Scandinavian words you’ll want to steal

There are some fun Scandinavian words in an article the Guardian published today: Fancy a beer outside? There’s a Scandi word for that – and so much else. Here are just two:

Texas

Norwegians love metonymy, or substituting a word for a concept. They also don’t mince their bald etymological insults. Texas translates as “crazy”. Helt Texas, then, means “total craziness” or “peak mayhem”. It goes on like this, incrementally. Indicative, perhaps, of the powerful impact American culture had on those Norwegians who grew up watching westerns.

Sisu

This is a quality unique to Finns and it translates as strength, determination and guts. Etymologically, the word actually translates as insides (of a person) or interior, but the concept itself is a mite sexier. Sisu is inner strength and then some. If you have sisu, you are a real man. If you have sisu, you’d sooner die than lose. Imagine Odysseus if he hadn’t been so bothered by the elements. [continue]

You might like some of the other ones even more.

Marcus Selmer’s photographs of 19th-century Norwegians

This is gold. If you’ve got Norwegian ancestry, or just happen to be interested in what life was like in 19th century Norway, you’ll love what The Public Domain Review has posted: Marcus Selmer’s Photographs of 19th-Century Norwegians.

It is not immediately clear what drew Marcus Selmer (1819 – 1900), a Danish portrait photographer, to spend most of his life working in Norway. He trained as a pharmacist in his native Denmark, and was working in a chemist owned by his uncle when he discovered daguerreotype photography. He experimented with this new technology in his spare time and began sending his pictures in to local exhibitions. In 1852, Selmer travelled to Norway, to visit some of his uncle’s family in the city of Bergen. He never returned.

He soon found work as a photographer in Bergen and, within a year, was able to establish his own studio. This became the first permanent photographic studio in Bergen, as few photographers who visited would stay all year round. Photographers often visited Bergen in the summer, hoping to capture the fjords and mountains that surround the area, but, as they needed good light for their work, the dark and cold weather had driven most of them away by the time winter rolled around. Selmer ingeniously built his studio almost entirely out of glass, allowing enough light into the space, which enabled him to continue working throughout the year.

Selmer’s work quickly became well-known throughout Norway. He sold many books of his photographs, and sold individual images to the press and the burgeoning tourist industry, before eventually being appointed the royal photographer in 1880. Although his career was varied, Selmer is primarily remembered today for his portraits of local people in national folk costume, as shown here. These photographs depict the customs, traditions and culture of the Norwegian people, and reflect Selmer’s interest in his adopted home. One of Selmer’s most notable portraits is of a local folk hero named Ole Storviken. [continue, see photos!]

To see more of Marcus Selmer’s photos, visit these sites:

The cozy linguistics of hygge and other “untranslatable” words

Perhaps you’ve heard the word hygge? It’s a Norwegian and Danish word, and it has become a bit famous in recent years due to articles like How ‘hygge’ can help you get through winter from mnn.com. There’s no equivalent word in English.

Anyway. Now JSTOR Daily has published The Cozy Linguistics of Hygge and Other “Untranslatable” Words:

Examples like hygge and koselig actually follow a long line of foreign words that fascinate us. In English, we tend to borrow quite a few “untranslatable” words and idioms, like the ever-popular German Schadenfreude (pleasure at another’s misfortune) and the Sanskrit karma (a Buddhist concept of destiny being influenced by a person’s actions). Perhaps they don’t always mean what they originally meant, but we’ve made them our own.

Just what is it about “untranslatable” words that fascinate us so much? There are endless lists and articles on these beautiful words, so apparently alien to English, that are simply “untranslatable” or even the hardest words in the world to translate… but then they’re subsequently translated anyway, in English sentences, just not in words that are directly equivalent. Untranslatable words aren’t really untranslatable at all. When we unpack this concept it raises a number of curious questions.

What’s so special about a single word capturing a concept, as opposed to a phrase or a sentence? If a language doesn’t have a word for something, does it mean its speakers have a harder time understanding that concept cognitively? For instance, if a language, such as Tarahumara, a Uto-Aztecan language of northern Mexico, has no name or lexical distinction for a particular color perception, such as between green and blue, are speakers of that language cognitively unable to differentiate between the two colors? Likewise if some Eskimo languages have many distinctive words for snow, are we as English speakers completely unable to tell the difference between all the kinds of snowy precipitation there can be? [continue]