X is for...(Something Completely Different)

X is for…oh boy. This really isn’t a Swedish letter.

There are 8 words under X in my Swedish-English dictionary, of which one is the letter itself, in the sense of Mr X.

And most of the others are just foreign words, like the gas xenon, or xylofon.

In fact the standard English Scrabble answer, X-ray, doesn’t work in Swedish. Those are called Röntgen here, named after a German physicist.

So let’s pick up on an element of Swedish we’ve missed so far, the concept of “you”. We’re lucky in English, singular, plural, subject and object, all are the same word. Swedish divides all these up, and adds formal and familiar.

The familiar way to say you in Swedish is “Du”, which goes back to ancient Norse “thu”, related to the old-fashioned English word.”thou” and the Spanish “tu”. The formal version of you, both singular and plural is “Ni”, and to make things a little more complicated, the plural version of the familiar is also “Ni”.

However this whole thing about formal and familiar is also rapidly turning into an historical footnote. When I arrived in this country as a student, 40 years ago, there were older people who expected to be addressed with the formal you. That’s virtually unheard of now, and just about everyone uses the familiar you. The only probable exception would be if you were addressing a member of the royal family, but even then, Swedes will avoid using any word for “you” and use “Your majesty” or “the king” instead.

Or so I’m told. For most of us, conversations with royalty are part of the great unknown…