A recent article in the Minneapolis StarTribune got me thinking about cultural words, utterances and expressions that I grew up hearing. My mom is Scandinavian descent (Norwegian and Swedish) and my dad is German. As kids we were quite proud to compare heritages with friends; it was often tossed into conversation, shared as if we were comparing marbles or Barbies. My dad never spoke any German phrases that I noticed, but my mother and grandmother used a few specific Scandinavian words that I will still hear, once in a while, from my mom. [The italicized sentences below are quoted directly from the Strib article linked above.]
Uff da. It is an expression used to express compassion, empathy or annoyance. After your brother walks into the wall and rebounds in a sprawl on the linoleum, the appropriate response would be, “Uff da, that had ta hurt.” If you ever see a black Mercury Cougar cruising the Minneapolis area with the license plate UFDAYA—yep, that would be my mom. Seriously.
Another one my mom used a lot was fy da (fee da). Fy da expresses disgust, revulsion and horror. Mom finds the new hiding place for my brother’s beetles and frogs underneath her bed. Fy da! And then there’s the version to express a shameful horror so deep there are no words—fy da faun. Mom used that one a lot. Hmm…
The Tribune listed nei da as a show of surprise or shock in a negative way or when something unbelievable happens. My mom never said nei da, but she did say nei’men (ny men). I think it means about the same. If the little brother happens to walk out—naked—during one of mom’s coffee parties, the appropriate response was nei’men, and a full blush on my mom’s face.
It got me to thinking that these great cultural expressions are soon to be lost from our lexicon. In fact, appreciation for entire heritages is slowly fading. My kids have an idea what nationalities make up their background, but I guess that in a few more generations, kids won’t have a clue where they came from. America is becoming homogenized. And that’s not a bad thing. Or is it? We are the melting pot, after all. And new nationalities and races are constantly joining the mix to refresh the great cultural lexicon. But are all you Scandinavians out there okay with losing uff da? I’m not. (Okay, so I might not mind if lutefisk was forever banned from the kitchens of Scandinavian grandmas. I’m just sayin’.)
Uff da, I think I need to start using some of those words my mother spoke. 🙂
What about you? Tell us about words and expressions you grew up hearing, indicative of your heritage, that you don’t hear as much nowadays. What do they mean? Do you think our grandchildren’s children will be aware of their heritage, or even care about it?