Yngling sails as-is

An Yngling on the water. Photo courtesy of International Yngling Association

An Yngling on the water. Photo courtesy of International Yngling Association

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Yngling, the name of an international class of racing sailboat, is a Norwegian word that has been taken directly as a loanword into most other European languages. Unlike many other loanwords, Yngling is never respelled, not even phonetically; Yngling is always Yngling.

The etymology of the word provides a clue to its interlingual durability. Like other Norwegian words, including ung and yngel, its root word is the German jüngling. The date of the word’s migration into Norwegian is uncertain, but it most likely was before the name Yngling was applied to the Fairhair Dynasty descending from the Kings of Oppland as well as before the Icelandic skald Snorre Sturlason composed Ynglingesagen, the first saga in Heimskringla ca. 1220. That the word Yngling, spelled with a capital Y to indicate its use as a proper noun, was deeply entrenched in Norwegian history and mythology may explain why it travelled intact into other languages. It’s an enchanting story, despite the lack of an explanation as to why a word from the Sagas should be applied to a particular class of racing sailboat.

The explanation is that it’s the wrong story. The right one is more prosaic. It follows a different etymological path that also started from Jüngling. In modern Norwegian, yngling is the descriptive term for a young, not completely adult man. In 1967 Norwegian engineer and boat designer Jan Herman Linge (1922-2007) applied it to a new type of keelboat that he had designed for his youngest son. It quickly became a popular class of racing sailboat throughout Europe as well as in North America and in Australia. In 1979 it was approved as an international class by the International Yacht Racing Union (IYRU), which led to it being the keelboat chosen for the women’s events in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. The selection for the Olympics led to many Yngling class boats being built, some 4,000, until it was replaced by the Elliott class in the 2012 Olympics. Today, Yngling boats are raced round the globe, and since 2010 Yngling has been regarded as a vintage sailing class.

The lesson here may be that in etymology, as well as in grammatical usages, homonyms—words spelled alike but having differing meanings or derivations—may mislead.

This article originally appeared in Norwegian on the Clue Dictionaries language blog at blogg.clue.no.

It also appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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