Han Ola og Han Per—Norsk-Amerikansk kulture arv

Photo via Deb Nelson Gourley “Han Ola og Han Per: A Norwegian-American Comic Strip / En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie” is considered the authoritative translation of the comic strip.

Photo via Deb Nelson Gourley
“Han Ola og Han Per: A Norwegian-American Comic Strip / En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie” is considered the authoritative translation of the comic strip.

A message from Subscriptions Manager John Erik Stacy

Boy! We got feedback from several readers on my attempt at translating Ola og Per comics. This is good. We knew that readers of the Norwegian American Weekly could help us crack some of the especially tough language-nuts.

In fact, I was contacted by both Professor Joan N. Buckley and Professor Camilla Haugen Cai. Professors Joan Buckley and Einar Haugen (Camilla’s father) collaborated to create authoritative translations of the comic strips. Their first book, “Han Ola og Han Per: A Norwegian-American Comic Strip / En Norsk-Amerikansk Tegneserie,” not only includes translations of the text, but language notes that clarify some of the Hadeland “pidgin English” like “på hai” (i høygir = in high gear). The book also indexes the comic strips to their publication date. This book was published by Universitetsforlag in 1984 and copyright is held by the Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture (Instituttet for sammenlignende kulturforskning) in Oslo, Norway. Although this book is no longer in print, you can find copies for sale through www.bookfinder.com. There is also a second book edited by Buckley/Haugen, “More Han Ola og Han Per,” that came out in 1988. Both of these books should be of interest to our readers.

A third collection of translated Ola og Per comics can be found in the form of a booklet published in 1980. The booklet is titled “Selections from Han Ola og Han Per” and translations are credited to Georgia Rosendahl, Gladys Rosendahl Kroshus, Sigmund Bergrud and Herbert Solum. The booklet is a product of “Ye Olde Opera House, Inc.” out of Spring Grove, Minnesota (the setting for Ola og Per and the home of cartoonist Rosendahl). There is a forward by Ann Solum that provides a short biography of Peter Rosendahl, some examples of his other drawings and writings, and summary of the cartoon’s major characters as well as an overview of the special aspects of the “Spring Grove Norse” portrayed in the cartoon. According to the back page note, the booklet was produced in connection with the release of a film, written and produced by Paul Burtness, documenting the historical significance of the cartoons. Deb Nelson Gourley (Astri Me Astri publishing) sent the Weekly a copy of “Selections” as a gift (thanks!).

Untranslated comic strips by Peter J. Rosendahl came into possession of the Weekly through the Western Viking, which in turn had acquired the assets of Decorah Posten, where Han Ola Og Han Per originally appeared. The primary copy we have is in the form of individual strips in a ring-binder. We have about 500 comic strips in this form. We also have folios “Han Ola og Han Per” from “Første” through “Sjette Samling” (i.e. six folios) published by Anundsen Publishing Co., Decorah, Iowa, 1924. In addition, we have a large collection of newspaper clippings, perhaps dating back to Decorah Posten days. No doubt, much of this is redundant material. We hope to be able to devote resources to cataloging and scanning these in the near future.

I lived and worked in Oslo, Norway for about 20 years. I speak and read Norwegian and have regular contact with friends that speak a “country” dialect. But I am often mystified by Ola and Per. I really struggled with “jammen sa jeg smør”—I had never come across that one before. Our readers helped us out to understand the meaning. But I couldn’t quite let it go, so I did a search on the internet. There I found an explanation attributed to language expert Finn-Erik Vinje: “Butter (smør) describes a good that is highly valued, and that ‘bygosh, I said butter’ is used as an ironic observation about something that does not deserve the name it has been given.” My search also found that the phrase “Jamæn sa’ jeg smør, jeg, sa kjærringa, fik smult paa brødet” appeared in the book Glade Borgere by Elias Kræmmer (1894)—describing a situation where lard appears under the name of butter.

How best to translate Han Ola og Han Per into English? I certainly defer to experts like Buckley and Haugen. No doubt we all agree that Rosendahl’s Han Ola og Han Per form a priceless window into the mind and life of Norwegian immigrants in the Midwest. His drawings are remarkable, as is the language used by his characters. His works are “ekte vare” from a genius on the prairie.

This article originally appeared in the March 7, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.