#203: Meatballs! Part II

203.1  As we saw last week, the Swedish words for the members of the nuclear family…father/mother, son/daughter, brother/sister…are readily identifiable to native speakers of English…in fact the word for “son” is the same. This is not surprising, since English and Swedish both belong to the Germanic family of languages, as shown in Chart 730…I have included another member, Dutch, for no other reason than the intriguing Star Wars connection.

chart 730

203.2  And while there is a certain amount of compounding in English…grand+mother, great+grand+nephew, half+3rd+cousin…we have nothing like the compounds indicated in Chart 730 in green…they almost resemble Legos pieces clicked together…BTW, Legos invented in Denmark. This Swedish convention is also unique in the Nordic or Scandinavian sub-family of languages. These include Danish and Norwegian, which together with Swedish are mutually intelligible among native speakers of those three languages…plus Islandic and Faroese, which are less so. Finnish is not a Germanic language, but belongs to a group that includes Hungarian and Estonian. Even so, about 5% of Finns speak a dialect of Swedish as their native tongue, and vice versa.

203.3  But we’ll start Part II of our tour of Swedish kinship with cousins, and it’s a double dose…

chart 731

203.4  …because there are 2 basic ways to refer to what I call your “numbered” cousins. On the right, männing means relative or kinsman…and the prefixes are literally the Swedish words for 1, 2, 3. As we shall see, there are different words for 1st, 2nd, 3rd. If you have a mathematical bent, you no doubt recognize the former as cardinal numbers, the latter as ordinal numbers. “1” for sibling and “2” for 1st cousin are archaic and not normally heard…I suppose they could pop up in genealogical discussions, nez pah? But this inconvenient convention, at least across languages, means an xth cousin in English is an (x+1) relative in Swedish…can’t be helped.

203.5  These männing terms for cousins are the most commonly used, and have their direct counterparts in the other Nordic languages. But Swedish has a second set of words for cousins…the –ling group…which are more old-fashioned, and today likely to not be understood by a good portion of the younger generations…sound familiar? The obvious disadvantage is that you have to “invent” a different word for each degree of cousin…with the männing terms, you simply continue counting…sju, åtta, nio, tio  for 7, 8, 9, 10, and so forth.

203.6  How did these special -ling terms originate? If you noticed S for sister/syssling and B for brother/brylling, you’re on the right track. Syssling originally mean the son or daughter of one’s aunt or parent’s sister…and brylling, of one’s uncle or parent’s brother. The meanings eventually changed, migrating over to more distant cousins.

203.7  Pyssling has several meanings in Swedish…a small person, pygmy, or runt…but also what we would call a “wee person”…a fairy or elf. Amusingly, Google Translate returns “Leprechaun” for pyssling, and indeed this sense has extended to Femmånningar, the plural of femmånning, which in Swedish means “the Little People.” Obviously elves have nothing to do with the number 5, but that’s language for you.

203.8   In Swedish trassling also means tangles or entanglements, and can be used in a general sense to refer to distant relatives. None of this has anything to do with brissling, the juvenile stage of the fish we eat as a sardine…and “brisling”…with a single “s”…is an English word taken from Swedish…which is why you see it on cans at the grocery store. Perhaps you thought it meant something fancier than “small fish” but I’m afraid it doesn’t…which is how marketing works.

chart 732

203.9  To further complicate things, there are several regional variations on cousins…and those for northern Sweden in red do use the ordinals…1st, 2nd, 3rd. On the island of Gotland in yellow, they use letters of the alphabet. And the southern Swedes (green) and Swedish-speaking Finns (blue) have their own words for 2nd cousin…”small” and “next” seem eminently appropriate to me.

203.10  So far, so good. We now come to that sticking point in English, cousins removed…and in Swedish, the descending (descendants of your cousins) and the ascending (cousins of your ancestors) are dealt with differently. For the children, grandchildren, etc. of your cousins, you simply do what you do with your own grandchildren, nieces, and nephews…apply the appropriate sequence of sons and dotters…or the appropriate number of barns…and you’re done. No removeds to fuss with going in that direction.

203.11  In the other direction, different story. We need to look at what I call a Cousin Ladder…designating how you are related to each of your cousin’s direct ancestors, back to your common great/grandparent ancestors. The sources I found on the net, including Oom Wiki, were no help…I was pleased to finally find a chart by a Swedish lady named Emmy, reproduced as Chart 733 with my additions in red.

