Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Scandinavian Loanwords: Part 1

Ikean't get enough of Scandinavian things! The English language owes a lot to Scandinavia, which includes the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden and both look and operates like Game of Thrones. Our two-part series on Scandinavian loanwords begins with a look at terms used in relation to nature. 

Water & Ice

Geirangerfjord, Norway.
Fjord - A long, narrow inlet between cliffs created by glacial activity. The word comes from the identical Norwegian term, which is fitting since this beautiful land phenomenon is found along most of the country's coastline.

Floe - A low, flat mass of floating ice, from Norwegian flo, meaning "layer" or "slab".

Ski - This word also came to English via Norwegian, and takes its origin from the Old Norse skið, meaning "stick of wood, snowshoe".

Slalom - This word combines the Norwegian words sla, meaning "slope" with låm, "track". It is used to refer to skiing races, but now is used in much more specific events, generally involving zigzagging between obstacles if you watch the Winter Olympics!

Maelstrom - While it can be used to mean a "violent, turbulent situation", in natural terms it refers to a powerful whirlpool. Several of these whirlpools are located near Scandinavian coastlines, but do not actually suck ships into them as you may have read in certain Edgar Allan Poe stories. It comes to English from the Danish and Norwegian term malstrøm and Swedish malström.


Flounder - We know what you're thinking, and no, this type of flatfish does not look anything like Ariel's best friend from The Little Mermaid, who was actually a colored tropical fish. Flounder actually learn to camouflage themselves by lying on the seafloor, something that wouldn't be possible if they were bright blue and yellow! The word likely comes to English from a Scandinavian language since it's flundra in Swedish, flyndre in Norwegian, and flynder in Danish.

Kraken - If you've seen Pirates of the Caribbean, then you know about the absolutely terrifying sea monsters of legend that live off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. They're likely based on sailors' accounts of seeing giant squid. Despite being the stuff of legend, Linnaeus dubbed them Microcosmus marinus using his binomial nomenclature system in the first edition of his classification of living organisms, though it was later removed.

Krill - These small crustaceans are at the bottom of the oceanic food chain and are regularly consumed by some of the coolest animals around, including penguins, seals, and whales! Their name comes from the Norwegian word kril, meaning "small fry of fish". The word fry refers to a juvenile fish capable of feeding itself, in case you were wondering...

This lemming isn't preparing to toss himself off...
a cliff.
Lemming - Let's get this straight once and for all, these small Arctic rodents aren't suicidal! Back in the 50s, Disney released a film called White Wilderness that later won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. A scene in the film depicts a lemming migration that ends with the furry creatures jumping into the Arctic Ocean in "an attempt to cross the water". It turns out that lemmings don't naturally do such things, and were in fact pushed over the cliff by a rotating platform. Due to all this false Disney nonsense many people still believe that lemmings commit mass suicide, and therefore use the Norwegian term lemming to refer any member of a conformist group.

Mink - These semi-aquatic mammals are related to polecats and weasels, and eat everything from frogs to fish to insects. Their name comes from the Swedish word menk, meaning "a stinking animal in Finland". That's not a joke, either.

Tomorrow we'll have more Scandinavian loanwords, including some interesting and terrifying fish-based dishes!