As a native speaker of English, I’m often impressed by how much influence our language has throughout the world, especially in business and technology.
Other times I’m not so much impressed as embarrassed.
If you ride the subway into downtown Stockholm you might see this advertisement:
That’s right. No way, the flippant, emphatic expression of denial, has made its way into the Swedish vernacular. I shudder to think what might be next.
Yet I shouldn’t shudder, and I certainly shouldn’t be surprised. Languages have been influencing and enriching each other for millenia. Case in point: knowing English and a bit of German, I had no trouble finding the subway station in Stockholm. I just followed the signs to Tunnelbanan.
Now that no way has entered the Swedish language, I’m willing to bet that — unless it soon falls out of vogue — it’ll evolve new shades of meaning in Swedish that it never had in English. Just like smorgasbord has evolved a metaphorical meaning in English — it now refers to any large and diverse collection — that it doesn’t have in Swedish.
Having gotten over my initial surprise and embarrassment, I realize that the Swedish no way is just another example of the eternal interplay between languages. It’s a reminder that language is dynamic, that it often goes in directions surprising and whimsical. It’s a fascinating and marvelous process. And if anyone thinks it’ll ever stop, I have two words for you: