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Boston Blatte

Raised in Boston, remade in Sweden

Two pricks: The Swedish umlaut

How do I say the two pricks over the O and A?

I’ve been asked that a number of times. Most often with a crooked smile and a wink by the Swedes doing the asking.

Call it an umlaut. Umlauts are trendy
That’s my standard suggestion while giving reference to Motörhead and Häagen-Dazs


However, the pricks (ok, you can just as easily and less controversially call them dots, though the “Swede’s joke” comes from the direct translation from Swedish; två prickor to describe the dots ) are not accent marks (as we English speakers might be inclined to call them.) The Å, Ä and Ö are now regarded as completely individual letters (and tag on to the tail end of the alphabet.) And thanks to the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling trilogy umlauts are returning to their trendier status among popularized punctuation.

A friend linked (via Facebook, my lifeline to the world) a wonderfully humorous New Yorker short “The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut” by Nora Ephron to my page. It’s fabulously written though the “native(ish)” Stockholmer in me would like to tidy up the travel description of getting around Stockholm. (Sorry, but you just can’t “Take Stora Essingen and Gröndal into Södermalm” while you can drive Essinge Leden via Gröndal into Södermalm)

I haven’t read the books yet. Might have to pick one up and wander the streets of Stockholm through Larsson and Lisbeth Salander’s eyes.

I’ll read it in Swedish, but I’m pleased to know that the pricks remain in the English translation.

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15 responses to “Two pricks: The Swedish umlaut”

  1. Dave Poppyseed says:

    Just as I thought. An unnecessarily cheap title followed by empty content.

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  2. 2:22 says:

    This entry was posted at 2:22!!! Creepy!

    The security phrase I have to type to prove I’m not a robot is “Hotel bunkum”…

    That sounds kinky.

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  3. Paul Wilson says:

    Hello from Minnesota!

    I started a spelmansstämma here eleven years ago and have insisted on keeping the ‘umlaut’ in the word. It has been a challenge, but we persist! Our festival is called Nisswa-stämman and it has been very well received by local Minnesotans and Swedes alike! http://www.nisswastamman.org

    best, Paul Wilson (with roots in Dalsland and Sörmland)

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  4. Dr Watson says:

    “The Å, Ä and Ö are NOW regarded as completely individual letters….” What? Are you suggesting that it has changed status some time recently?

    Again another entry on this blog attempting to asssert some type of athoritative stance on anything Swedish, without having much of a clue.

    1) Contrary to what the title of this entry asserts, the “two dots” are not umlauts in the Swedish alphabet

    2) Ä and Ö (and Å for that matter) are independent letters…

    3) … and have been so a very very long time


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  5. Boston Blatte says:

    @Dave. The title called to you did it? 😉
    @Dr. Watson. Recently? No. Asserting authoritative stance? Hahaha…uh. Yeah, that’s what I’m going for. Though, you’re clearly better at it. Wiki rulz!

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  6. Boston Blatte says:

    @ Paul. Wow, thanks for the link. One of these days I hope to journey the trail of the Swedish descendants in the US. That “Ä” is treat, hang on to it!

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  7. Anders says:


    Certain aspects of our language were in flux up until perhaps the 1800s. We have written these letters in a few different ways over time, as fashions changed. We lost our “w”, and our “th” consonant blend over the years, for some reason, too.

    And of course, the Swedish language is still in flux, as evidenced by the unsettled linguistic and cultural issues related to how to spell the name of one of our central counties.

    Interestingly, you Yanks have lost your usage of the umlaut also. I think the last time period that it is associated with is the turn of the last century. Maybe it lasted longer, but perhaps only with very precise people. The purpose of the umlaut in English is to prevent doubled vowels from forming a blend. For example, one would not want “coöperation” to be pronounced “kewp er a tion” instead of the correct “koh awp er a tion”.

    Know what I mean?

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  8. foxpur says:

    Technically the characters ö and ä are stand alone, however, in descriptive they are desribed to those that don’t know it as a ‘o (or a) with 2 dots (or umlaut) over it’… much the same as saying “that man over there’ and poiting at a group of 5 doesn’t clarify as opposed to ‘the man with the green hair over there’ will be more specific (assume they all are not clones, then you can saw the 2nd on the left).

