My new friend Linda took me with her to a cooking event to see how easy it is to create traditional Norwegian Christmas food. It was not only interesting in it’s own right, for the foods’ sake, but also for the side-dish lesson in cognates1.

I really haven’t learned a lot of Norwegian yet. It is hard to be motivated when our awesome hosts-and almost everyone else around here- speak English just about as fluently as a native speaker. Yet I feel that I should be practicing a few new words or phrases a day. Rest assured, I got a good lesson in cognates, spelling structure, and pronunciation just recently.

Now I want you to put your thinking-cap on, or your chef-hat, or, something. We are going to practice cognates. I want you to merely say the following words out loud as you would in whatever language you know, and see how it sounds (if you’re at work, just whisper them, you don’t want your colleagues to notice). As you say the words, think of any words in English that -although spelled different- sound similar. Ready?

Here is the traditional Norwegian Christmas dinner menu:




Oles Ostepanne.



Kokte Poteter.


Eple brownie.

Tropisk frukt m/vanilje saus.


How did you do? Can you identify any of those as they would be in English? I bet you did (have patience, if you didn’t, answers forthcoming). Now that you have guessed as best you can, what if I provide you with the equivalent in English for some of the others? Think of it as a matching exercise.



Here is the menu [in a different order] in English.

Tropical fruit with vanilla sauce

Mashed red beets

Cooked potatoes

Salty lamb meat


Cheesy Eggs

Apple brownie

Pork [swine] ribs

Gelatinous [Lye] Fish

Mashed [stomped, hint hint] Rutabaga


How did you do once you had the corresponding menu item in English, too? I bet you got a few more, and then I bet you were able to guess at even a few more after that, right?

As I was staring at the chalkboard full of unfamiliar words, it occurred to me at Svinerribbe, actually. I had no idea what most of the words were, at least, not at first glance. But as I put attention to it I started realizing that actually I did know some of those things. I certainly knew ‘apple-brownie’ right away [side note: this brownie mix was made using meringue. Really? Holy. Cow. Oh. My. Goodness. Gracious. Fabulous idea. Never tried that before… I also hear that it is not ‘traditional’. I think they wanted to throw that in because it’s so fantastically delicious and sinful. I kept reading and realized that tropisk frukt might as well be the same in English, a total cognate!

Now I’m interested, and I go over the first items again.

Pinnekjott… still not sure on that one.

Svinerribbe… hmmm… I recognize ‘rib’ so that must correspond to ‘ribbe’… and I feel even more confident of that when I remember that ‘swine’ is also very cognaty with ‘svine’… so if I put together swine+rib I think it makes Svinerribbe.

Cool! So that got me thinking.

More of these words are cognates than I originally would have suspected. It just took a little success with some more obvious ones to be willing to try reading the others.

Kokte Poteter? It’s almost the same words!

Rødbetmos? I love this one, as much in writing as to eat. RED. BEETS. And I think ‘mos’ must mean mashed because I see the woman up there mashing them. Thanks for that hint.

KålrotStoppe? This one was a little more difficult at first for me. However, once I was able to see the stuff being ‘stopped’, it became clear that ‘stop’ and ‘mos’ are synonyms. So you could have Rødbet-stoppe, and you could have Kålrot-mos, too. I really couldn’t see any difference between those two verbs.

As you can see, it’s interesting to consider languages when you’re surrounded by them. And with all the visual cues it was harder to get them wrong.

As for the dinner? I had two helpings of almost everything!  Fantastisk!

1Cognate = Any word that is very similar in different languages. Example: police(English), polite (Norwegian)


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