Norwegian Language Blog

Norwegian Un-words Unleashed Posted by on Sep 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

Utrolig men sant – dette er u-gress. (Incredible but true – this is ”un-grass”.) (Photo courtesy of Erlend Schei at Flickr, CC License.)

U is both one of the nicest Norwegian sounds – and the ”Nor-way” to ”un-do” words. Turn something vanlig [VAANlee] (usual) into something quite u·vanlig [ooVAANlee] (un·usual) – and watch out for False Friends from English! (Or should that be false uvenner – “un-friends?”)

Det er ukult å være uhipp, men noen ganger må du våge å gjøre noe utradisjonelt. (It’s un-cool to be un-hip, but some times you must dare to do something un-traditional. – Okay, I hope that was not too useriøst! 🙂  ) As U can see, most u words work just like in English:

normal > unormal

naturlig (natural) > unaturlig

redd (afraid) > uredd (unafraid)

trygg (safe) > utrygg (unsafe)

sikker (certain) > usikker (uncertain)

klok (wise) > uklok (unwise)

lik (equal) > ulik (unequal)

tørst (thirsty) > utørst (”unthirsty”, not thirsty anymore – yes, there really is a word for that in Norwegian!!)

Please note that all these u words are

• adjectives

• stressed on the u-

(Yup, uvanlig [ooVAANlee] is just as unusual as its meaning here! 🙂

Another odd one out is usynlig [ooSEENlee] – in-visible…)

Un-like (!) English-speakers, Norwegians are un-fans of ”un-verbs”. So, there’s no direct translation of un-do, un-tie, un-leash the dog and so on. (You’d have to re-word it as angre, knytte opp, slippe løs hunden…) The song ”Unbreak My Heart” definitely would have sounded differently in Norwegian! 🙂

U- is a common prefix in nouns, though. This is ”False Friend” territory, so tread carefully – these words usually come pre-packed with a meaning no amout of guessing will reveal:

lykke (bliss, joy) > ulykke (accident)

gress (grass) > ugress (weed [unwanted plants in your garden])

år (year) > uår (bad year)

You can sense the sinister tone, right? :-]

That is also why the phrase Vi er uvenner (”We’re un-friends”) has nothing to do with being real enemies (or having removed one another from Facebook). It simply means ”We’re not friends (any more), there’s bad blood between us”.

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.