    The point being, it’s allows a non-Swede to understand what the letter looks like to a non-Swede in a common reference regardless to the absolute correctness of it.

    @Anders: cooperation comes from co – operation, as in multi parts sharing a operation (Late Latin cooperatus, past participle of cooperari, from Latin co- + operari to work) and it never had a ö to lose in it. I personally feel Sweden messed that one up.

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  9. Anders says:

    Apologies for resorting to Wikipedia, but my memory is vague about the doubled vowel in English. Where I have seen it a lot is in historical writing from the American Gilded Era through TR.

    “Diaeresis (trema) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umlaut_(diacritic))
    The diaeresis always comprises a pair of dots and is placed over a vowel (replacing the tittle when appropriate). It indicates that two adjoining letters that would normally form a digraph are actually split over two syllables.[1] To put it simply: the diaeresis indicates that a vowel should be pronounced apart from the letter which precedes it. That preceding letter is usually another vowel, but in Spanish it is used on the letter u when preceded by g and followed by another vowel to indicate that the u should be pronounced. For example, in the spelling coöperate, it reminds the reader that the word has four syllables [koʊˈɔpəɹeɪt], not three [ˈkuːpəɹeɪt]. In English, the trema is rare, and not mandatory, but other languages like Dutch, French and Spanish make regular use of it. By extension, the words trema and diaeresis also designate the same diacritic when used to denote other kinds of sound changes, such as marking the schwa ë in Albanian.”

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  10. foxpur says:

    HAHA, “Diaeresis” sounds like a medical disease. I spoke to a English lang. professor and he said “coöperate” never happened in English anymore because language did away with the ¨ in most spelling as unnecessary in the 1940s to the useage of the word, there were a few instances it was kept for English but they are very rare.

    For common usage there is no ¨ in the English language, BUT it still shows up from time to time as a ‘foreign’ word gets implimented as common useage.

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  11. LaMartin says:

    She could atleast have checked how a swedish keyboard looks like 😉 still funny though!

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  12. Republic of Sweden/In Exile-Self Proclaimed/In Formation says:

    Republic of Sweden/In Exile-Self Proclaimed/In Formation

    We have now formed the Swedish Republic In Exile.

    Sadly enough, in Sweden we still have a Monarchy, with a King and a class of Nobility with Counts and Barons.

    Such an antiquated institution is obviously in contradiction with modern democratic developments.

    The absurd Monarchy preserves obsolete privileges for the Aristocracy in a medieval manner, also imposing Christian Protestantism as the State Religion.

    We have therefore formed the Swedish Republic In Exile, based on equal rights and equal duties.

    We are going to strive for equality and dignity through logic and reason.

    Like the USA and France so many years ago, also the Swedish People should be given the right to be equal under the law.

    As you are involved in Swedish affairs, we ask you to support and to publicize our efforts to bring real democracy to Sweden.

    You are always welcome with comments, questions, and suggestions at rosie.spif@ymail.com
    Republic of Sweden/In Exile-Self Proclaimed/In Formation

    You are also welcome to apply for Citizenship in the Republic of Sweden/In Exile: it is an open International Organization, with a view to create equal and just societies.

    Thank you for supporting the enhancement of international democracy.

    Republic of Sweden/In Exile-Self Proclaimed/In Formation


    Please forward this e-mail to family, friends, and colleagues.


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  13. Sarah says:

    So I admit it has been a while since I read your blog last, sorry! But I found this one to be slightly amusing, as I say “two pricks” too, depending on who I’m talking to! People seem to get a kick out of it.

    And my my my, what a bunch of haters. If you guys don’t like the blog, don’t come back to read it again and again! 😛
    It’s not like it’s front page stuff and you’re forced to see it when coming to this site.

    I hope you got as much of a laugh out of the trolls as much as I did!

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  14. Boston Blatte says:

    @Anders and Foxpur. Apologies for taking so long to reply. Summertime and living’s easy. Anyway, thanks for the discussion about the terms both for convenience and for accuracy.
    @ LaMartin, I had to suspend my knowledge of the Swedish keyboard and presume that the event took place in NYC 😉
    @Sarah. I’m not fazed by people who write nasty stuff. It says to me that they care enough to read;) Personally when I find stuff idiotic or unworthy of reading I stop reading and I definitely don’t bother to enter a comment (especially with a requirement to type in a control script LOL)

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