Words about words: Cable tie & carburetor

Photo: Silverxxx / Wikimedia Commons
What a “cable tie” is might not be readily apparent.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

At the outset, the definitions of the two Norwegian words buntebånd (literally “bundle tie”) and forgasser (literally “gasifier”) suggest that they have little in common, other than being the names of everyday products. But linguistically they share the attribute of being words that are more readily understood than their equivalents in English, as by children or other learners upon first hearing or reading an unfamiliar word. This distinction is apparent by starting from the equivalent words in English.

First, consider the term cable tie in English. Its meaning is not obvious unless you are familiar with the history of its invention in 1958 as a speedier and cheaper alternative to the traditional, work-intensive craft of cable lacing (kabel snøring in Norwegian) that bundled wires into cables using series of running locked-stitches in waxed linen cords.

On the other hand, the Norwegian term buntebånd is self-explanatory. Understanding it doesn’t require familiarity with previous techniques. It reflects the specific action of its application of holding things together.

Now consider the word carburetor in English. Again its meaning is not obvious, unless you are familiar with the device or with the French word carburateur from which its name is borrowed. In French carburateur is self-explanatory: it designates a device in an internal-combustion engine for vaporizing a carburant, the name for a liquid fuel, such as gasoline. In the early years of the automotive age, English also had the loanword carburant. It appeared in the first edition of 1893 of A Standard Dictionary of the English Language published by Funk & Wagnalls Co. of New York. Apparently its life in English was short, as it last appeared in print in 1928 in an article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper in England. So today in English, the clarity of the connection between the device called a carburetor and what it does is no more.

Not so in Norwegian. The word for­gasser clearly designates a device that produces a gas. That is, it gasifies. Today forgassere no longer are fitted in new cars, but there still are many in older cars as well as in smaller vehicles with internal-combustion engines, such as mopeds. So forgasser most likely will be a self-explanatory term in dictionaries for many years to come, as will buntebånd.

Originally published in Norwegian on the Clue dictionaries blog at blogg.clue.no.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Avatar photo

M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.