Danish rooms

My lodgings in Aarhus

Recently I learnt that there are two different words for room in Danish: rum [ʁɔmˀ], which is a general room, and værelse [ˈʋæʁɑlsə], which is a room for spending time in, at least according to Memrise. Is this correct?

Værelse comes from være (to be) and -else (a suffix that turns verbs into nouns) [source].

Subspecies of værelse include:

  • soveværelse = bedroom
  • badeværelse = bathroom
  • arbejdsværelse = study
  • børneværelse = nursery
  • hotelværelse = hotel room
  • klasseværelse = classroom
  • loftsværelse = loft
  • gæsteværelse = guest room


A related word is tilværelse (life, existence).

Rum means room, comparment or space, and comes from the Old Norse rúmr, from the Proto-Germanic *rūmaz (roomy, spacious, open), the same root as the English word room [source].

Subspecies of rum include:

  • omklædningsrum = changing room, locker room
  • møderum = meeting room
  • siderum = (small) chamber, side room
  • tørrerum = drying room
  • haverum = garden room
  • gårdrum = courtyard


Other Danish words for rooms include lokale (room), stue (living room), sal (hall) and køkken (kitchen).

Crotchets & Quavers

An illustration of musical notes

Yesterday I finally worked out how to create musical scores on my computer (using musescore). It’s something I’ve tried before, but couldn’t get the hang of. So now I’m going write out all the tunes I’ve composed. As I’m doing this, I thought I’d look into the names of some musical notes and their origins.

The commonly-used types of musical notes are shown in the image. Their names are different in British English and American English. The American English names are self-explanatory, and a bit boring. The British English ones are more interesting, so let’s look at where they come from:

  • A semibreve is the longest note in common-use. The breve, or double whole note, does exist, but is quite rare. The word breve comes from the Old French brieve / breve (brief), from the Latin brevis (short) – in medieval music the brevis was one of the shortest notes. A semibreve is half the length of a breve.
  • A minim is half the length of a semibreve, and comes from the French minime (minimal), from the Latin minimus (smallest, shortest, youngest), a superlative of minor (smaller) from the Proto-Indo-European *mey- (few, small).
  • A crotchet is half the length of a minim, and comes from the Old French crochet (little hook), a diminutive of croc, from the Frankish *krōk (hook) or from Old Norse krókr (hook, bend, bight), from the Proto-Germanic *krōkaz (hook), from Proto-Indo-European *gerg- (tracery, basket, twist).
  • A quaver is half the length of a crotchet, and comes from the Middle English quaveren, a form of quaven / cwavien (to tremble), from quave (a shaking, trembling)

A semiquaver is half the length of a quaver, and a demisemiquaver is half the length of a semiquaver. Shorter, and less commonly-used notes include:

  • Hemidemisemiquaver or 64th note
  • Semihemidemisemiquaver or quasihemidemisemiquaver or 128th note
  • Demisemihemidemisemiquaver or 256th note

Sources: Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Online Etymology Dictionary

When is the sky not the sky?

Useful phrase in Danish

In Danish, Norwegian and Swedish the word sky means cloud, as does ský in Icelandic. The word for sky in these languages is himmel (himinn in Icelandic), and in Swedish sky also means sky or gravy.

I learnt the Danish word sky the other day from the sentence: Enhjørningen flyver på en sky (The unicorn is flying on a cloud) – are very useful thing to be able to say.

Sky comes from the Old Norse ský (cloud), from Proto-Germanic *skiwją (cloud, cloud cover), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kew- (to cover, conceal), which is also the root of the English word sky [source].

The English word cloud comes from the Old English clūd (mass of stone, rock, boulder, hill), from Proto-Germanic *klūtaz / *klutaz (lump, mass, conglomeration), from Proto-Indo-European *gel- (to ball up, clench), which is also the root of the English words chill, cold, congeal, cool, gel, gelatin and jelly [source].

