Pinner, Pins & Needles

Pins is British English for what is needles in American English. It’s pinner in Norwegian. Close, no?

As some words in English and Norwegian are close (in sound) and because my mother had a rather, umm, creative approach to mastering English, I regularly heard some odd phrases – neither Norwegian nor English.

My mother’s worst linguistic faux pas occurred in the early months of living in the U.S. Though she hated knitting, she joined a ladies knitting group so she could improve her English in a “safe” environment. One night she stood up to bid farewell to the ladies at knitting circle, and said, “Ladies, I must now go home and douche. I have to work tomorrow.” (Oh dear.) The host of that night’s circle rose, took my mother to another room and said, “Dear, I don’t know the customs of your country, but in this country, ladies simply don’t speak of douching.” My mother was thoroughly confused.

  • In Norwegian, dusj simply means shower; ta en dusj means take a shower. Dusj is pronounced the same way as douche (English). My mother thought she was telling the ladies she was going to shower.

There are others:

  • In English my mother would say “go cook water” which actually meant “go boil water.” She used cook because it was close to koke, Norwegian for boil. I knew she meant boil, of course, but I heard it so often the phrase stuck in my head. (Thor snickers a bit when he hears me talking about “cooking water” for tea. 🙂 )
  • My mother would call people she didn’t like dusty – as in “Oh, she’s a dusty girl.” In Norwegian, dustet meant stupid or foolish. (I’ve been known to mutter, “What a dusty old man.”)
  • “Wow, it’s a lot of grades outside” was her way of saying “Wow, it is hot outside.” Grad(er) = degree(s) as in temperature degrees.
  • Another phrase she used that, a child, provided me hours of giggles, was “Pick up your fart.” Fart translates in English to speed or pace.

The other difficulty was that the English my mother learned in Norway was British English. (I once met her English teacher in Norway, whose spoken English sounded like Queen Elizabeth.) My mother had a difficult time with American English and preferred British English. Perhaps not surprisingly, her closest friend in the U.S. was from England. However, my mother’s friend was from Liverpool, England.

The result? My mother’s English became an odd American-Norwegian-Liverpudlian/Scouser blend. Many of my friends never understood a word my mother said, though she spoke, thanks to her English (Liverpudlian) tutor-friend, with great confidence.

It is, perhaps, no surprise that, though raised in California and educated at U.S. universities, my English (though both accentless and the language in which I am most comfortable) has sounded oddly foreign from time to time. Over the years I have been asked by curious Americans, “Where do you come from?” 🙂


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Knitting, Norwegian Upbringing in U.S. and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Pinner, Pins & Needles

  1. Hehe, yep. The expression tends to forget any other inhabitants of these Isles. 😉


  2. Dare I assume that “English English” means British English?


  3. I should have read the comments! Yes, it is dated. Try Blyton too perhaps. It’s the era of smashing and ripping and dusty being boring, stuffy. 🙂


  4. I have heard dusty used as a negative adjective in English English but I’m trying to place a context. I’ve never really heard pins used for needles (knitting ones), only sometimes in very specific phrases, again context escapes me. Fascinating! We have stinka (sink) and strawbinis in our English-Italian family. 🙂


  5. No, I am not familiar with the author. It would be interesting to know! 🙂


  6. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the author E. Nesbit – she wrote lots of books about children having magical adventures, around 1900. Quite often, one of her boy characters will say admiringly about another character, “Say! He’s not too dusty!” So it must have been slang around then – it would be interesting to know if it got into English from Norwegian.


  7. Curls & Q says:

    “Bland” accent made me laugh. I visited Denmark in the 70’s. I practiced Danish so I could speak the very basics. Went into a bank to cash a traveler’s check. Asked the clerk in Danish. He replied in English. (Sigh) Then asked if I was from California since I had such a “flat” accent. Flat? Bland? First time I ever heard that our accents aren’t colorful. 😎


  8. I am flattered! You know, I am not sure my mother “heard” the Liverpudlian accent much differently than she heard the U.S. accent. She really struggled with American English when she first came to this country; she had a REAL difficult time with the accentns of people from the southern states. When the father of my mother’s Liverpudlian friend came to visit, I have to admit I didn’t understand a word he said. His grandkids (my playmates), understood perfectly. Though they spoke American English, they spent enough summers with the grandparents that they understod and could even imitate it.


