calls them) are increasing. My busiest month by far was November-2011, with 934 views. Second place was February-2011, with 687 views. And my busiest day was 22-Nov-2011, with 70 views.

Why is this? I suspect it has something to do with search engines. According to WordPress, these are the top 20 search terms which led people to my blog:

swedish words 150
sweden words 132
swedish word for snow 100
spiskummin 78
kön 55
swedish words for snow 54
swedish puns 54
glassig 34
words from sweden 32
swedish reflexive verbs 31
words in swedish 29
swedish modal verbs 24
swedish etymology 24
sje sound 24
sje-sound 23
dagsmeja 22
spiskumin 18
skapade 18
sweden puns 18
sånt 18

If you google “swedish words”, you’ll find me easily. For “spiskummin”, I am second only to wikipedia. In the thought that people may be interested in this topic, I’ve decided to persevere a little further. But I’m changing the numbering system to reflect the actual number of posts, and thanks in advance to those of you who I’ll still be asking for advice!

Published in: on December 3, 2011 at 23:14  Comments (2)  
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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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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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