Thirty years ago: Beckermania and a rude then arid Anders Järryd

It’s almost exactly thirty years since Boris Becker became the youngest player to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon. Having been in my final year of primary school at the time (and in my final days of childhood in London as we prepared to move to Somerset) I still have a pretty heady cocktail of memories of that time. We were shunting our worldly possessions down the much-feted M3/A303 route from the capital to South-West England every weekend, and we were relying on a decidedly dated black-and-white television to heroically summon up coverage from SW19 when in Somerset – if we weren’t making use of the radio in our Volkswagen camper van to follow Becker’s irresistible rise into the fame and fortune honeypot.

He knew we were in the Volkswagen listening

He knew we were in the Volkswagen listening

Irresistible is certainly how it felt at the time: like a few other Wimbledons since (in particular, Andre Agassi’s title triumph in 1992 and Roger Federer’s second title in 2004), there was a sense even at the time that Becker was completely dictating the narrative of the fortnight and therefore destined to win. Like just about everyone else in modern times, however, he actually had to win the seven matches to get there first, and this wasn’t some unimpeachable formality: it was probably the exact opposite when he twice had to break Joachim Nyström to stay in his third-round encounter and then made the walk to the net when injured (and therefore apparently ready to retire) in the next round against Tim Mayotte (Becker’s manager and coach both shouted and exhorted him to carry on; they got their way and Becker got his victory).

On a note of exacting Scandiness, one thing that stands from a distance is my memory of how the commentariat and purveyors of punditry on the BBC pronounced the name of Becker’s Swedish semi-final opponent, who again had Becker in trouble before failing to convert some points for a two-set lead and then coming out far less inspired after a rain-break took the match into the final Saturday. Anders Järryd was (I am convinced) Anders Yah-RUDE as far as they were concerned. In years to come, the RUDEness subsided and instead a rather flat aridity came to the fore as Yar-RUDE became YARID.

Why the change? I pondered this at the time, and then realised this week (for the first time ever) that in any case there is an omljod/umlaut/double dot/call it what you will over the a in Järryd. So therefore it seems to me that JAIR-ryd (not quite rude and not quite rid) is the optimum pronunciation, at least if around 1:10 on this YouTube clip is anything to go by.

My fetishistic desire for complete verbal and oral perfection when essaying accents notwithstanding (we know we’re culpable on this blog a lot of the time, so we don’t push the matter), what stands out looking at some old footage of the 1985 final between Becker and Kevin Curren is how restrained the crowd are at match point for Boris (see from about 2:49:00 onwards here). Key matches at Wimbledon nowadays seem to unfold in a permanent cauldron of noise, articulated spectator nerves and emoting (not that this is a bad thing; it has heightened the raw and sharp immediacy of proceedings). Certainly when we are fortunate (as we have been over the last decade or so) to have a succession of frankly absorbing and see-sawing confrontations at all levels in the men’s game, it rather deftly complements the niceties of whether you say Jar-RUDE or JARID or, in actual fact, neither.

Järryd for his part was a fine player, one of the last of the (now almost extinct) brigade to excel in both singles and doubles. In spite of that semi-final loss to Becker, he was in peak form in 1985, reaching a career-high number 5 in the singles list and number 1 in the doubles rankings. He won eight Grand Slam doubles titles in his career, three of them with Stefan Edberg, who may well resume his modern rivalry with Boris Becker, in a coaching format at least, should they respectively guide Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to the men’s final on Sunday week. (Or Novak Đoković if you’re purist to a fault or double fault about that kind of thing.)

Not forever defined by Becker and the rain: Anders Järryd cutting a dash at Wimbledon 2011, where he got to the senior men's doubles final with Jeremy Bates

Not forever defined by Becker and the rain: Anders Järryd cutting a dash at Wimbledon 2011, where he got to the senior men’s doubles final with Jeremy Bates

The black sun and seeing things with a child’s eyes

Now here’s a couple of oddities. The word for ‘blackbird’ across the five main Nordic languages is – with the exception of Danish – more zoologically accurate in every instance than is the case in English. Four times out of five, it literally translates as ‘black thrush’ or ‘coal thrush’ – rightly so as the blackbird is a member of the Turdidae thrush family. It’s also apposite that Nordic words are pin-point accurate in this instance given that the remarkable Swede Carl Linnæus (1707-1778) is the modern father of taxonomy – the very categorisation of plants and animal species themselves.

The taxonomy godfather

The odd one out? The Danish solsort. Now this one I cannot fathom. That would literally translate as ‘sun black’- as mysterious as the appearance of the same word to define an oil prospect in the North Sea. Or am I overlooking something here? Any ideas about the etymology of this word?

The Icelandic svartþröstur follows the ‘black thrush’ formula but don’t expect to find that out in any standard online resource – Google Translate was just one of a number of reputed sites found wanting when I tried a simple translation search. So three cheers to an Australian website apparently aimed at the younger generation for cracking this one.

The irony is that at a time when Nordic translation resources are still in their infancy online, and still not exactly cheap in hard copy, it is infants themselves who may well end up ahead of the game here. Whilst this incident shows up the fallibilities of the Internet (don’t think Google’s helpful offer of ‘blackbird’ as the translation into Icelandic will cut much sinnep or mustard in Reykjavik Harbour), it also belies the old adage from anyone way past school finishing age that education was ‘better in our day’.

That one deserves a rethink. My six-year-old godson and his siblings can manage intellectual considerations that I was nowhere near at their respective ages. They’re all of some Norwegian heritage only a few generations back, and they will certainly have the opportunity to learn about both the country and its language in depth if a new age of open information is marshalled sensibly and discerningly, because the education system can and will openly flourish in the process and ostensibly niche subjects will become a commonplace part of the academic process – as has happened here.

At the moment my godson is chiefly interested in Star War figures as a birthday present. Fair enough. I have no intention of buying him huge dictionaries and tracts and jostling him into inveterate Scandifriendliness at this tender age – or indeed at any other age. But it’s good to know that public information at its very best gives him an opportunity of working out which way the koltrast/svartrost/solsort/mustarastas/ svartþröstur flies.

Svartþröstur singing in the dead of night

Scandi Words and Phrases of Beauty Pt 1

One reason for starting this blog was that so many Nordic language words and phrases are things of beauty in their own right – frequently besting their English equivalents. Here I effectively have a forum for analysing them in more detail than I might on a standard Facebook or Twitter feed.

In the second novel in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’, we learn in the English that Elisabeth Salander’s mother was ‘head over heels in love’ with Salander’s brutal father.

It’s the most obvious translation as it is such a commonplace expression – although love as expressed through this idiom feels like a rather ungainly thing, like a drunk person doing a forward roll on a sloping piece of terrain. Admittedly love often has this disconcerting, disorientating effect.

But in the Swedish language version of this text, the exact words are ‘upp över öronen kär i honom’ – literally – ‘in love with him up over the ears’. Now that’s fantastic. It gives the impression of a person being completely in love, of being possessed heart and soul and body and mind and beyond – love that defies height, width and earthly dimensions. Which is pure love in its most magnificent essence.

Admittedly it has a very tragic and poignant tone in this particular Larsson novel given the unpleasant fate of both Salander’s parents. But maybe we need to start translating this idiom more literally into the English – and maybe we need to start using it more often within the English language without the translatory prompt…?

I for one would welcome that. I’m set to get married very soon (in the Scandinordic terrain of Reykjavik of course) and I’ve been lucky enough to be in love up over the ears and beyond myself.