The Scandinavian Connection

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A chance remark by a Swedish friend about English loan words in Swedish set me on the trail of borrowings of Swedish origin that have entered the English language. There are a few common ones:

  • angstrom – a unit of length named after a Swedish scientist
  • flounder – a type of flat fish
  • gauntlet is believed to originate from gatlopp. The expression run the gauntlet refers to a military punishment where someone would run between two rows of soldiers who would strike at hime
  • gravlax – smoked salmon
  • lingonberry – from lingon
  • orienteering – the sport that combines navigation with racing originates from Sweden
  • smorgasbord – a buffet with certain types of food; has a more general meaning in English
  • tungsten – chemical element; the name means heavy stone.

There are also several words of Norwegian origin in English, including:

  • aquavit – a very alcoholic drink; the name derives from the Latin for ‘water of life’
  • fjord – a geographical formation
  • floe – an ice formation
  • lemming – a type of rodent
  • quisling – a traitor, named after Vidkun Quisling
  • ski – the equipment used for skiing
  • slalom – a downhill skiing technique featuring twists and turns

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11 thoughts on “The Scandinavian Connection”

  1. Thanks for the addition, Bengt. I meant to add that to the list.

    Fartlek’s new to m, Elke, Patrik – what does it involve?

  2. I was an exchange student in Sweden when I was in high school. I lived with three different families, the second of which couldn’t speak English. I learned Swedish quickly. Since then, I’ve adopted several Swedish words in my vocabulary including du, ja, hej, and jasa.

  3. I’ve picked up a few words myself, Chris, including ‘I don’t speak Swedish’ in Swedish 🙂

  4. another word which has been used in English, but is not common, is barn in the meaning, child or children, although it is probably spelled bairn when used in English. I’m sure there are a lot of them.
    Often you cannot prove the word is actually Swedish in origin as opposed to German. But the Normans were Swedes. So there is a direct link into our language. Unfortunately, the ability to speak and understand Swedish is of no value unless one finds oneself in Sweden. Even there, it has only social (personal) value, not commercial value. This is due to the fact that all Swedes learn English is school. There is some interesting and entertaining writing in Swedish, however, so ability to read Swedish is useful.
    But, back on subject, is kiosk a Swedish word ?
    Renn ? (Reindeer).
    Soppa soup
    Sten stone
    Mil mile (but probably Latin)
    By the way, in Sweden, if some helpful person tells you ‘it is only one mile up ahead’, don’t expect it to be just over a kilometer. What they mean by one ‘mile’ (en mil) is TEN kilometers !
    Bye for now

  5. Thanks, Choppi. I am sure there are many words of Scandinavian origin in use in English. Got any to add that are still in use in their original form?

  6. with all likelihood, the most frequent use of a Scandinavian word in english is “Yule-tide”, which almost certainly comes from Old Norse “Jul.”
    ..the “J” in Danish, Swedish, etc., is pronounced “Y” when used this way.
    “Juletide” in Danish is “Christmas – time” [Jul=Christmas; tide=time.]

  7. These words are all of Scandinavian origin, and you might be amazed:
    {they, them, their, theirs} – in other words, ALL of the third-person plural pronouns in English. These replaced all of the old Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and Latin third-person plural pronouns, and this is very unusual in languages.
    There are also plain Scandinavian nouns in English, like “sky” and “skull”. You might be surprised that the Germanic word for sky is “Himmel”, which is completely different. The Germanic word for “skull” is “Schadel”, which is at least similar, and so is the word “skoal”.
    “Skoal” is a great drinking toast, and it comes from the Vikings who used the skulls of some of their defeated enemies to drink out of!
    You might object about some of these words being Danish, but Denmark is socially and culturally Scandinavian, even though it is not on the Scandinavian peninsula.
    The Scandinavian Air Services (SAS) is the international airline for Norway, Sweden, and Denmark! These is/was also a Scandinavian system of cellular telephones that was designed and made to serve Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. It is just called the Scandinavian system.

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