Sometimes when I open my university account to check on assignments etc, I spend some time browsing the smáauglýsingar, or classified ads. They are short and often interesting, and usually involve more talmál—spoken, colloquial language—than I encounter on a regular basis. Here is one from today (with the poster’s personal details removed, obv):
I was drawn to this ad for one reasons initially: I mistook the word “trommari” (here declined to “trommara”) for trumpet player (trompetleikari, actually) and was really intrigued by the idea of a “doom-band” with a trumpet player. Alas, that is not the idea, but the ad was interesting for other/additional reasons. It reads:
Trommara vantar í doom metal band. Þarf að nenna að spila hægt, vera ligeglad og nett(ur) og vera ekki að flytja úr landi. Við erum fjögur á aldrinum 21-25. Frekari upplýsing/spurningar/whatever í pósti [email address omitted].
Drummer wanted for doom metal band. Needs to be willing to play slowly, be [ligeglad] and cool and not be moving out of the country. We are four in between the ages of 21-25. More information/questions/whatever to email…
Why is this interesting, Larissa? Well, let me draw your attention (back) to the bolded word ligeglad.
I couldn’t find this in a dictionary when I looked it up and moreover, the spelling didn’t, to my eye, look super Icelandic. A word that I cannot easily define is usually something slangy or colloquial, so I put a little more effort into tracking it down so that one day, I can talk just like The Kids and fit in and be Super-Kul. So I google the mystery word and find a couple things:
Firstly, this entry on blog.is called “Íslendingar hafa misskilið orðið “ligeglad” í áratugi!” which means “Icelanders have misunderstood the word “ligeglad” for decades!” The gist of this post is that this is a Danish word which means something along the lines of indifferent. Nevertheless, the word—according to the poster—is frequently misused by Icelanders to mean something along the lines of “relaxed,” “laid back,” or “casual.” Per the post:
Sem dani finnst mér það mikið klúður og pínlegt þegar td. Hagkaup auglýsir Danska daga með orðunum „oh ég er svo ligeglad“ eða enn fáránlegra þegar maður heyrir islendinga segja við dani „Danir er svo ligeglade” Þá ertu ekki að hrósa honum fyrir að vera afslappaður, heldur ertu að segja á neikvæðum nótum “danir eru kærulausir og allveg sama”
As a Dane, it seems really confusing and embarassing when, for instance, Hagkaup [ed. note: Hagkaup is a sort of Icelandic Target. They also host “American Days.“] advertises “Danish Days” with the words “Oh, I am so ligeglad,” or still more absurd, when you hear Icelanders say to a Dane, “Danish people are so ligeglade.” Then you are not praising him for being relaxed, but rather you are saying (with negative meaning) that “Danes are indifferent and don’t care.”
Around the same time (2010), the Icelandic website Pressan posted “Nú er okkar alveg sama” which mentions, incidentally, the same Hagkaup ad:
Það ágæta fyrirtæki Hagkaup auglýsir nú af miklum móð danska daga sem verslunin heldur hátíðlega þessi dægrin.
The fine company Hagkaup is now advertising Danish Days non-stop which the store celebrates festively today.
Útvarpsauglýsing fyrirtækisins hljómar í sífellu í íslensk eyru: Nu er vi ligeglad.
The company’s radio advertisement heard continually by Icelandic ears: Nu er vi ligeglad.
Sumir Íslendingar virðast halda að danska orðið ligeglad lýsi einhverjum huggulegheitum og nánast notalegri afslöppun. Svo er þó alls ekki. Sögnin ligeglad þýðir að vera bara alveg nákvæmlega sama um hlutina. Rétt þýðing á auglýsingu þeirra Hagkaupsmanna er því: Nú er okkur alveg sama.
Some Icelanders seem to use this Danish word ‘ligeglad’ to describe something cozy and a sort of friendly casualness. But that’s not it at all. The verb “ligeglad” means to just be indifferent about things. The right translation of Hagkaup’s ad is: Now we don’t care.
There are several points to this digression, none of which involves an intention to mock people for using a foreign word incorrectly, because goodness knows, I can’t escape that in my daily life. Rather, this whole discovery reinforced several simple truths for me:
- It is really hard to correctly use slang in another language. Sometimes that means it is hard to pick up another language’s slang and use it while speaking that (same) language. And sometimes, as with ligeglad, that means that it is hard to know how to use a slang word from another language when speaking a totally different language. (As another, rather hilarious and well-known incident involving the latter, those of you not offended by reading “strong language”, see this example of department store advertising gone horribly wrong; the rest of you, take my word for it.)
- It is hard for everyone everywhere to use their second language correctly. Icelanders still learn Danish in schools (probably not as much as they used to), and it is a commonly understood language here and yet, many people—from a large company to young musicians forming a doom metal band—are using this word “incorrectly.”
- Language is fluid and words do actually change meanings/adopt meanings/evolve. See: “gay,” “awesome“…even “literally” now has a figurative, non-literal definition. I know there are people who hate this kind of fluidity—speakers of English, Icelandic, French, etc. etc. etc. often get angry when they believe that a language is being somehow “compromised” or “watered down.” But I think this is one of the most amazing things about language. You start with one meaning and slowly, over time, people self-generate a new one. Neato.