A taxing example of the peril of translation
M. Michael Brady
Abbreviations not obvious or not spelled out upon first use can confuse, particularly in translation between languages, as between Norwegian and English. Consider the two-letter abbreviation RF. In technology, it’s unaltered in translation, as it’s the short-form technical term for the same words, in Norwegian (Radiofrekvens) and in English (Radio Frequency).
In Norway, RF also is an abbreviation more commonplace than its use in technology. It’s the prefix to the designation numbers of the many taxation forms issued by Skatteetaten (literally “Tax agency,” the Norwegian equivalent of the IRS in the USA), such as the Skattemelding for formues- og inntektsskatt, RF-1030 (Tax return for wage earners and pensioners, RF-1030), the equivalent of IRS form 1040, conveniently available in English translation at www.altinn.no/en/Forms-and-Services/Etater/The-Norwegian-Tax-Administration/Tax-return-for-wage-earners-and-pensioners.
Despite that prevalent usage, RF in its taxation sense is not defined in any Norwegian dictionary or language reference and consequently not explained in English. In that sense, RF may well be Norway’s most familiar yet most obscure abbreviation.
Delving into the history of taxation in Norway reveals that RF entered the language as an abbreviation for Riksskattestyrets formular (National Tax Administration Forms), where Riksskattestyret for 70 years (1913-1983) was the name of the agency that today is known as Skatteetaten. So RF is a historical abbreviation that was retained in 1983, perhaps because then, well before today’s ubiquitous online availability and filing of forms, the task of changing RF to something else on the paper taxation forms held in tax offices across the country was viewed as being too big to be worthwhile. One might speculate what would have happened had the change of name taken place today.
Originally published in Norwegian on the Clue dictionaries blog at blogg.clue.no.
M. Michael Brady was educated as a scientist and with time turned to writing and translating.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 1, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.