While looking for something else entirely (the phrase “suit yourself,” which (as it turns out) is first recorded in Kipling) my eye caught on the OED entry Suiogothic, which is not (as I had supposed) an adjective for some obscure relative of the Ostrogoths and Visigoths but an archaic word for ‘Swedish’:

[ad. mod.L. Suio-, Sueogothicus, serving as adj. to Suiones (Sueones) Gothique, which was used to denote the Sviar, Svear Swedes, and Götar (Göthar), older Gautar, the inhabitants of Götland (the southern portion of Sweden).]
Swedish; the (Old and Middle) Swedish language.
1759 B. STILLINGFL. tr. Linnæus’ Orat. Trav. in Misc. Tracts (1762) 16 Its name, still used among the Suegothic vulgar. 1797 Encycl. Brit. (ed. 3) VIII. 23/1 Of this Woden many wonderful things are related in the Sueo-gothic chronicles. 1814 JAMIESON Hermes Scythicus I. 12 Alemannic ostar, Suio-Gothic öster, Islandic austr, oriens. Ibid. II. 4 To the Islandic, the Suio-Gothic, including the ancient language of Sweden, is very nearly allied.

I’m writing about it not only because it’s an interesting, if dusty, word but because if you google it you find that the poor thing turns up only in jumbled word sequences that I believe are spam-catching sites, and I wanted to give it a good home.

(Note, by the way, the primitive, chant-like rhythm of the first Jamieson quote; I can imagine Carl Orff setting it in a hypothetical Carmina Etymologica: A-le-man-nic OS-tar! SUI-o-goth-ic ÖS-ter! IS-LAND-ic AUS-tr! O-RI-ENS!! Or, now that I think of it, it would make a nice cheerleading chant for the football team of Miskatonic U.)


  1. Ingeborg S. Nordén says

    You certainly attracted my eye with this post; if I might parody a running written-text gag from the late 80s:
    Now that I have your attention…”

  2. Graham Asher says

    Good grief, what do they teach them in the schools these days? To those of us who did medieval Swedish at university (York, 1975-1979 in my case) this is all old hat 😉
    The central part of Sweden is still referred to as Svealand – same thing, ain’t it?

  3. Yes, the Suio- part comes from Svealand, but no, it’s not the same thing. One is a reasonably common geographical term (meaning I knew it already), the other is a deeply obscure adjective, except of course to those who did medieval Swedish at York.

  4. John Emerson says

    I read just recently that the claim that the Swedes were Goths was made mostly during the period of Sweden’s imperialist dreams (ca. 1550? — 1709), especially by Karl XII, who came closer to conquering Russia than Napoleon did.
    The tract between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea has a very interesting history from about 200 AD onward. Sweden and that area have always had a special relationship to Constantinople, which was more direct than its relationship to Rome.

  5. The name Austria derives from Oest, “east”, as I understand, but it seems to derive from Austral “south” — both make sense, since Austria is SE of the places where names often come from (Paris, London, Berlin, etc.)
    Pronounced in English, “oest” looks like “west”, too.
    A version of the name “Austria” is first attested from 996, so they had a millenium ceremony a few years back.

  6. “I read just recently that the claim that the Swedes were Goths was made mostly during the period of Sweden’s imperialist dreams”
    No, 19th century romantic nationalists made a bigger deal of it. I’ll grant that the governments who made the most of it wre probably those from the 2nd half of the 17th century.
    (ca. 1550? — 1709),
    well, i suppose there were *dreams* before the 1620s. And well into the 18th century, unfortunately.
    especially by Karl XII, who came closer to conquering Russia than Napoleon did.”
    No, he didn’t.
    “Sweden and that area have always had a special relationship to Constantinople, which was more direct than its relationship to Rome.”
    Most certainly not!

  7. John, “oeste” is Spanish for “west”. But then Italian has “caldo” for “hot”, which has always been too close to Germanic words for “cold” for me. What would Zamenhof do?

  8. Zamenhof could have used the polish word (zimno?), but instead he picked “malvarma” for “cold”.
    Pity he didn’t use “malokcidenta” for “east” and “malorienta” for “west”.

