The Critics’ Corner
by Bertil Falk
“Anent the Scots Leid...” appears in this issue.I’ve compared the Scots and English versions of the 23rd Psalm with a Swedish version. The linguistic resemblance is there:
And then I found the word rannsaka most interesting, for that word is very much alive and kicking in Swedish. James Graham wrote:
The Gaelic and English words have the same Old Norse origin in rannsaka, literally a house search. It’s not hard to imagine what a bunch of Vikings just off the longboat meant by a ‘house search’. In these more civilised times we can all rannsaich the Internet for information — yet another word for Google.
“Rannsaka” is used in modern Swedish, but not very often, if ever, meaning “house search.” Here are three common examples of today’s usage of the word rannsaka in Swedish:
- Bör vi rannsaka våra egna hjärtan? — Should we search our own hearts?
- Men vi bör också rannsaka oss själva. — But we should also examine ourselves.
- Jag vill också rannsaka vårt eget samvete. — We must search our own hearts.
Rannsaka is actually more than “search” or “examine”; “scrutinize” is perhaps a better translation. Rannsaka can have the meaning “to be put on trial” also here with a stress on a case being scrutinized.
Copyright © 2012 by Bertil Falk
It is interesting, Bertil, how words can change color over time while changing shape very little. To take an example from southern Europe, the late Latin word testa meant ‘jug’. It became a slang word or colloquial term for ‘head’ and, eventually, the perfectly neutral word tête in French.
The normal Latin word, caput, has evolved into chef in modern French. Meanwhile, English borrowed “chief” from Old French. Both chef and “chief” still mean ‘head’ but only in a figurative sense.
Likewise, the Old Norse rann (‘house’) combined with saka (‘to search’) with the meaning that James Graham cites. Its shape and color have changed hardly at all in English since Viking days: “to ransack” means to search thoroughly, and it can have the connotation of a rough and ready search, even of vandalism or pillaging.
Meanwhile rannsaka seems to have become almost entirely figurative in Swedish. I have no doubt it’s a testimonial to Swedish and Scandinavian civilization and much to be admired.