Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Scandinavian Loanwords: Part 2

Yesterday we began a look at Scandinavian loanwords that have been adopted into the English language over the years. Today we give you the second part in our series, starting with food terminology and ending with other miscellaneous loanwords. 


Gravlax - This Scandinavian dish combines the Swedish word grava meaning "dry-cure in salt and sugar" with lax, which is "salmon". This appetizer usually consists of thinly sliced raw salmon cured in salt, sugar, and dill, which is then placed on bread or eaten with boiled potatoes. Sounds delicious!


Lutefisk - If you've ever listened to A Prairie Home Companion, then you know all about lutefisk. It's a traditional Scandinavian dish made from dried whitefish and lye, and is known for its gelatinous texture and strong odor. Famous quotes about the fish refer to it as "reminiscent of the afterbirth of a dog" and "a weapon of mass destruction". Next time you need to think of a dare for a friend, you know what to do!

Smörgåsbord - This term comes to us from Swedish, in which smörgås "open-faced sandwich" is combined with bord "table" to refer to a buffet with many small dishes.


Hug - While it means "embrace" nowadays, this word comes from the Icelandic word hugge, meaning "to comfort". While hugs do provide comfort, you'd probably be a bit offended if you asked a friend for a hug and they provided you with a cup of tea and offered to chat instead!

Moped - Although they're pronounced differently, both the noun (a low-powered motorcycle that was originally equipped with pedals) and the verb, meaning "melancholy, dejected" come from the Swedish language. The motorized bicycle was a portmanteau of motor and pedal, while the glum verb comes from Swedish mopa and Danish maabe.

Rig - This nautical term meaning "to fit with sails" comes from a Scandinavian term meaning "to equip". It's rigge in Norwegian and Danish, and rigga in Swedish.

Snug - This word means "comfortable" and "close-fitting" in English, but it actually comes from the Danish word snøg, meaning "neat, tidy". It's also related to the Swedish term snygg.

These pronghorn antelope certainly appear to be spry!
Spry - We likely have a Swedish dialect to thank for this word meaning "nimble, active". It started out as sprækr in Old Norse, and became sprygg in Swedish as well as the Icelandic word sprækur.

Tungsten - A metallic chemical element, tungsten gets its name from the Swedish and Danish words tung, meaning "heavy", and sten, meaning "stone". It's atomic symbol is W, which comes from the Latin wolframium, its other name used in Germanic and Slavic languages.

Uff da - If you don't live in the Upper Midwest of the United States, then you've likely never heard this phrase before. It's an expression of Norwegian origin that gained popularity with Scandinavian-Americans in the 1800s and has stuck around ever since. It's incredibly difficult to define as it can be used an expression of any number of emotions including surprise, exhaustion, concern, or error. It's kind of like a Scandinavian version of the Yiddish oy vey

Wicker - If you've ever seen handmade baskets or furniture, then you've probably seen wicker. The term refers to a flexible branch (usually from plants such as willow), that can then be woven into various useful forms. It's related to the Middle Swedish term viker meaning "willow branch", as well as the modern Swedish verb vika meaning "to bend".