Norsk banneordbok.

I just got my first Christmas present in the mail; frequent commenter Trond Engen had warned me it was coming, saying that Amazon didn’t carry it so he was having the Norwegian publisher send me a copy, and today it arrived. It turned out to be a copy of the brand-new Norsk banneordbok [Norwegian curse-word dictionary], by Ruth Vatvedt Fjeld, and there’s a nice interview with Ms. Fjeld, with a conveniently subtitled video, here (Google Translate; note that they render the title in one place as “Norwegian Punching Dictionary,” though in the teaser above the title it’s correctly given as “Norwegian Swearword Dictionary” — mysterious!). It’s hard to think of a more appropriate gift; it was over a decade ago that I issued a call for curses for my forthcoming book of international curses and insults, and I specifically asked for Norwegian examples. (My mother was Norwegian-American, so I have a personal interest in the topic.) Per Jørgensen responded:

Faen i helvete as in faen, Satan, and helvete, Hell.
Svarte faen, “black Satan.”
Jævla and jævlig, literally “devilish,” roughly equivalent to English f***ing.
That’s basic Norwegian swearing for you. Want more?

(He added more in this comment.) This dictionary gives me plenty more, and it will inspire me to improve my (presently minimal) skill at reading Norwegian. The entry for faen i helvete starts “Sannsynligvis det mest vanlige og mest direkte banneuttrykk in norsk” [Probably the most usual and most forthright cursing expression in Norwegian], and it has three lightning bolts (a measure of “grad af tabu” [degree of taboo]). One of the expressions quoted in the interview is “i all verdens land o pannekaker” [in(to) all the world’s lands and pancakes; no lightning bolts], which provides a visual chuckle in the video. I was surprised, but on reflection shouldn’t have been, to find so many English words included (fuck gets three bolts and has examples like “Fuck deg, Giske!”]; the worst word is apparently fitte ‘cunt,’ which gets the maximum of four lightning bolts [“Et av de sterkeste banneordene i moderne norsk”]. I’ll be spending a lot of time with this and sharing it with other Norsk-related persons of my acquaintance; mange takk, Trond!

Comments

  1. “Norwegian punching dictionary” – probably because the use of the dictionary could result in a punch-up. Who knew that Google Translate had a sense of humour.

  2. Klar Tale podcasts are news in simple Norwegian:

    https://www.klartale.no/klartale-podcast

    I think it’s always a good idea to start by listening.

  3. Ruth Vatvedt Fjeld is clearly a very nice, funny woman.

    Fuck deg, Giske! isn’t a phrase. Trond Giske is a former Labour Party politician whose career came to a sticky end over Me Too. I never trusted the fucker, myself.

    Using other cultures’ swearwords makes me uneasy. On the one hand it can be reassuring and a moment of bonding if, say, you’re in Germany and a German calls you a cunt, but on the other… Like yesterday I was listening to a Caribbean rap music programme and the Norwegian dj – who actually spoke English with a Jamaican accent, so she hadn’t learnt English just at school – was using fuck WAY more often than one normally would either in Norwegian or English, every other fucking word, so it became, I felt, a bit of a parody or piss-take of the American gent she was interviewing. Similarly I’m never too sure about calling someone a torsk, or codfish, when I’m speaking Norwegian. It’s pretty rude. Perhaps I really mean something else.

    Once on a long car ride when she was about ten, my daughter tried to convince me that “When we’re really mad, instead of fucking hell we’d say in Norwegian Rose bukser!” She had some others too. That one means “Rose trousers!”

  4. Heh. Kids say the darnedest things! But what do you mean by saying “Fuck deg, Giske!” isn’t a phrase?

  5. Oh, were you thinking I was thinking it was a set idiom? No, it’s just one of the examples of usage given for each entry.

  6. Trond Engen says:

    You’re welcome, Hat. I’ve been wishing it for myself, but I don’t think it’ll come my way this Christmas. The parcel I picked up the other day and haven’t seen since had the label of a different publisher.

    Google Translate; note that they render the title in one place as “Norwegian Punching Dictionary,”

    Not the only odd thing. Banneord “swearword(s)” is given variably as “verbs” or “words”, as in banneordbok “word dictionary”, kartlegge banneord “mapping out verbs” and several more. It’s even translated correctly at one occasion.

    And this gem: Det vet jeg ikke om jeg har lyst til å røpe, translated as ” I do not know if I want to shave” instead of “I don’t know if I want to reveal that”.