In Old English there were different words for sky and cloud:

  • heofon was the sky or heaven [source], which survives in such modern English expressions as ‘the heavens opened’ (it started to rain heavily).
  • wolcen was cloud, and the plural, wolcnu was the sky or the heavens [source]. This became welkin in modern English, an archaic and poetic word for the sky, the upper air; aether; the heavens.

A sunny day in Bangor / Dydd heulog ym Mangor

Lost and confused?

A useful phrase that came up in my Swedish lessons on Memrise this week is Jag är lite förvirrad, which means “I’m a little confused”. This is quite a useful phase when you’re learning a new language, or trying to make sense of a new place, country or custom.

Another phrase that came up is Vi har gått vilse, which means “We’re lost” or literally “We have gone/walked astray”.

Förvirrad means confused, perplexed, addled, addlepated, bewildered, bumbling, chaotic, crazed, discombobulated, distracted, disturbed, dizzy, flighty, muddled, befuddled, diffuse, according to bab.la.

Here are a few examples of how it’s used:

  • Just nu ser han väldigt förvirrad ut
    Right now he’s got a real bewildered look on his face
  • Allt detta gör att man känner sig förvirrad
    All of this cannot fail to make one dizzy
  • Men i mitt förvirrade tillstånd, hamnade jag väldigt snabbt i självhjälpsavdelningen
    But given my befuddled state of mind, I ended up in the self-help section very quickly

Related words include:

  • förvirra = to confuse, confound, daze, bemuse, befuddle, bewilder, discombobulate, disorient, mix up, obscure
  • förvirrade = disconcerting
  • förvirrande = perplexity, confusing, bewildering, perplexing
  • förvirring = disorder, bafflement, bewilderment, confusion, daze, disorientation, distraction

förvirra comes from the Middle Low German vorwerren [source], which is also the root of verwirren (to confuse) in German and verwarren (to tangle, confuse, confound, befuddle) in Dutch.

The ver- and -en are affixes. The warr/wirr/werr part comes from Middle Dutch werre/warre (confusion, disarray, conflict), from Old Dutch *werra, from Proto-Germanic *werrō (confusion, disarray, conflict, strife), from the Proto-Indo-European *wers- (to grind, sand, sharpen, hone). The English war comes from the same root [source].

Vilse means lost, astray, wrong, according to bab.la.

Related words include:

  • vilsegången = lost
  • vilseföra = to confuse
  • vilsefört = blindsided
  • vilsekommen = lost, stray, wandering
  • vilseleda = to confuse, deceive, delude, misdirect, misguide, misinform, mislead
  • vilseledande = misleading, deceitful, deceptive, delusive, duplicitous, deceptively
  • vilseledat = misguided
  • vilseledd = to mislead

Vilse comes from vill (lost), from Old Norse villr (wild), from Proto-Germanic *wilþijaz (wild), from Proto-Indo-European *wel-/*welw- (hair, wool, grass, ear (of corn), forest), which is also the root of the English word wild [source].

Happy shining people

Smiley face

One of the Swedish lessons I did today was about words for emotions and related words. So I thought I’d find out more about some of them.

There are several words for happy in Swedish:

glad [ɡlɑːd] = delighted, glad, happy, pleased, jolly, lively, bright, bubbly, cheerful, elated, merry, pleasant, sprightly, vivid, gleeful, joyful, joyous, jubilant.

It comes from the Old Swedish glaþer (glad, cheerful), from Old Norse glaðr (glad), from Proto-Germanic *gladaz (shiny, gleaming, radiant, happy, glossy, smooth, flat), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰladʰ-, derivation of *gʰel- (to shine). The English word glad comes from the same root, though via Old English.

nöjd [nøjd] = content, happy, pleased, satisfied, contented, sated.

lycklig [lʏkːlɪɡ] = happy, fortunate, lucky, blessed, bright, upbeat, blissful.

This word comes from lycka (joy, happiness, luck, fortune, fate), which is related to the English word luck. These words are thought to come from the Middle High German lücke, gelücke, possibly from the Frankish *galukki [source].

belåten = content, contented, happy, satisfied

Some words for fun include:

kul [kʉːl] = fun, nice, enjoyable, amusing
roligt = fun
rolig = fun, amusing, diverting, droll, witty, hilarious

One ‘useful’ phrase that came up today was tjejer vill bara ha kul or girls just want to have fun.

