#202: Meatballs! Part I

202.1  Today, a look at Swedish kinship terminology …but we’re going to start waaaay off-topic, with the possibility that aliens from space are living undetected among us. Could be? Probably not, but at least we can be confident that the only player in Major League history to hit 3 home runs over the course of 2 innings is not from Mars…that’s Nomar Garciaparra…No-Mar…Not Martian, get it?

202.2  Which brings us to one of my favorite Christmas movies, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, from 1964. This film has a reputation as being one of the worst movies of all time, but undeservedly so in my opinion…it’s a kiddie flick after all, and viewed thru little eyes I can’t see it being all that terrible. It has a great theme song by Milton DeLugg, featuring fake Al Hirt trumpet fills by Roy Alfred…Al would record his own version…and some truly memorable moments, like when the Martians first confront the 2 Earth children…they ask what’s that sticking out of your heads and one Martian answers: Our antenna. And the girl asks: Are you a television?

202.3  This movie features the first screen appearance of an 8-year-old Pia Zadora…see today’s wicked ballsy…and is also said to contain the first portrayal of Mrs. Claus, beating TV’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by mere weeks…that’s a research project for another day…altho quite frankly, I doubt it’s true, but who knows. What concerns us today however is the names of the Martian leader and his family.

inset 1

202.4  They are Kimar…for King Martian, pronounced key-mar….Momar, mother Martian…Bomar, boy Martian…and Girmar, girl Martian (that’s Pia.)  As I said, this is a children’s movie and can’t be analyzed too deeply…like, what are all the other Martian boys and girls named? And why isn’t is Quemar for Queen Martian? But sure, you could say these names are kind of silly….until you realize that there is a language…Swedish…that does the same exact thing with it’s basic kinship terminology.

inset 2202.5  As a starting point, I used the Swedish Wikipedia’s article on Släkt  or Kinship…it’s written in Swedish of course…and a few other Swedish articles. Google’s translation service is much improved since the last time I checked and did a decent job…and much could be gleamed from context. The colorful chart, above is also from Uncle Wiki…and it takes some shortcuts…specifically, with respect to parents. The black square labeled Jag is you…literally “I”…and your parents are collectively labeled Föräldrar  which means “parents.”

chart 727

202.6  My Chart 727 uses the individual words for father and mother…Far and Mor…and shows how they are compounded to form other kinship terms. These are listed in Chart 728.  And FYI, the words Nevö and Niece for your siblings’ children do exist in Swedish, borrowed from the French…but they are considered quite snooty, like in English calling your parents “Mater” and “Pater.”

chart 728

202.7  One important point: while the Swedish language kinship terms are clearly different from English, their system of relationships is the same as ours. There are systems of kinship where not only the terms, but the relationships themselves are different. For example, in a system where you can marry cross cousins (children of your father’s sisters and your mother’s brothers) but not parallel cousins (children of your father’s brothers and your mother’s sisters), these 2 groups of cousins are seen as different relationships. In fact, in some languages, a single word is used to refer to both siblings and parallel cousins…that is, those of your generation whom you can’t marry. As another example…in a strictly matrilineal system, your “uncle” is your mother’s brother…your father’s brother is not related to you at all!

202.8  But to Swedes, your uncle is still your uncle…the difference is, their word spells out the side of the family: farbror and morbror…and we can do that in English too…it’s just that we have no single words, but must use phrases: father’s brother and mother’s brother….or uncle on my father’s side and uncle on my mother’s side. I read one native speaker of Swedish commenting on how strange it was that “uncle” and “aunt” in English didn’t specify which side of the family. Then again, Swedish has no words that literally mean uncle and aunt in the sense that English does. As my grandmother used to say, it’s half of one and six dozen of the other…(yes, I know…but that’s the way she would say it!)

 202.9  Now I suppose a native speaker of English, upon first seeing Chart 727, might think: wow, how logical! Well and good…but logic has its limits, truth be told. How do you take it beyond the generation of grandparents and grandchildren, and we’ll use Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip as an example. Both are the great great grandchildren of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. If you wanted to, especially in a genealogical setting, you could literally spell it out…Elizabeth is a sonsonsondotter and Philip coincidentally happens to be a dotterdotterdotterson. But in common practice, it’s more convenient to say something more generic, as show in Chart 729. 

chart 729

202.10  So both are now a barnbarnbarnbarn meaning your “child’s child’s child’s child.” On the internet there is some disagreement about whether and where you should insert spaces and letters “s”…forgive me if I don’t have the stamina this Christmas season to sort it all out…hoping Santa will ask some native Swede to help! But going down thru direct descendants, it’s just that simple.

202.11  Going up thru direct ancestors, it’s a bit more complicated. The Swedish word for “parent” is förälder…plural föräldrar. But as you can see in Chart 729, generic grandparents still specify “father’s parent” and “mother’s parent”…perhaps as a sign of respect for the older generation. Then back from there, you stop specifying and use the word gammel, meaning “old.” I should also note that stor, meaning big or large, is sometimes used going down, as storbarnbarn  for great grandchild…but this usage seems infrequent, so I haven’t included in in Chart 729…pending further developments, of course. It is more common as storebror and storasyster, meaning big brother and big sister.

inset 3

202.12  In short, Swedish has its own conventions…twists, turns, and work-arounds, just as English does….and every language does. And what about cousins, removed or otherwise? Stop by next week for a second helping of Swedish meatballs!

wicked ballsy


Ahem…well…it’s not gentlemanly to look up a grown woman’s skirt, let alone an 8-year-old’s. Still, this is what you see in the movie, clear as day. And let’s face it, Pia didn’t grow up to be a shrinking violet, if you get my drift and I think you do…



Copyright © 2014 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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