    AJP: Using other cultures’ swearwords makes me uneasy.

    Yes. But for the kidz under 40 today fuck, shit, asshole etc. are part of their own culture, and generally much more common (and thus weaker) than in the culture it was borrowed from. Except it wasn’t borrowed from a culture but from its self-representation in exported popular culture. So when we meet the real thing we are clueless of our own cluelessness.

    Like yesterday I was listening to a Caribbean rap music programme and the Norwegian dj – who actually spoke English with a Jamaican accent, so she hadn’t learnt English just at school – was using fuck WAY more often than one normally would either in Norwegian or English

    Exactly. We have very little feeling for the registers of swearing in real life interaction between English speakers and end up swearing too much and too strong for the situation.

    a former Labour Party politician

    Not quite former. Relegated to common member of parliament but still a big name in his home region of Trøndelag and in the anti-EU wing of the party. Politicians with fewer friends have come back from bigger scandals around here.

  7. Language: Were you thinking I was thinking it was a set idiom?
    Not you so much, because of the comma, more us readers.

    Trond: still a big name in his home region of Trøndelag
    To me there’s something a bit mad about Trond Giske from Trondheim in Trøndelag, speaking his local dialect, Trøndsk, but the connection probably seems unremarkable to you. I get a lot of blank stares for this sort of thing.

  8. Trond Engen says:

    Unremarkable, but it still made me pick Trøndelag over Trondheim in the comment above.

    As I’ve surely said more than once before, the etymological meaning of Trond (ON Þróndr or Þrándr) is “thriving”, and that goes for the personal name as well as the topo- and demonym. But it’s not clear whether it was first used for the fertile region or the tribe settling it, or whether the personal name was an independent attribution or the demonym used as a nickname. What is clear is that ON Þróndheimr used to be the name of the region and Þrǿndalǫg of the somewhat wider legal district (parallel to “Danelaw”). Þróndheimr is formed from the nom. sg. and Þrǿndalǫg from the gen. pl., whatever that may have to do with anything.

  9. John Cowan says:

    As I’ve surely said more than once before

    Not on this blog, I don’t think: at least, Google search for [site:languagehat.com Þróndr|Þrándr] gets no hits. You have discussed the varying pronunciation, though.

  10. As unremarkable as Henry Yorke from Yorkshire and Henry Green from Greenwich, I expect (actually he was from Birmingham).

    Þróndheimr is formed from the nom. sg. and Þrǿndalǫg from the gen. pl., whatever that may have to do with anything.
    Makes sense to me.

  11. January First-of-May says:

    As unremarkable as Henry Yorke from Yorkshire and Henry Green from Greenwich, I expect (actually he was from Birmingham).

    And then you get cases like that of Helge Fauskanger, whose ancestors apparently lived in the Fauskanger area long enough to take that as their surname.

  12. Sounds like Fußgänger to me, but I know nothing. I’ve mentioned before the Chicken-Violence family Hanevold*, many of whom live around here. In their case I had understood the road Hanevoldsveien was named after them. There are lots more in this neighbourhood: Holtsmarksvei, Hajemsveien etc. I’m not certain if the family came first or the place except for Holtsmark who were a very bright 19C local family here and had the road to their farm named for them.

    *literally cock violence but that’s a bit too iffy these days. And some** would say that voll is a meadow or embankment, so “Cockmeadow Road”.

    **(Trond)

  13. (Fauskanger)

    > Sounds like Fußgänger to me, but I know nothing.

    But it is not. There are multiple toponyms in Norway that have the -anger root in it (and a town called Fauske), and foot is regularly written ‘fot’ in Norwegian (although the vowel is phonemically /u/). Trond will surely tell you more about the etymology.

  14. Apropos of nothing, I was pleased to see the following entry in Haugen’s Norwegian-English dictionary:

    banehogget death blow (by battle-ax)

    Good to know they’re not losing the old ways.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    *literally cock violence but that’s a bit too iffy these days. And some** would say that voll is a meadow or embankment, so “Cockmeadow Road”.

    …oh, so Wald and Gewalt have merged…

    (“forest”, “violence”)

  16. Trond Engen says:

    J1M: And then you get cases like that of Helge Fauskanger, whose ancestors apparently lived in the Fauskanger area long enough to take that as their surname.

