|Creation: only "ganska godt" according to the 1703 Swedish bible|
By now you’re wondering where all this is going, and perhaps suspecting it’s going nowhere. But as Polonius says to Hamlet’s uncle, perpend. For our next and final stop is the Swedish bible of 1703 (King Karl XII's bible): and here on the sixth day God says of his handiwork that it’s ganska godt. And finally I’ve come to my point, for to modern Swedish ears that sounds strange, as if God is saying his handiwork was only quite good. In fact I’ve seen a feminist blog claiming these words ganska godt show that up to the moment that God made woman he thought everything he made was just fine, whereas after making woman it all went downhill. Here however our feminist errs. Not in her assessment of the politics of religion, but in her knowledge of the Swedish language. For in 1703 ganska actually meant very, just as mycket in modern Swedish and grandamente in Italian. But the passage of time has diluted ganska’s sense so that now it means no more than quite or rather. The German ganz from which ganska derives still means very, and so does Danish ganske. All this I know because I’m spending a week with my mother’s sister Kerstin in Luleå where a couple of days ago the sun set at 23:55 and rose at 1:10 and we can read bibles at midnight without artificial light.
Which is handy. Inevitably when I come here the table is soon strewn with bibles in Swedish, English, Russian, French, German, Spanish, Greek, Finnish and Italian. That’s not where it began; but wherever it begins, that’s where it invariably ends. On this occasion it began with Jane Austen.
|Jane Austen: repulsive wasn't so bad|
Likewise astonished, when used by Milton, meant turned to stone as when Satan says of the fallen angels “The associates and copartners of our loss lie thus astonished on the oblivious pool.” Whereas nowadays astonished means no more than exceedingly surprised; itself a word whose sense has diluted, for it used to mean ambushed or caught in the act, as when Dr Johnson, discovered in flagrante by his wife who expostulated “Sir I am surprised”, corrected her “No madam you are astonished, it is we who are surprised”; incidentally thereby illustrating that for him astonished had already declined somewhat in value. Such are the considerations that led my aunty and me to ganska and a midnight table in the north of Sweden heaped with bibles.
|Luleå: bible belt|