firiel11 (firiel11) wrote in linguaphiles,

Resources for 19th century Norwegian thieves' cant

Setting: A slum in Reykjavik, Iceland, in a paralell world with 19th century technology sometime in the far-future.

Searches: 19th century Norwegian thieves' cant, scandinavian thieves' cant, thieves' slang 19th century scandinavia,

I'm drafting a project based loosely on Oliver Twist but set in Iceland in a paralell world where trolls, dwarves and elves exist alongside magic, the Greenland Norse colony survived, Iceland has an indigenous troll population, is much larger, and never lost its independence and Reykjavik looks like Dickensian London. One of my protagonists, Bjarki (see here on little_details but idea has changed slightly since then) who's basically the Artful Dodger grows up in a thieves' den run by a dwarven fence called Thróinn who's basically a Fagin and a troll-woman called Gunna who takes in babies for money.

But even though it's fantasy I want to have some realistic details about what life was like in Scandinavian slums (in particular in Norway and Sweden) for the very poor. Specifically I want to know if there are any good resources for the Norwegian and Swedish equivalent of London thieves' cant that I could use as a model for the thieves' cant in my story, although going by how many immigrants this fantasy Iceland has and the extreme poverty in this Reykjavik there would probably be a bit of British influence on the slang people use.

Does anyone know of any resources or examples? Thanks in advance!
Tags: norwegian, slang, swedish
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 



May 2 2014, 11:23:10 UTC 7 months ago

I'm afraid I have nothing helpful to offer, but I just wanted to say that your project sounds fascinating!


May 2 2014, 11:35:18 UTC 7 months ago

Thanks. :)


May 2 2014, 11:44:15 UTC 7 months ago

I'm sure there is something in Selma Lagerlöf's books - I have an edition here and can check.


May 2 2014, 11:51:26 UTC 7 months ago

Please do!


May 2 2014, 11:57:13 UTC 7 months ago Edited:  May 2 2014, 12:00:23 UTC

Got it! I had a somewhat unclear recollection of the length and so on of the story I remembered, but I found it. It's a bit later than your period, very early 20th century, but it's very evocative. In English, it's translated as "Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness", and it's set very much in the slums. You can find it in various formats here.

ETA: I don't remember any thieves cant or similar in that story - I thought about it more because it is about slum life in general.


May 2 2014, 12:23:51 UTC 7 months ago



May 2 2014, 15:41:24 UTC 7 months ago Edited:  May 2 2014, 15:48:08 UTC

Ah, you made me remember Herr Arnes Penningar which moved me deeply at a young age. As a film the treasure is called "Schatz" for reasons best known to those who thought the English title up.


May 2 2014, 15:31:16 UTC 7 months ago

For Swedish slang, I´d recommend to rather look in these directions: and its sequels by Per Anders Fogelström are perhaps the most well-known novels portraying poor people mainly from Söder, the Stockholm southern (hence the name) island where the working class, people who had moved there with the industrialisation, largely lived.

Even at the time of this was where the poor and outcast, whom and whose language he portrayed in his poems, lived.

Later, portrayed figures from this milieu with a fine ear for the language of the street.

In the 20th century the slang from Söder became what is usually referred to as "Ekensnack" or simply "Söderslang", one of the finest portraits of this sociolect was famously delivered by the lovely artist in a Hasse å Tage sketch called about a girl from Söder who goes to the countryside for the first time, taking the sun for a big lamp and getting her high-heel stuck in a piece of cow turd. You can´t get your Söderslang more authentic, though Nyman was not born there but on the island Kungsholmen.


May 2 2014, 19:41:34 UTC 7 months ago

Like yiskah, I have nothing really helpful to add, except that I'd totally read this--and also, that I was suddenly reminded of Lavrans Bjorgulfsson's list of troll names from Kristin Lavransdatter:

"Jernskjold married Skjoldvor; their daughters were Skjolddis and Skjoldgjerd, whom Torstein Uksafot killed. Skjoldgerd had been married to Skjoldketil, and their sons were Skjoldbjorn and Skjoldhedin and Valskjold, who wed Skjoldkejessa; they gave birth to Skjoldulf and Skjoldorm. Skjoldulf won Skjoldkatla, and together they conceived Skjold and Skjoldketil..." because even trolls revive the names of their ancestors, but everybody agrees that Lavrans owes them a drink, because he said he could think of two dozen troll names, but started repeating himself after only thirteen.

May you never run short of troll names!


May 3 2014, 06:04:57 UTC 7 months ago Edited:  May 3 2014, 06:13:53 UTC

Thanks. Right now I don't think I will run out of troll names! :) But that might change, who knows?


May 3 2014, 07:07:39 UTC 7 months ago

Which language(s) do you read? Are you familiar with any Scandinavian language? Of course that would help in understanding, otherwise you will have to rely on the translations of others entirely. I kept looking this up and the more I do so, the more fascinating it is.

You will find an interesting PDF containing a book by Arthur Thesleff if you look up "Stockholms Förbrytarspråk och lägre slang" (The Thieves´ Cant of Stockholm and lower slang) with many words listed, some of which are still familiar to me (who was born there) such as "ett barr" for "a bit, ounce", for instance.
Naturally, the meaning of these words would need verification, as far as this is possible (there are doubts, since this kind of language was mainly oral besides usually kept secret within a group and varies from one place to another, Strindberg is quoted on the subject with several objections) and translation. The etymology is interesting, as well.

The words listed by Thesleff are of diverse origin but it appears, that what was referred to as "Tjuvsnack" (Thieves´ Cant) or "Kåksnack" (Prison Cant) most often consists of up to 80% of Romani Chib which is not the only Romani spoken in Scandinavia, there are as many dialects as the countries the Roma (and Sinti, I suppose) travelled and lived in, in Sweden the main Romani spoken (with Swedish influences) is called Rakrepa. Romani Chib consists of a multitude of influences, linguists have detected remnants of Sanskrit, Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi. Further Persian, Arabic, Kurd, Greek and Hebrew influences.

"Tjuvsnack" has since come to mean another thing: "when two or more people talk and another person comes in to take over the conversation". In this meaning, it is being proposed as a new word for the Swedish SAOL (The Dictionary of the Swedish Academy).

Bo Hazell´s "Resandefolket" and Eleonor Frankemo "Resandefolkets Revitalis" address the subject of the Roma and so-called Travellers in Sweden and their language. Rakrepa appears to have existed for over 500 years but was usually kept within the family or clan and there was a saying, that if one spoke it to "buroar" (non-Travellers) one lost one´s soul. Here is a list of names for the people who were non-resident or nomads taken from the two books named above. Many of the names became derogatory with time whereas they often originally referred to a certain occupation.


May 3 2014, 08:51:39 UTC 7 months ago

I used to know how to read (and speak) French in high school but it's gone rusty. And I know a bit about (emphasis on about) Icelandic, but I don't know it or speak or read it (although I'd love to learn).


May 3 2014, 10:03:46 UTC 7 months ago

Well, I guess you´ll have plenty of time to achieve a comprehension or more of any language your choice including Icelandic any time you feel the need. Good luck with your project.


May 3 2014, 10:49:10 UTC 7 months ago