In Norwegian rolig means calm, quiet, peaceful or leisurely, and in Danish it means calm or quiet [source]. It comes from the Old Swedish roliker (calm, quiet), from Old Norse róligr.

Other emotional words include:

le [leː] = to smile (related to the English word laugh)
småle = to smile
skratta = to laugh
entusiastisk = enthusiastic, cheerful
hoppingivande = hopeful
ledsen = sad
olycklig = unhappy
arg = angry
rädd = afraid
orolig = worried

Sources: bab.la, Wiktionary

Goat trousers and hand shoes

Goat in trousers

The Swedish lessons I’ve been working through recently include clothing vocabulary, such as byxor (trousers), halsduk (scarf) handskar (gloves), vantar (mittens) and stövlar (boots).

I thought I’d look into the origins of these words to help me remember them.

Byxor (trousers (UK) pants (US)) is the plural of byxa, which comes from the Middle Low German buxe, from buck (buck, male goat) & hose (trousers), originally referring to goatskin trousers. It is related to the Icelandic buxur (trousers) [source].

Halsduk (scarf, muffler, shawl) comes from hals (neck) and duk (tablecloth) [source].

Handskar (gloves) is the plural of handske, which comes from the Old Norse hanzki (glove), from Middle Low German hantsche, a colloquial form of hantscho (glove, gauntlet) from Old Saxon handsko (gauntlet, glove), from hand (hand) and sko (shoe) [source].

Related expressions include:

– handskmakare = glove maker
– handskas med = to treat, deal with, handle

Vantar (mittens) is the plural of vante (mitten, glove), which comes from the Old Swedish wante, from Old Norse vǫttr (glove, mitten), from Proto-Germanic *wantuz (glove, mitten), from Proto-Indo-European *wondʰnú- (glove), from Proto-Indo-European *wendʰ- (to wind, wrap). [source].

The PIE *wendʰ- is also the root of the English words to wander, to wend, went and wand.

Stövlar (boots) is the plural of stövel, which comes from the Old Swedish støvel (boot), from the Old Norse styfill, from Middle Low German stevele / stovele, from Italian stivale (boot), from Medieval Latin aestivale (summerly), from the Latin aestās (summer) [source].

Another word for boot is känga, which can also refer to a heavy shoe or kick, and comes from the Finnish kenkä (boot, shoe), from Proto-Finnic *kenkä (shoe) [source].

You can see more Swedish words for clothes on IE Languages.

Photo from Flickr (with added trousers).

Fair friends

Bra vänner är som stjärnor. Du ser dem inte alltid, men du vet att de alltid finns där.

I learnt two words for friend in Swedish this week – vän [vɛːn] and kompis [kɔmpɪs]. The former is translated as “buddy” in my Swedish lessons, and the latter as “friend”.

Vän can mean friend, comrade, lover, mate, pal, sympathizer, well-wisher or acquaintance, and is also an old word for fair or beautiful. It comes from the Old Norse vinr (friend), from the Proto-Germanic *winiz (friend, loved one), from the Proto-Indo-European *wenh₁- (to seek, desire, love, win).

The element -win in names such as Darwin, Edwin, Godwin, Irwin, etc comes from the same root, as does the name Venus (via Latin).

Kompis cane be translated as brother, buddy, friend, chum, comrade, crony, mate, mucker, and is a contraction of kompanjon (partner, associate) +‎ -is.

Vän appears in expressions such as:

– flickvän = girlfriend
– pojkvän = boyfriend
– hjärtevän = beloved, close friend, sweetheart
– ovän = enemy
– väninna = female friend (of a female)
– vänlig = friendly, kind, gentle, amicable, affable
– vänling = kind, nice, sweet
– vänskap = friendship
– vänskaplig = friendly, amicable
– väntjänst = a service done out of friendship
– vänkrets = circle of friends
– vänort = sister town, twin town

Other Swedish words for friend or acquaintance include:

– kamrat = friend, associate, chum, comrade, fellow, mate, partner, fellow
– bekant = friend, acquaintance
– polare = brother, buddy, mate, dawg, mucker, crony, pally
– fränder = kinsman

Which of these are most commonly used?

