Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I'm missing words, like 'småpåve' ...

Sometimes this "second language" business is more frustrating than others, sometimes I just miss my own language with the nooks and crannies of distinctions and nuances that I don't have in the English language. This especially not "right there on the spot" when I'm bubbling words and sentences and want the flow of words.

Swedish is one of those languages that has a wonderful option in which you can make a new word out of combining two or more other words... plus the fact that this historically has lead to that some words have one obvious meaning, but also that when you read the two (or more) words by themselves you see the root of the other word meaning. I'm not sure I am making myself understood, therefore I'll give an example.

Example of combined word: Swedish word for love - this wonderful word - could actually be translated into two words depending on how you use it.
(att) Älska - (to) love
Kärlek (-en) - (the) love

I'm mainly thinking about 'kärlek' since this is one of my favorite words (gah, I know, just bear with me) with this "hidden underlying context".

Kärlek can be devided into two words; kär (dear/loved) and lek (play/game). This to me makes a slightly different connotation than 'älska', which is the word traditionally used when saying "making love", "I love...", I ... wheras 'kärlek' is something more generic (as in floating around in the world....). Although, I guess it's more complicated since you say 'jag är kär' - for "I am in love" and not always 'jag älskar' since you need an object after 'älskar'...

Ah well, it's not really my main thing, just a little sidetracking of the thoughts I've had about some words I have been wanting to use the last couple of months but realizing that I don't know the English equivalents of (and when asking some of my fellow Swedes living in UK/US/Canada, they are stumped as well.).

I figured I'd give a few examples of these words that have come up lately, like a mini-'smörgårdsbord' of frustrations.

First, 'småpåve' (or plural 'småpåvar') - literary 'little Pope'. Meaning a person who thinks they are in charge and important but really doesn't have that much power in real life; like a regular worker acting as an CEO in terms of trying to decide stuff. Or trying to impose "this is the only way to do it", but it's really a choice on how to do it and they just want their way to be the only way. My guess would be that this Swedish expression might even stem back from the days of reformation and kicking the Pope out of politics/kingdom of Sweden. I'm not sure know what to use instead of that one? "Imaginary CEO" doesn't have the same ring to it, nor does Queen of Hearts (but I've thought about that one).

Second, 'lyteskomik' - crudly 'lyte' (cripple/disability/handicap) and 'komik' (humour/comedy). Maybe partly based on one of these odder (?) things in Swedish, one of the worst things are to be thought of as stupid/easily fooled. Traditionally insults in general are either invoking the devil on someone or calling them various versions of stupid/headless/pathetic and showing emotions (key concept; "not being in control" which is bad). Not many sex-related insults, apart from calling a man who can't keep it in his pants 'horbock' (whore buck/billy)... and the regular 'hora' as for women, but nothing of the sorts  of "ask your mother why I was late" etc...

Anyway, I digress, the 'lyteskomik' is a badly viewed part of comedy, much less common today since it's not funny making fun of a person who isn't aware that you're laughing at them. Best example might be, you do a skit about a person who is intellectually changed and then set up situations where they fail all the time and make fun of it, but you knew all along they couldn't do it.

Main reason for me thinking about this word now? A new reality TV show that's gotten a bunch of attention here in the US called "Honey Boo Boo". It's a reality show about a family with children, where the main star is the six year old girl who won a lot of pageants and now the show depicts her family in all their redneck glory.... And yes, if you think this is like Little Britain, it's fairly similar... but this is REAL and with children so... for me that's more of the 'praying on the week ones'.

Third and last example, 'skadeglädje' - 'skade' (damage) and 'glädje' (joy/happy). I know, the German Schadenfreude is an alternative, but I feel the Swedish word is so much better with its hard SKsound and the real implication that you are truly happy about the failure of someone someone else. Not the best example to end the smörgåsbord, since it sort of has a "word" I'll make the third example be two halfsies....

Therefore, the last third example is 'skenhelig' - 'sken' (shining/reflection light) and 'helig' (holy). The English words to use for this word are sanctimonious, canting or hypocritical. Usually you'd get an image of the fake halo that would burst around someone who is indeed holy... but it's a fake light... hence, it's not a truly holy person/thing but they would like to be viewed as one.

