Monday, February 18, 2013

The Other English Disease

Quite possibly meaningful
Chinese characters that I do
not know the meaning of
The Swedish language shares a peculiarity with Dutch, Finnish, Welsh, Thai, Maori and perhaps some other languages, it has a penchant for constructing compound words.

The effect of the English language's preference to split compound words and the introduction of word processing programs (mostly based on English originals) are creating havoc among Swedes, especially the ones who know written English.

All would be well if it weren't for the fact that when one splits Swedish compound words they often change meaning. The problem is called the second English disease, the first being rickets.

An example. Lets try this Swedish sentence
"En brunhårig sjuksköterska tvättar barnunderkläder" with split compound words we get
"En brun hårig sjuk sköterska tvättar barn under kläder"

The first sentence means, "A nurse, who is brown-haired, washes children's underwear", while the second sentence means "A nurse who is sick, brown and hairy washes children who are under clothes"

Another example is the word "rökfritt" and the split compound version "rök fritt" where the first version means that smoking is prohibited, while the latter version means the opposite and is an invitation to unlimited smoking.


  1. The one in the upper left corner reminds me of a Mah Jong tile.

  2. I thought the "English disease" had to do with rum, sodomy, and the lash -- or is that the motto of the Royal Navy?

    1. Or the French trying to get back at their archenemies, I would think...


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