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Thursday, 27 August 2009

Forays into Swedish

I enjoyed Sweden. I enjoyed Swedish, and Dick’s patient lessons in what I came to see as a jigsaw language. I mean that as a compliment. For example I learnt that sick was sjuk and house was hus, so hospital was sjukhus. A mental hospital thus became mentalsjukhus. Hmm, so Huvud was head…where could I go from there?

I tried it one miserable night after trying to get drunk on two beers. A blond giant bumped into me. "Dumhuvud," I snarled.

He looked down at me, puzzled and benign.

"Did you mean to say that?" he said

I looked up at his chest.

"No," I said. "I don’t think I did."

The key to all this stems from the Scandinavian Diaspora of the C9th and C10th when much of North East England was ruled by Viking warlords with exotic names like Ivar the boneless and Harold Bluetooth – (who devastated the North with his Wi Fi axe.)

The Swedish words for Beer is Öl. The umlaut over the O gives it an ‘erl’ sound, and then and now, a thousand years later, a northern pub will sell you a pint of ale, the word pronounced much as it is in Sweden today. Skalle and skull are pronounced much the same, and I still prefer blek to bleak.

The two weeks went quickly and I ate well, but drank little. On the one occasion I bought two bottles of beer from an off-license I felt like a pervert. I carried them gingerly in their brown paper bag. On the bus I nestled them close to me but still the damn things clinked. A Swedish face can be both bland and disapproving, a very neat trick.


Unknown said...

Swedish is a wonderful language for anyone wanting to make up a word and be allowed to do so. My favourite so far is "saknadshuvudvärk" (headache from missing someone/something)... However, some words sound awfully silly - like most things concerning the fantasy genre. Swede are a bit weird when it comes to drinking. I avoid that bit of the viking tradition. I don't wear horns either. Often.

By the way, you write anecdotes like no one I've met. Amazing. I hate you a bit for the skillz.

Mike Keyton said...

Hi Malin,
Thanks for dropping by. I wish now I had persevered and mastered Swedish.

Shame about the horns. Do you wear them at Christmas?

And thank you for the generous compliment.

Unknown said...

About the horns, I got no comments as to when I wear them.

And yes, you should have persevered! But you still got time to master it! I can feed you nonsensical words every now and then, just for the fun of it.

"Norrsken" = aurora borealis
"fågelbrusande" = full of the noise of birds
"skenhelig" = hypocritical


richard said...

This is really impressive, I never dreamt that you would take note of any of my linguistic anecdotes and moreover get them exactly right a quarter of a century later, you even got the sound of the "umlaut" in öl correct. In your article on walking in Yorkshire you mentioned that "lyke" meant corpse in old English and compared it to the German word Leiche. Quite correct but even closer is the Swedish word "lik" which I use at least once a month, for example when removing a pacemaker (so that it won`t explode)

Mike Keyton said...

Richard, Thank you. I aim to please - and I had a good teacher.