Norwegian Americans are able to poke fun at themselves . . . - Odd Lovoll [Personal communication]
The humor field is vast, and not all aspects of humor are recorded. Much humor is spent in everyday living, entertains in a moment or so, and afterwards is hardly recorded by anyone. So recorded humor is but a part of a wider area. Characteristics of Norwegian-American humor and wit is tentatively explained by Dr Odd Lovoll. [Pna 42-43; 187-88, 223-28].
One study that Lovoll renders, "paints a very wholesome picture of Norwegians and Norwegian Americans, and identifies the Norwegian word kjekk as an ideal, meaning being courageous, positive, humorous, strong, capable, and industrious. . . ." [Pna 187]
The industrious farmers Ola and Per are the main characters of a quite revealing Norwegian-American comic strip that was made between 1918 and 1935 by the farmer-poet Peter Julius Rosendahl (1878-1942), a native of Spring Grove in Minnesota. Below are strip samples.
Click on a text link and a strip episode appears in a separate window that you may move about on the screen, resize and form as you please [LINK]. To view another episode easily, click on its text link and then [Alt + Tab] to get the popped up windows (pages).When the Profit Went up in Smoke. - September 3, 1920
30. A Quaint Way of Catching Rats. - January 21, 1921
34. Per Gets and Unexpected Ride into the Air. - February 18, 1921
37. Per "Fixes" the Hay Fork - March 11, 1921
51. When Ola was Going to Mind the House - December 30, 1921
70. Per Gets his Axe Spoiled on Ola's Worthless Head - May 12, 1922
72. Lars Finds Out That Water Is Wet - May 26, 1922
94. Per and the Wireless - January 19, 1923
97. An Unfortunate Move - February 9, 1923
105. Per Gets into a Hot Spot - April 6, 1923
129. Lars Gets a "Warm" Reception - November 2, 1923
157. "Goodbye for Now," Say Per and Ola - May 16, 1924
185. Per Is Always the Same Fool - April 17, 1925
186. Værmor Has to Bite the Dust - April 24, 1925
187. A Test That Failed - May 1, 1925
200. Per Hunts Eskimos - November 13, 1925
From More han Ola og han Per225. Per Can Fix Anything - May 7, 1926
230. Homeward Bound - June 11, 1926
246. Lars is Not So Easy to Get Rid Of - November 19, 1926
256. Lars Observes the Weather - January 28, 1927
262. An Effective Hair Tonic - March 11, 1927
268. The Cure Was Worse than the Illness - April 22, 1927
276. Per Was Prepared - February 3, 1928
291. The Little Girl Wanders Away - May 18, 1928
302. The Trip Ends in Disaster - August 3, 1928
321. An Unsuccessful America Trip - December 14, 1928
328. When Danger Is at Its Worst, Help Is Nearest - February 1, 1929
367. A Sad End to the "Farm Relief" - February 7, 1930
376. Lars is Inventive - April 11, 1930
377. Too Much of a Good Thing! - April 18, 1930
394. An Unsuccessful Gasoline Tanking - November 14, 1930
402. Lars Doesn't Enjoy Washing Himself - January 9, 1931
407. You Can Never Know . . . - February 13, 1931
411. Things Turn Out Badly for Per Again - March 13, 1931
415. An Unfortunate Mistake - April 10, 1931
454. They Find Many Strange Things in the City Dump - March 4, 1932
456. They Land in the Ditch - March 18, 1932
488. Lars Finds a New Friend - February 3, 1933
490. A "Comfort" from Lizzie - February 10, 1933
497. An Unsuccessful Portrait Painter - April 7, 1933
512. The First Misfortune on the Trip - July 21, 1933
522. The Kidnapping a Mistake - September 29, 1933
525. Will It Be the World's Fair or Not? - October 20, 1933
539. Mrs. McOlson Faints in Astonishment - March 16, 1934
567. Another Manure Spreader - October 5, 1934
586. The Sheriff Had to Give In - April 19, 1935
THE LAST STRIP
599. It Would Have Been Fun to Come Along! - July 19, 1935.
Ola and Per Humor
"Han Ola og han Per" is the Norwegian name of Rosendahl's strip. It is about accommodations. It was first published in the Norwegian-language Decorah Posten, Iowa, with continuing reruns since, and has lately been published weekly by The Western Viking in Seattle and a few Minneapolis papers in addition to being published as books.
The sample was prepared from the two volumes of Ola and Per cartoons edited by Joan Buckley and Einar Haugen [Hp, Mop]. Haugen has furnished the English translations of titles and content. The strip numbers are as they appear in their collection of about 554 strip episodes out of 599. The dates given are the publication dates in Decorah-Posten. The strip episodes from the first strip collection are about 50 percent enlarged, and those of the second collection about 90 percent enlarged.
Ola and Per (picture on top of page) are two cartoon characters from the Upper Midwest of the early 1900s. The strip was first published between 1918 and 1935 in the Norwegian-language newspaper Decorah-Posten, Iowa. The cartoonist was Peter Julius Rosendahl (1868–1941) of Spring Grove, Minnesota. His basic cartoon program lies in the second verse.
