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Updated: Dec 21, 2020

Yesterday, it occurred to me that my kids don’t say “vasserra” when they are surprised.

I was browsing through the Instagram posts of the Swedish Academy Dictionary, the amazing lexicographic enterprise that has taken on the grand task of mapping the Swedish lexicon from 1521 to the present. During December, they post a word a day, like a Christmas calendar. And yesterday, that word was the interjection “vassera”. “Vassera” is a corruption of the Old Swedish expression “vars hærra træ”, meaning “Our Lord’s tree”, which of course refers to Christ and the cross.

And it occurred to me that my kids don’t say “vasserra”. Of course, neither do I. Nor do my parents. I never heard my grandparents say it. I must have read it once or twice, because the dictionary entry lets us know that it is used in novels that are occasionally considered essential reading. But the expression isn’t part of the contemporary Swedish language, and probably hasn’t been for the better part of a century.

So, what do my kids say when they are surprised? Depending on the nature of the surprise, they mainly make use of two different interjections: “meh” and “what”. “Meh” is a variant of conjunction “men”(´but´), and usually indicates an indignant kind of surprise. Even more frequent is “what”. They have borrowed the English word and use it as an interjection. And so do I.

So. My kids don’t say ”vasserra”. But, because languages change, they have a lot of other resources. Since the contemporary speakers of Swedish are much more likely to be inspired by music, film and literature in English (among other languages), than from the religious sphere, some of these resources are interlingual pragmatic borrowings.

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