“Totally Texas” Norsk vocab
Norway has used “texas” for “crazy” for 60 years
After the U.S. magazine Texas Monthly picked up on the unflattering Norwegian use of their state’s name on Oct. 17, the story has exploded across the internet, with versions in the Huffington Post, on National Public Radio, and on Fox News, among other outlets.
But according to Daniel Gusfre Ims, the head of the advisory service at the Norwegian Language Council, the phrase is nothing new.
“We have used the word ‘texas’ in Norway to describe wild conditions for a long time,” Gusfre Ims told The Local. “‘Helt texas,’ has been used 50 times in newspapers this year and 53 times last year, so it’s a common expression. It has something to do with a perception of the Wild West, with the chaos and lawless society during the westward expansion of the United States in the 1800s.”
Texas Monthly trawled through Norwegian news websites to find the phrase used in stories going back to 2012. They found examples where it has been used by police to describe reckless foreign drivers on Norway’s roads, by a fisherman to describe catching a gigantic swordfish, and by a football manager to describe the atmosphere at a match.
But Gusfre Ims says that according to the Norsk Ordbok, the authoritative multi-volume dictionary and thesaurus on the Nynorsk variation of Norwegian, the usage goes back to at least 1957.
The Ordbok cites a sentence from The Boy who wanted to buy Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, a novel by Vegard Vigerust, in which he writes “Did he want to make it even more texas in the village?”
“I’m not certain that it is the oldest usage of the word, but we couldn’t find an earlier usage either,” Ims said. “When it’s used in a novel from 1957, it means it was established already.”
“Western novels and Western films have been part of the popular culture for decades, so it’s not a big surprise.”
Gusfre Ims explained that the use of the original place name, Texas, to describe “wild conditions,” “commotion,” and “noise,” is an example of the linguistic phenomenon of metonymy. “It’s a kind of figure of speech where thing or concept is called not by its own name but by the name of something that it is associated with, so Texas has then been associated with ‘chaos’ or ‘a lawless society.’
“Metonymy is very common in Norwegian and very common in English as well actually,” he added, pointing to terms such as “Armageddon,” or “Champagne.”
He said Norwegians also used the term “hawaii” to describe something uncontrolled, particularly in the phrase “hawaii football.”
“It’s kind of the same; hawaii is something that goes back and forth without complete control, but it’s not like ‘texas,’ which is wilder in this figural usage.”
This article was originally published on The Local.
It also appeared in the Nov. 6, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.