24/09/2021

Swedish language

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Swedish has a relatively small vocabulary and while I was there I did my bit to help them out. English has so many words for good, great, fab, super, cool, bad, that are used in various eras and by different age groups. Swedish had just three that I encountered – good was bra, very good was mycket bra (much good), or fantastisk (fantastic).

29 letters, but fewer words

The lack of vocabulary was particularly noticeable with expletives. There was only jävlar, meaning something like damn, while referencing the devil, and one other word, ruder and much less used, referring to female genitals. When you emerged from a frustrating meeting, neither was powerful enough. I therefore made it my mission to give them some useful Anglo-Saxon words that would relieve frustrations more effectively.

ASIDE: Languages have never been my strong point. I learned French at school and tried to master Spanish while we lived there, but this has left me with a confusion about gender. I never understood how a table in several languages changes with context. For me it’s a table, and is still a table whatever’s happening to it, around it, on it or whosoever is doing whatever to it. A friend Cameron married a French woman and took French nationality, living for a long time in France, yet he shared my problem. He invented the word ‘lu’. If he could not work out whether a word should be ‘le’ or ‘la’ he said lu with a big smile and most French people would forgive him.

Perhaps I should confess here to two early French howlers. We were driving through France and I stopped to ask a local the way. He shrugged his shoulders and said ‘Tout droit, tout droit’. I wound up the window mumbling ‘Bloody idiot. If I keep turning right, I’ll end up back here!’ From the backseat my daughter Sarah, probably around ten years old, explained it meant straight on. On another occasion Jane and I were at a marché aux puces in Paris (see how I masterfully avoided the le/la trap!). We were lost and looking for the way out when I saw a sign saying Prêt-à-Porter and have never been allowed to forget that, in my stress to find an exit, I interpreted this to mean ‘near to the door’ (près de la porte). My consolation is that inability with languages is a fairly common English trait – or is that me wallowing in my ignorance?

I once took a Geordie from Jackson the Tailor to Stockholm and it was remarkable how many of the old words his family preserved turned out to be Swedish, clearly derived from Viking roots. Children are barn just as Scots use bairn, kyrka is church, just like kirk. There is a simple meal in Sweden that chops up yesterday’s leftovers – meat, potatoes and other vegetables topped off with an egg or beetroot. It is pyttipanna and the word spoken by a Geordie is instantly recognisable to Swedes.

Pyttipanna
aka Pytt i Panna
ASIDE: DCP still had a streak of Paddington running through him and reacted to the snobbishness in the Operakällaren, a top Stockholm restaurant. He ordered pyttipanna, and a lett öl, low-alcohol beer; they reluctantly agreed to provide both. After his meal he insisted on calling the chef to the table to compliment him loudly on the best pyttipanna he had ever tasted, while I hunkered down in my chair.

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