    When inherited surnames became mandatory around the year 1900, farm names was one of the main sources. The other was patronymics. I don’t know why occupations, which would have been common identifiers, especially in towns, didn’t make the cut.

    Patronymics and farm names were traditional identifiers and could be used indiscriminately. My great grandfather would have been Olav Jakobsa in some situations, han Olav i Enge in others, and Olav Jacobsen Engen in the parish register. He settled on Engen as surname.

    And long enough isn’t long at all. Han Olav was second generation in Enge, but I have a friend whose surname is from a small croft where his greater grandfather just barely eked out a living for a couple of years. Fixed surnames came earlier in the towns than in the countryside, and when he moved to town he registered under the name of the croft.

    AJP: Sounds like Fußgänger to me, but I know nothing.

    Now it sounds like that to me too. Thanks.

    Lars: There are multiple toponyms in Norway that have the -anger root in it (and a town called Fauske), and foot is regularly written ‘fot’ in Norwegian (although the vowel is phonemically /u/). Trond will surely tell you more about the etymology.

    Anger is clear. It’s an old element formed from ang “narrow, closed”, most often used for fjords, but sometimes also without any fjord in sight, so probably for some other enclosing feature. The eng of my surname is from the same root, originally probably “enclosure”, then “fenced pasture”, then “field with grass”, and eventually even “grassland”.

    I had no idea about fausk, but it’s used in toponyms (alone or in compounds) all over the country. Norrøn ordbok knows only one meaning, “rotten wood or tree stump”. Good old O. Rygh agrees with that for the toponyms, descriptions of natural vegetation being common in farm names, but suggests that some cases may have been metaphorical for skerries etc.

    Back to AJP: I’ve mentioned before the Chicken-Violence family Hanevold*, many of whom live around here. In their case I had understood the road Hanevoldsveien was named after them. There are lots more in this neighbourhood: Holtsmarksvei, Hajemsveien etc. I’m not certain if the family came first or the place except for Holtsmark who were a very bright 19C local family here and had the road to their farm named for them.

    Hanevoll is a farm (cluster of farms) not far from you. Hanevoldsveien is the road leading there. That’s just the natural word for it when no conscious naming is done. O. Rygh has an interesting etymology for it. The tradtional local pronunciation was ‘hanneval (with a, and even “thin” l, surprisingly, if the notation is correct), suggesting something other than valr “battlefield, váll< “burned land” or völlr “meadow”. His suggestion is vagl “roost”, which makes good sense together with hani “cock”. The farmstead is on a hill protruding into the central valley of the parish.

    Hajem is not in O. Rygh. I see that it is small farmstead under Sem. As such it is probably young and may have been named after a Hajem elsewhere where its first settlers came from. There’s one other Hajem in Norway, but that too is small and probably young and not treated by Rygh,

    Holtsmark is different, as you say. There’s no farmstead by that name on the map in your parish. The road is named Holtsmarks vei, showing that it was named for a person Holtsmark. He may have come from Holtsmark in the neighbouring parish. The etymology of that should be tranaparent enough.

    David M.: h, so Wald and Gewalt have merged…

    Sort of. Voll “meadow, embankment” and vold “violence” are homonyms (except in the most conservative western dialects). They are distinct enough to be kept apart but do lend themselves to the occasional contrived pun. My ungdomsskole was named Kirkevoll skole, lit. “church meadow school”, a reminiscence of how the school system was built with ecclesiastic resources, but Kirkevoll could also be interpreted as “church violence” (or “church brutality”, keeping the parallel with politivold “police brutality”).

  17. Kate Bunting says:

    Having a little knowledge of both Norwegian and Swedish, I’ve noted with interest when watching Scandi crime dramas on TV that expletives including what sounds like ‘faen’ are variously rendered in the subtitles by (what I would consider) fairly strong swearwords. I thought it meant ‘the devil’, which is obviously a more powerful word than it is in English.

  18. banehogg

    It’s banahögg in Berkov & Böðvarsson, Cleasby-Vigfusson, and Zoëga. Now I’m wondering if there is a font somewhere with an old-Norse ǫ (this is not quite it, afaik).

    Fara þeir svo um hríð þangað til Guðmundur sá sér færi, snýr sér við og heggur útilegumann banahögg.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    Anger is in German, too: “small central open area in a village; usually a communally owned meadow or pasture”, says Wiktionary.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    More or less “village green”, then. This reminds me: Is this a source for the surname Green(e)?

