Tag Archives: Norwegian

Waffles, weaving and bees

[Now with added wasps.]

You can learn all kinds of things on Twitter, especially if you follow the right people.

I recently started following Språkrådet, the Norwegian Language Council—mainly because they’re happy to answer usage questions on Twitter and because learning Norwegian without the help of a course or tutor means I have lots of questions. (I also use their online dictionary a lot, especially for things like checking genders of nouns.)

Today they tweeted a link to a short article on their website, about the word vaffel, which as you’d expect is Norwegian for waffle. Apparently a new children’s TV series has just launched, with waffles in its title.

Anyway their explanation of the origin of vaffel was interesting enough for me to want to share it. Since most people I want to share it with don’t read Norwegian, I thought I’d better try to translate it. Here’s the relevant paragraph.

Vaffel er opphavelig fra lavtysk og har det samme opphavet som ordet Wabe, som betyr ’vokskake i bikube’. Ordet henger sammen med å veve fordi vokskaka ser ut som mønsteret i en vev. Rutemønsteret i vafler ligner på dette mønsteret, og slik fikk vaflene navnet sitt.

My translation:

Vaffel is derived from Low German and has the same root as the word Wabe, which means “honeycomb in a beehive”. The word is related to å veve [“to weave”]  since honeycombs look like the pattern in a fabric. The pattern of squares in waffles resembles this pattern, and thus waffles got their name.

Is it OK to assume the same goes for weave and waffle in English? A quick look in the OED and in the Språkrådet dictionary reveals that

  • English waffle comes from Dutch waffel, which it’s hard to imagine being unrelated to vaffel or its Old German root.
  • English weave comes from “Old English wefan, of Germanic origin”, while Norwegian veve comes from Norse vefa. Again it’s hard to imagine that there’s no connection.

So, short of doing a linguistics course, I think it’s safe to assume that the English words waffle and weave have similar origins to the Norwegian ones vaffel and veve, and that the explanation of the Norwegian words is also true for the English ones.

So there you have it:

  • Honeycombs have a regular pattern reminiscent of something woven, so were given a name related to weaving.
  • The pattern of holes used for storing honey, syrup, jam etc. in a waffle just before eating is reminiscent of the pattern of holes in a honeycomb, which bees use for pretty much the same purpose.
  • waffles got their name from honeycombs, and indirectly from weaving.

Addendum: wasps

(Sept. 2012)

And now wasps enter the equation, though possibly by another weaving-related route. Today I had to look up the word veps which is what they’re called in Norwegian. The online dictionary I use is really a pair of dictionaries which can be searched simultaneously: Bokmålsordboka and Nynorskordboka. (Bokmål and Nynorsk are the two standardised forms of written Norwegian.) Here’s what they both say about vepswith my translations. (You should probably trust the first translation more than the second, since the variety of Norwegian which I know is Bokmål, not Nynorsk.)


veps (beslektet med veve) insekt av  familien Vespidae [ . . . ]
wasp (related to weave) insect from the family Vespidae [ . . . ]


veps (kanskje samanheng med veve, med tanke på korleis bolet blir laga) 1. orden av årevengja insekt; Hymenoptera [ . . . ]
wasp (maybe connected with weave, considering how the nest is made) 1. order of veined-winged insects; Hymenoptera [ . . . ]

So, weaving enters into it again, but this time it might be because of the idea of weaving a nest . . . or is it because of a connection with bees?

A question for grammatically aware Norwegians

Or anyone who knows more Norwegian grammar than I do, really.

Recently—after years of not quite getting round to it—I’ve started learning Norwegian. Or attempting to. Searches for evening classes and the like proved fruitless, as did searches for affordable Norwegian-learning books, so I’ve had to come up with my own process for learning the language. The basic process is:

  • Take a fragment of Norwegian, such as a tweet from one of the Norwegians I follow on Twitter. (Twitter is ideal for this! I never have to try to understand anything more than 140 characters long.)
  • If I don’t understand it and don’t want to look up all the words straight away, use the Opera Inline Translator extension to get a somewhat garbled, but still helpful, idea of what it means.
  • Look up any new words in the rather thin Norwegian dictionary I managed to get hold of. Also,  if possible, look up the component parts of the words.
  • If I don’t understand how the grammar fits together, either look up the relevant section of Louis Janus, Norwegian Verbs and Essentials of Grammar or make a note that I need to. (It’s not sensibly possible to learn all grammar at once, even a tweet at a time. But it is possible to add, say, “adjectives with definite nouns” to a list of things to put off learning learn later.)
  • When in doubt, plague ask a Norwegian. with questions

Today I thought it was time I got to grips properly with the past tense and past participles. (Just for regular verbs; irregular ones are their own particular nighmare.)

Apparently Norwegian regular verbs are grouped into  four classes according to what ending they use to form the past tense: -et or -a for Class I, -te for Class II, -de for Class III, and -dde for Class IV. Past participles are the same but minus the final -e. The book makes some comments about what kind of verb typically belongs to each class.

“Is this Class I, Class II, Class III or Class IV?” isn’t really the sort of question one wants to be asking when looking at a word. The relevant question is “what ending goes on this, and why?” So I’ve tried to re-work the information in the grammar book into something which is easier to remember and use. I came up with these rules of thumb below. They’re just for regular verbs, and I know that irregular ones won’t follow them. But hopefully, if my rules are right, I’ll be able to tell what the irreguarities are, and that will make it easier to learn them.

Here’s my attempt:

  • The basic past tense ending is -te after a consonant or -de after a vowel.
  • But Norwegian doesn’t like triple consonants. So if adding -te would produce three consonants in a row, use -et instead (or -a if it suits your dialect).
  • However, -ldte and -ndte are OK, since -ld and -nd act like single consonants. Also -ll-, -mm- and -nn- will be contracted to -l-, -m- and -n-, so the -te ending is still OK for verbs whose stems end with those.
  • -g or -v at the end of the verb stem softens the ‑t in the ending to ‑d, so we get -gde and -vde (not -gte and -vte).
  • If the verb stem ends in a single, stressed vowel, then the -d in the ending is emphasised too, by doubling it so the ending is -dde.
  • For a past particple, use the same endings but without any final -e.

Or more briefly: for regular verbs

  1.  Use -te after a consonant and -de after a vowel.
  2. If a triple consonant other than -ldt or -ndt would result, use ‑et (‑a) instead.
  3. -g and -v soften –te to -de.
  4. A single stressed vowel strengthens -de to –dde.

And my question is: do these rules seem right?