The words on the image mean “Good friends are like stars. You do not always see them, but you know they are always there.” This is one of the things that pops up when you search for “vänner” (friends), e.g. on this site.

Sources: Wiktionary, bab.la

Blundering about, eyes closed

Wink emoji

I learnt today that the Swedish word blunda means to shut one’s eyes, to keep one’s eyes shut, to refuse to see something; to pretend not to know about, or to ignore. It comes from the Old Norse word blunda (to shut the eyes, to doze) [source].

Related words include blund (good sleep, wink), blund for (to wink at, turn a blind eye to), and Jon/John Blund, a character from folklore who brings good sleep and dreams to children, known as the sandman in English.

In Icelandic blunda means to doze.

Wink is also linked to sleep in English – you might take forty winks, or not sleep a wink, which might make you blunder about.

The English word blunder comes from the same root, via the Middle English blunder, blonder (disturbance, strife), and blonden, blanden (to mix; mix up); and blunden (to stagger; stumble), from the Old Norse blunda [source].

Blunder is also a Swedish word meaning blooper, gaffe, trip, bloomer and blunder.

Lend me a word

English is a bit of a mongrel. It is basically a West Germanic language, but contains words from many other languages, especially French, Latin, Greek and Old Norse. In fact, only about 26% of English vocabulary is Germanic, 29% is from French, 29% from Latin, 6% from Greek, and the rest from many other languages [source].

When English borrows words from other languages, which it does all the time, most people see the process as a positive one that expands and enriches English vocabulary.

There will always be some who object to the adoption of certain words, however, within a few generations, or even a few years, those words can become fully integrated in the language, and people might not even be aware they were borrowed in the first place.

Japanese is also open and accepting of foreign words, mainly from Chinese and English. These loan words are changed to fit Japanese phonetics, and some are shortened and combined to make original new words, such as リモコン (rimokon) = remote control, and オープンカー (ōpun-kā) = convertible car.

Borrowing between languages is common around the world where languages come into contact. The borrowing often flows from large languages, like English or Spanish, into smaller languages, such as regional, minority and endangered languages.

When smaller languages borrow from bigger languages, some believe the smaller languages suffer in the process, becoming corrupted, impoverished, polluted, etc. Such sentiments are much less common when talking about borrowing from smaller languages into bigger languages.

There seems to be a double standard here.

Borrowing will happen, even though language regulators, such as the Académie française, might object and try to stop it. Languages change and influence one another. They can borrow many words from other languages without losing their identity, and without breaking down into incomprehensible grunts.

What do you think?

Do languages benefit from borrowing?

Come to mind

One way to say remember in Swedish is komma ihåg, which literally means “to come to mind”. It also means to recall; to recollect; to retain, or to bear in mind.

Komma [ˈkɔmːa] means ‘to come, arrive, move nearer’. It comes from the Old Norse koma (to come), from the Proto-Germanic *kwemaną (to come), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷem- (to step).

ihåg [ihoːg] means ‘to (one’s) mind’. håg means ‘mind, mindset, temper, inclination’, and comes from the Old Swedish hogher, from Proto-Germanic *hugiz (mind; thought; sense; understanding), which is also the root of the English words high, how, Hugh and Hubert.

Related words include:

  • ihågkomma = to memorialize
  • ihågkommande = recollection; reminiscent
  • hågkomst = to recall; recollection; remembrance
  • håglös = apathetic; grey; indolent; listless
  • håglöshet = apathy
  • hågad = agreeable; inclined; minded

Other words for remember include:

  • minnas = to recall; to remember; to retain; to come back; to recollect
  • erinra sig = to place; to recall; to recollect; to remember
  • lägga på minnet = to memorize; to register; to remember
  • dra sig till minnes = to remember

Are these words for remember used in different contexts?

Sources: bab.la, Wiktionary