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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Norwegian expression of the day: En glad laks

It doesn't get more Norwegian than this.

Norwegian expression of the day: En glad laks

What does it mean?

This is one of the beautiful but rare occasions when stereotype and reality perfectly align. In Norway, the country of salmon, the expression en glad laks (‘a happy salmon’) refers to a cheerful, lighthearted, positive person.

A possible English equivalent is ‘happy camper’.

Du er en skikkelig glad-laks, du! – Aren't you a real happy camper!

If you’ve lived in Norway for long enough to understand the many different dialects, then imagine a sea-ridden northerner – en vaskeekte nordlending, as Norwegians would say – saying: Jo, han Olav, han er ein ordentlig glad laks – Oh, that Olav, he’s a real happy-go-lucky person.

Why would this person say that about Olav? Well, because Olav lives in the far north, with heavy winds and a lack of sunlight in the winter, but still manages to stay happy. Olav – like the salmon – is cheerful and lighthearted. 

READ ALSO: 'Try to embrace it': How to survive Norway's long winter nights

A not-so happy salmon caught in a net on the Norwegian coast. Photo: AFP

Where does it come from?

According to Norwegian language guardian Språkrådet, the expression — originally Swedish — draws on the salmon's nature as “ein sprek og livleg fisk” – ‘an agile and lively fish’.

The first time the expression appeared in Norwegian literature was in famous author Jonas Lie’s Sang ved Bollen (Song by the Bowl), in 1876.

If you want to watch the most fantastically Norwegian cliché of a video you have ever seen, check out this clip called En glad laks ('A happy salmon') from the website laksefakta.no (salmonfacts.com).

In it, Lise Marie (who incidentally looks like a real glad laks) asks:

Gjør laksespising deg til en glad laks? Does eating salmon turn you into a real cheerful person?

Five people, presented as 'the Gjerde family', collectively scream:

JA! – YES!

Lisa Marie then spends about three minutes showing us how the Norwegian salmon is produced, before concluding:

“The Salmon is healthy, which makes us healthy too. And when you're healthy, you can't help becoming happy. A happy salmon.”

So there you have it. 

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day: 'Qualcosa non torna'

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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