203.12  And as an aside, släktskapsdiagram means kinshipchart or relationshipgraph…as a Germanic language, Swedish has the tendency to run words together, altho without nearly so much abandon as the German language itself does. And wouldn’t you know it, the German record-setters are found in bureaucratese…mind you, the Germans own up to doing this and even have a word for it…bandwurmwörter  or “tapeworm words”…ha!

203.13  But these come and go…several years ago the 67-letter monstrosity grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung meaning “regulation governing the delegation of authority pertaining to land conveyance permissions” was retired, leaving the 63-letter rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz  or “law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labeling of beef” the reigning champ…altho I believe that was recently ditched too. One wonders how you realistically deal with such words, and the answer is by abbreviating…like this: RkReÜAÜG.

chart 733

203.14  At any rate, Emmy’s Cousin Ladder is pretty anticlimactic…there are no words, compounded or otherwise, for your cousin’s parents, grandparents, etc. …you simply spell it out…for example, your 4th cousin’s grandparent, what we’d call your 2nd cousin twice removed ascending, is your “mother or father’s parent’s 2nd cousin.” Which, surprise surprise, is precisely the best way to say it in English too…and when you think about it, it’s equivalent to our removed system, since “twice removed” here literally means “your grandparent’s”…the fact that people don’t recognize this is the primary season they get so bollixed up with removeds in the first place.

chart 734

203.15  What’s left to look at is the uncles and aunts…the siblings of your direct ancestors…back beyond your parents’ generation. Here again, there are 2 ways to do it…comparing Emmy’s chart with Wikipedia’s above, and looking at the Cousin Ladder for your 3rd cousin as an example…Wiki does it with gammel = “old”…Emmy does not… you can dissect the particulars if you like, bearing in mind that bröder, a word I don’t believe we’ve seen yet, is just the plural of bror or brother.

chart 735

203.16  What is of significance, if we can believe Onkel Wiki’s diagram, is that uncles and aunts, that is, siblings of your direct ancestors, accumulate multiple gammels the further back you go, whereas those direct ancestors themselves do not…with them, a single gammel signals you’ve moved past your parent’s parent…and from there back it’s an ever-increasing litany of parent’s parent’s parent’s parent’s parent’s whatever. If this reminds you of the “great uncle” controversy…where using that terminology instead of “grand uncle” gives you a direct ancestor and his brother, of the same generation, who are identified with a different number of “greats”…well, it should, sad to say.

203.17  A couple final thoughts…Swedish has halvkusin for half-1st cousin, as well as dubbelkusin for double 1st cousin. And while halvbror and halvsyster are your half-siblings, these terms can also refer to step-siblings…context is key, I guess. Such odd words as halvson and halvdotter exist, again meaning steps…and the opposite of these would be “2nd mother” or “2nd father” instead of step-mother/father. At the same time, styv in front of anything indicates a step-relative…go figure.

203.18  Helbror and helkusin  are full brother and full cousin, as opposed to half…hel can mean “full” in Swedish but is here closer to “whole.” Svår  means “hard” in the senses of difficult or severe…but it also signifies in-laws…svårfar, svårmor, svårson, svårdotter…the word for law is lag. But brother-in-law can be both svårbror and svåger…sister-in-law, svårsyster and svågerska…their word for “nepotism” is svågerpolitik…politik means politics but also policy.  And since in English, the word “degree” can mean any number of things when applied to kinship, I’ll just mention such a phrase as släkting i andra led…”relative in the second degree”…without further investigation.

203.19  But like it or not, languages evolve. Swedish has a small but earnest “gender-neutral” movement afoot…I leave it to you to figure what grievances such neologisms as mappor, pammor, and broster  are intended to ameliorate…they don’t look gender-neutral to me, not completely anyway, but then again it’s not my language. Ciao for niao…

wicked ballsy


…but before I go, Uncle Wiki also has a chart for Danish, with the same basic layout as the Swedish chart. There are many interesting nooks and crannies…but what caught my eye was 2nd cousin called “half-cousin”…halvkusine…and 3rd cousin being “quarter-cousin”…kvartkusine… with corresponding half- and quarter- uncles and aunts. Reminds me of Spanish and their 2nd uncles and 3rd aunts…difference is, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th would easily extend such a scheme indefinitely…1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64, if that’s in fact how they do it, less elegantly, but still possible. But that’s a research project for another blog.


Copyright © 2015 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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