Poem Comments with Corrections
A traditional Italian adage is Traduttori, traditori, "Translators are traitors." "Not necessarily," one should add, and there is a thing called poetic licence. Yet there are a few places where Haugen's rhymed translation deviates more from the Rosendahl's original intentions than needed, and one such place in particular - the three last lines of verse 2 - deserves attention.
If you seek the original's meanings of Rosendahl's poem, you should know the main differences between Rosendahl's Norwegian (bokmå) and today's. Today 'aa' in Norwegian is mainly written 'å', and in many words 'u' may be written 'o', and 'æ' largely becomes 'e'. Norwegian language reforms (notably in 1907, where 'p, t, k' take the place for 'b, d, g' in lots of words; and one more in 1917) were not incorporated by the American publisher of the strip, Decorah-Posten of Decorah City, Iowa, till many years later.
Below are key Norwegian terms in Rosendahl's poem. You may study Haugen's excellent, poetic translation above in the light of them. You get some alternatives wordings and phrases too.
Line 1: gamle = old, not older. Norwegian eldre is older.
Line 2: i Vesterheimen her = in (our) Western home (out) here.
Line 6: så luelaus og trygg = So capless and assured
Comments on Verse 2
The four verses by Rosendahl are the cartoonist's manifest. In the first verse he circles in on them and how he conceives them. In the second verse is his main strip program, and there are no signs of his changing it after 1926 either. The third verse is his defence against critics, and the fourth his affirmation in the strip's value, pointing at the readers' welcome of it. It was a popular strip among Norwegian Americans, and still is.
The fluent, poetic translation by Einar Haugen could be more exact in some places. His translation has prioritized metre and rhyming above correct translations of terms and phrases at times, and contains minor alterations of meaning. All who do not master Norwegian may not make out of these finer points if unaided.
Mind the differences and nuances in meaning. There are places where one may translate a line or phrase or word a little differently. But, for example, Rosendahl's gamle mugne jug in verse 4 (above), does not have to mean musty, ancient jug. For "gamle" in this context means "old" and not "ancient". And Rosendahl's mugne (musty, smelly, fusty, fishy, old-fashioned) may be translated into all of these synonyms. So if you ask, "How fishy is that jug?" A few pictures from the whole series hold some clues, but maybe not all of them - and the outcome depends on what we mean by "fishy" too. The word allows for many meanings.
There is not always a "one-to-one" correspondence between a Norwegian and English word. Lots of time there are synonyms and a variety of phrases and idioms to choose among - as different words imply different things (Figure). Hence, in translation work there is room for alterative renditions many a time; carry several meanings and a choice has to be made among them. The elements with added emphasis in the comparison table below are not in the original poem.
The last line of the second verse contains "tull og vaas". The fixed expression is often the same as "tull og tøys", which is translated as "stuff and nonsense, rigmarole, balderdash, foolish talk", but in Rosendahl's poem the likely meaning is just "follies", I find.
Norwegian tull (synomyns are dill, fant, fjas, fanteri, fjoll) is usually translated into foolishness, nonsense, rot, rubbish, and baloney, depending on the context the word is used in. Compare "stuff and nonsense, my foot!" Tull may also mean trouble (as in få tull med politiet - get into trouble with the police), and there are several other alternatives in addition, but they are not among the most frequent ones. "Foolishness" is.
The Norwegian vås means about the same as 'tull'. In Rosendahl's poem the phrase "tull og vaas" most likely means just "foolishness". "Follies" may be added.
This was to point out that different translations carry different shades of meaning, and serve as synonyms. The most fit translation derives from context, the author's most likely intentions, and further.
Rosendahl's strip program from verse 2
Notes to Rosendahl's strip program
 It is not needed to translate "the role" into "the roles"; Rosendahl may refer to their "role in the big game", so to speak. That makes perfectly good sense.
 The modal "can" is not in the original, and "see" is equal to "understand" in this connection.
 There is a difference between "at odds with" and "goes wrong", in that not everything at odds with us destroys, so "goes wrong" is going further than necessary here.
It is fit to allow some leeway in a poetic translation. However, without deviating from the translation principle of dynamic equivalence [Trap], I would translate his main intention into something like: "When life is at odds with us, things [lit. life] get easier with a little foolishness at times.". Rosendahl's "everything" in this place may be taken to mean "life" by this translation principle. To bring follies for entertainment is what Ola and Per and the other characters are for. Much depends on what kind of follies are involved, at whose expenses they are, and who benefit from them, of course. Follies of cartoon characters is what Rosendahl talks about in his poetic program rather than follies of anyone else.
In our search for Rosendahl's most likely intended meanings in making his strip, we found a few instances where Haugen's translation is slightly inaccurate.
Hp: Rosendahl, Peter J. Han Ola og Han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie, edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984 (Original printed in the Decorah-Posten).
Mop: Rosendahl, Peter J. More han Ola og han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie. Edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Bilingual Edition. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988.
Neo: Haugen, Einar. Norsk-engelsk ordbok - Norwegian English Dictionary. 3rd ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974.
Pna: Lovoll, Odd S. The Promise Fulfilled: A Portrait of Norwegian Americans Today. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
Trap: Nida, Eugene, and Charles Taber. The Theory and Practice of Translation. Leiden: United Bible Societies / Brill, 1974.
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