  9. From my blog three weeks or so ago:
    “For a long time, the Swedes were convinced their forefathers had been the Goths and were extremely proud of the fact. Though the Scandinavian origins of the Goths have been cast into doubt by recent archaeology, lingusitic echoes must have led past historians to make the association between Swedes and Goths, for instance, tribes called the Götar lived in central Sweden and the island of Gotland lies just off the coast. In the Middle Ages, Swedish writers fused the claim of the Italian Ostrogothic historian Jordanes (sixth century AD) that the Goths had originated in the “island of Scanzia” (i.e. Scandinavia) with the belief of the Spanish Visigothic encyclopaedist, Bishop Isidore of Seville (560-632), that the Goths were descendants of the Biblical giant Magog. As Joerg-Peter Findeisen puts it in his book Schweden (my translation):

    Some time around the year 1330 an anonymous Swedish cleric translated the five books of Moses and in his Swedish-language introduction expressed the certitude that his people was descended from Noah’s grandson Magog. This was the first mention of what for many Swedes became an unshakeable belief and a valid dogma: the son of the Biblical Japhet was the “ancestor of the Goths and Svear”. The Mediaeval writer informed his contemporaries that the then empty Europe had been colonised from Sweden.


    When in the years following 1431 Pope Martin V wanted to discuss Church reform at the Council of Basel, the bishop from the little town of Växjö, Nicholas Ragvaldi, astonished his entire audience with a highly idiosyncratic interpretation of Swedish rights. The future Bishop of Uppsala informed the representatives of Europe’s greatest nations that the Church of Sweden deserved a front row seat amongst the assembled churches. After all, he represented one of the oldest peoples on earth. Only the Israelites could bear comparison with the Goths. Since, however, only the kingdom of Sweden still existed, it was therefore the world’s oldest state. As the history books said, the Goths had burst out of Sweden, fought alongside the Trojans, beaten the Persians, conquered Rome and terrified the pharaohs of Egypt.

    But the “Gothic myth” really reached its apogee in the work of Johannes Magnus, a Swedish Catholic bishop who had gone into voluntary exile in Rome after his country had turned to Protestantism in the 1530s. Magnus intended his history of the kings of Sweden (published posthumously in 1554) as the equivalent of The Goths: a Warning from History. Magnus was eager to convert Sweden back to Catholicism and persuade other European monarchs that unless Sweden was returned to the Roman fold, it would prove a grave risk to the continent. He argued that the Nordic peoples “belong the the mighty race of the Goths and there is a constant danger that they, like their forefathers, might once more become a terrible threat to the Pope, the Empire and the other nations of Europe.” Magnus’ ideas were eagerly taken up by the Protestant kings of Sweden, who ignored his religious arguments and concentrated on his appeal for a patriotic awakening and used his theory as a justification for Swedish territorial expansion. It’s no surprise that the cult of the Goths was most popular between the reigns of Gustavus Adolphus (came to the throne 1611) and Charles XII (died 1718), the only era in its history when Sweden was a great power, overrunning Germany, Poland, Denmark and the eastern Baltic. With the failure of Charles XII at the Battle of Poltava and the subsequent decline of Swedish military might, the myth began to lose its hold. By 1734 , Sweden was no longer being referred to in official documents as the “homeland of the Goths”.”

  10. David — Yes, I do exaggerate at times.
    The Gothic-Varangian route to Constantinople, perhaps last fllowed by Karl XII, is one of my many hobby-horses.
    As far as Karl XII goes (the Mad Prince who gets more appreciation from military history buffs than from actual Swedes), the way I’ve read the story there were several turning points where things didn’t go the Swedes’ way, especially the failure of the Cossacks to come through, and that otherwise they would have done much better. I don’t hear that about Napoleon. But I am far from an expert.
    My information about the Sweden-Constantinople pipeline is strongest in the 900 years leading up to 1709, when Karl XII ended up Istanbul. After that date I only have the Swedo-Armenian diplomat and scholar D’Ohsson, though that’s quite an astonishing story.
    But when the Fourth Crusades reached Constantinople, they found the Swedes already there in the palace guard, having come down from the North rather than via the Mediterranean. And in 1066, Harold Hardrada came all the way from Constantinople to claim the English throne. Before Russia became powerful Sweden also extended influence down into Eastern Europe.
    Granted, I’m mixing up the various Norse, but my point was that for a very long time Sweden and Scandinavia had a reach to the East and South that most the rest of Western Europe didn’t have. They weren’t just the cold, poor, far northern end of the European Catholic world.