  9. Thank you for reading my blog! I am glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂


  10. I love this post! I learned a lot of new words! 😉


  11. grimdreamer says:

    Is there ever a day when I read something on this blog that isn’t interesting? A lot of Europeans learn British English – you should hear them talk on the Eurovision Song Contest; some have accents so good that even a Brit can’t tell! And your mother sounds like a great character… I commend her patience with the Liverpudlian accent (can’t stand it myself, sorry!)


  12. Though antiquated, it’s been used in the U.S. too. I used to hear housewives talk about “pin” money – referring to either an allowance from their husbands or working for “pin money” meaning incidentals. Curious, I looked it up.

    The phrase has been around longer than I would have thought, though! From the American Heritage Dictionary: This expression originally signified money given by a husband to his wife for small personal expenditures such as pins, which were very costly items in centuries past. A will recorded at York in 1542 listed a bequest: “I give my said daughter Margarett my lease of the parsonage . . . to buy her pins.” [Early 1500s]


  13. domesticnews says:

    British “pin money” might then actually mean to me “needle money”? Interesting! Btw, my US knitting tools are needles to me, maybe becoming as anachronistic as ‘dialing’ phones, since I use circular needles mostly. These posts are fun!


  14. Thanks for telling me this. Americans use knitting needles. How strange; I thought English use knitting pins! Norwegians use “pinner” = pins.


  15. I had to grin that you were asked where you were from in your own region! Once during a summer visit to Norway, I heard an American couple (with very strong Brooklyn accents – think Joe Pesci), debating how much something cost in U.S. dollars. They were way off, so I stepped in and said, “In U.S. dollars, that is about $88.” Now I was raised in California (apparently a “bland” accent state), so I was surprised at the man’s response: “THANK YOU” he yelled. “YOU SPEAK VERY GOOD ENGLISH.” He was speaking very slowly too. “WHERE DID YOU LEARN YOUR ENGLISH.” My response: “In school” (true – we switched to English in home when we moved back to the US and I started school here). Him: “KEEP PRACTICING. SOON YOU WILL HAVE NO ACCENT.” With that, he and his wife walked out of the store talking about how those Norwegian folks speak such good English. This occurred in a local store that I frequented, so I knew the clerk didn’t speak English. But she spoke enough to know what happened. We had a good laugh. 🙂


  16. if you’re talking about knitting, rather than sewing, the english knit with needles, whereas I believe the american use knitting pins


  17. My daughter’s first year of college was in Ohio, where her roommate was from South Carolina. On my daughter’s first trip back home, I chuckled at hearing her say, “I’m fixin’ to go …” 🙂


  18. The evolutionary path of language is pretty darn interesting. Of course grading papers you might be more chagrined than interested. 🙂


  19. Cognates and false cognates are some of my favorite things about teaching English. They just make language so much more interesting! Sometimes the words my students come up with in an attempt to attach their home-language concepts to English are even better than the actual English equivalent. Last spring half the teachers at work started using the word “freetality” after one of my students accidentally invented it.


  20. minaandme says:

    It’s funny how language can cross sometimes 🙂 Even here in America there are different words or expressions for the same things. Even just one state over where I went to college, I would use expressions I had grown up with and my classmates would look at me like I had lost my marbles! Thanks for sharing your own stories 🙂 I particuarly like the phrase “dusty” being someone foolish. It sounds like something I would say!


  21. Vix says:

    Well, they say variety is the spice of life
    A few years ago, I was at work and someone asked me where I was from…. at the time I was working in a shop 15 miles from my hometown! I’m told the Suffolk accent can sound Australian (in fact some people think English people in general sound Australian) but you’d think if these people were either from the area or on holiday there, they’d be able to tell I was local
    Oh and I actually thought it was the other way around – knitting needles in the UK and pins in the US, how strange.


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