Ah well... as usual I fail a little to bring the story home. I need to work on the ending, I think I've gotten the start and middle part done. It's the header and ending that needs work. Where do I want to go with this? What is the point of the piece? Now there's a good exercise for me. Writing a directed piece where I have the plot figured out before I start writing! :) All I wanted for now was to share my few words that have been missing for me lately. And see if anyone has suggestions for what to use in English for them?!


Pika said...

I don't have any solutions for your words and I have the same problem with e.g. skadegladje that has a much better equivalent in Slovenian than in English.

Here's another one though: "sjalvklart". Again, in Swedish/ Slovenian/ German, it's a very useful word, but in English, it seems impossible to match. "Self-evident" is the nearest that I found, but I find people look at me strangely if I use it (maybe it sounds pretentions or something, I don't know). Or "obvious", but to me that's not strong enough.

InBabyAttachMode said...

I totally understand! I really miss being able to use the Dutch word 'gezellig' which means something between cozy and having a good time. There's no good translation for this in English either.

chall said...

Pika: Oh, that's a great example.Almost "extra clear word". I think it helps too being so hard in pronounciation, when you exclaim it :)

IBAM: ah, if you're here my last comment on your blog wasn't misinterpreted. I was a little worried i wasn't as eloquent. Thanks! And the word sounds interesting combo. "A good time feeling good" sounds like?

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I love this post! I listen to a podcast called A Way With Words that occasionally lists words from other languages that don't have a direct counterpart in English, and some of them definitely need to be adopted into English ASAP (I have an idea for a blog post based on one of these words!)

On a related note, I introduced some of my colleagues to the excellent Scottish word Peelywally yesterday. It means pale, weak, feeble - in this case a cup of tea with too much milk in it (also commonly used to describe someone looking a bit pale and shaky after a night on the town). I first heard this word from my PhD supervisor. I was showing him one of my first Western blots, which featured an important band that was a bit underexposed.

I said "it's a bit...", then paused while I tried to think of a more scientific word for "pale, weak and feeble".

"Peelywally?", he suggested.

"YES! Peelywally!", I agreed.

I'd never heard the word before, but understood what it meant immediately.

What an outstanding word.

gerty-z said...

I think that we should institue use of the phrase "little pope". Next time someone is being an overbearing-know-it-all-PITA I'm going to tell them to quit little poping me.

chall said...

@Cath: I LOVE Peelywally. It's obvious what it is, that's for sure. As for me, I wonder why I didn't mention the most commonly used word 'LAGOM' which means "just exactly as much as I want, not too much, not too little, it's just perfect enough" which is.... impossible to translate. Maybe I didn't think about it lately since Ive know for so long it doesn't have a counter part?

I'll go look for that Podcast since it sounds like great fun! THanks for all the nice words.

GertyZ: HAHA, so sweet! :) thanks. I'd like to see what happens when they google "little poping" (maybe suggest mis-spelling to little pooping or popping? the sugegstions are endless...)

JaneB said...

for little pope, similar phrases in UK english would be "little Napoleon" [probably a very similar origin/idea!] or "tinpot dictator" perhaps?

I think the kind of humour would just be called MEAN!

Peelywally is a wonderful word. It lives alongside 'nesh' and 'driech', other favourites borrowed from the north...

chall said...

Jane: THanks! Little Napoleon or Tinpot Dictator are now in my vocab ;)

As for the comic thing, yes - i don't like it either, it's used more for pointning out WHY it isn't funny when someone says things like that etc.

Now I'm wondering what nesh and driech means.... need to call a scottish person me thinks ;)

Nina said...

Lately I have struggled a bit with a potential move back to the NL, which I dread mostly. But, on the ohter, hand, as much as I dislike the country and its people at times, it remains the only place where I feel everybody 100% understands me all the time, even though I claim to be fluent in English and German... And even though these languages are as similar to Dutch as it will ever get.
Although as mentioned before I am still to try Swedish. It's so fun to see that I understand most of your words here and think "hmm, yes, true, no english equivalent"

chall said...

Nina> ahh... see I dabble in Dutch ;) as in "I sort of understand but wouldn't know how to talk it myself" (mainly since I 'know' - basic - French and German?)

As for the moving back, I'm getting more and more disillusionised about it. I can alway move back sans job, of course. Moving with one job already in hand though - seems extremely hard to make happen. I made a similar comment to InBabyAttachMode on her blog when tlaking about research world andjobs and coming from smaller countries...