  11. So were the Goths Swedes? Or at least Gotlanders? Or is it a myth? Or do we still not know?

  12. From what I’ve found (Heather and Wolfram) the Goths were a Germanic people from the south shore of the Baltic. Their language was Eastern Germanic — neither Scandinavian nor Western Germanic (German, Dutch, English). We have no non-Gothic record of Eastern Germanic.
    However, the actual Goths of history were a mixed group whose leaders were of Gothic origin. They very soon were a different people than the original Goths in the north, if any remained there. They were a borderer people of Rome, sometimes inside the borders and sometimes outside.
    Goths survived until as late as 1500 in the Crimea.
    Jordanes was a Goth at/after the end of the Roman Empire. His History of the Goths is on line. It’s amazing. The Goths themselves seem to have believed that their origin was in Scandinavia.
    History of the Goths

  13. “malokcidenta” for “east” and “malorienta” for “west”
    are valid (though less used) words in the nowadays Esperanto 😉

  14. Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch, die Oesterriche Sprache (the language of Austria) says

    > Pronounced in English, “oest” looks like “west”, too.
    And pronounced in German, the language of Austria, it sounds like what an American English speaker might write as “ayst”. That is, “east” pronounced with a funny accent.

  15. Bruce Parker says

    I just got into blogging and I absolutely love it, so thanks, I keep track of this blog as well as 5 others so far.

  16. Bruce, I’m truly touched by your devotion, so much so that although I deleted the six identical comments you left on other entries, I kept this one, only deleting the URL of the spam site you inadvertently linked to. Please keep on keeping track, and best of luck in all your endeavors!

  17. ” “malokcidenta” for “east” and “malorienta” for “west”
    are valid (though less used) words in the nowadays Esperanto ;)”
    Really? A language that can define things by what they’re not? Amazing.
    But how would you know that “malorienta” is west and not, say, south or NNE (which both are also ‘un-west’)? Do you automatically understand it to be the opposite? And how do Esperantist treat words that have no immediate diametrical opposite – like for instance colours (verdo – malverdo)?

  18. SN: It’s not necessary that malverda mean anything. Esperanto also has plain negative ne-, so “nongreen” (the set of colors of dead leaves, considered as a single color?) can be neverda.
    Hat: the gibberish pages where you found the word of the day are not spam traps, they’re search-spoofers: members of large families of pages that link to each other, and eventually to a page selling V**gra or whatever, in the hope of enhancing its PageRank.

  19. Braŭljo says

    SN: To elaborate on what Anton said, mal- specifically means the opposite of something, the noun “malo” literally means opposite. The prefix is only used when the word has a direct opposite so it can’t be placed on any word, and the obvious opposite of west is east.

  20. “So were the Goths Swedes? Or at least Gotlanders? Or is it a myth? Or do we still not know?”

    For what it may be worth: for many years one of the titles of the Danish monarchs was King ~ Queen of the Goths, until the present monarch, Queen Margrethe II abolished it soon after ascending the throne (in 1972).

    Regarding the Esperanto morpheme mal-, one of Zamenhof’s goals was to make the language as easy as possible to learn, to which end he tried to keep the number of morphemes as small as possible.

    For example, instead of having a morpheme meaning ‘slow’ and one meaning ‘fast’, he picked just the latter (rapid-), so that the Esperanto adjective for ‘slow’ is malrapida.

  21. David Marjanović says

    Oh, it gets better – one of the many titles of the Swedish king was “King of Gothia” until recently.

  22. John Cowan says

    obvious opposite of west is east

    This reminds me of Mr. K*A*P*L*A*N’s five-opposites exercise in the beginner’s grade of the American Night Preparatory School for Adults: spic/span, tall/shrimp, North Carolina/South Carolina — at which point his everlasting adversary Olga Tarnova sarcastically inquires: “Is Minsk the opposite Pinsk?” — up/down, nightmare/daymare.

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