    I surmise that the German surname Angerer of biathlete fame means “from an Anger“.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    Most likely.

  22. Trond, I love ‘Cockroost’. Much more poetical than Chicken-violence. I’ll be able to look the family in the eye.

    Hajem is not in O. Rygh. I see that it is small farmstead There are still a couple of Hajem families living there, in two houses.

    Basil & Kate Bunting: I thought fæn meant ‘the devil’, which is obviously a more powerful word than it is in English.

    It’s all in the way they say it, with a rise in pitch and then a flattening out. If they’re cross, it sounds very scary. Sort of like Goddammit! As with all swearing, it’s not so much the meaning of the words but the intonation & emphasis that count.

  23. Trond Engen says:

    AJP: Trond, I love ‘Cockroost’.

    Me too. Rygh is often right and still the authority after more than a century, but I don’t particularly like the development vagl > val. I’d expect vaggel [vag.L] (with [.L] for syllabic retroflex l (“tjukk l”)), parallel to fuggel, haggel og teggel. It could be interesting to see if later authors have had anything to say.

  24. Trond Engen says:

    Hat:

    banehogg –et death blow (by battle-ax)

    Good to know they’re not losing the old ways.

    I should say that the word is restricted to translations of sagas and related contexts.

  25. Trond Engen says:

    juha: Now I’m wondering if there is a font somewhere with an old-Norse ǫ (this is not quite it, afaik).

    Not quite. It’s my understanding that it’s one of those rare letters that were left behind on the platform when the Unicode train left. The Norwegian Wikipedia article for o med kvist treats it as one and the same as ogonek and caudata, so it may be the case that the diacritics were deemed close enough to merge. I sometimes use it, but most often I make it easy for myself by following Icelandic convention with ö.

  26. Trond Engen says:

    Kate B.: I’ve noted with interest when watching Scandi crime dramas on TV that expletives including what sounds like ‘faen’ are variously rendered in the subtitles by (what I would consider) fairly strong swearwords. I thought it meant ‘the devil’, which is obviously a more powerful word than it is in English.

    It does mean the devil, though it’s hardly used in that meaning nowadays. You may occasionally still hear faen sjøl “the devil himself”.

    Used as a curse it”s the default strong exclamation in most of Norway and Sweden, and as such it translates as “Fuck!” or “Shit!”. As AJP is hinting at, when translating curses, etymology means nothing and usage everything. Or rather non-usage. Who can’t you use a word in front of?

  27. John Cowan says:

    Is this a source for the surname Green(e)?

    Probably one of them. A lot of Greens are Irish with original names including glas ‘green, blue, gray’, so the true translation probably should have been Gray. Another batch are Jews who clipped their registry-office two-word surnames and then translated them to English.

  28. per incuriam says:

    But for the kidz under 40 today fuck, shit, asshole etc. are part of their own culture, and generally much more common (and thus weaker) than in the culture it was borrowed from

    Calls to mind Lukas Moodysson’s Fucking Åmål.

    As described by Wikipedia:
    “The original title of the film, Fucking Åmål, refers to the girls’ feelings about their small town: In a key scene one of the girls shouts in desperation “varför måste vi bo i fucking jävla kuk-Åmål?” (which roughly translates to “why do we have to live in fucking bloody cock-Åmål?”).
    According to Moodysson, the problem with the original title started when the film was Sweden’s candidate for the Academy Awards, though eventually it was not chosen as a nominee.[6][7] The Hollywood industry magazine Variety refused to run an advertisement for Fucking Åmål. Thus, American distributor Strand Releasing asked for a new title. “

  29. I too thought of Fucking Åmål.

    Show Me Love is the English-language distribution name of the Swedish film Fucking Åmål

    Christ.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ even.

  31. I wonder if there is an etymology for kveik:

    relax over a local ale made with kveik, a local yeast that has enthralled brewers and scientists around the world in recent years for its fruity aromas and higher-than-normal fermentation temperatures.

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/travel/places-to-visit.html

    Trond, any ideas?

  32. Trond Engen says:

    Far away from my books and short on time, so ideas it is. I’m pretty sure it’s essentially “igniter”, ref. the verb kveike “ignite, start a fire” <- “give life”, which I’m pretty sure is a *-jan- causative to the root of kvikk “fast, intelligent, healthy, etc.” = Eng. quick <- “lively”, < PIE *gWigW- (or something similar) “life”.

  33. Takk!

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