Literature ingrained in society

January 16th, 2015 by Marit Mathisen | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Literature ingrained in society
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Where do the popular knock knock jokes come from? Some people say they are from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and they are not the only thing coming from literature to become something everyone says.

The most obvious type of literature people might quote without knowing they are quoting it, would be religious texts, but there are many other areas in which literature is being used on a daily basis. For instance, it should not come as a surprise that catch-22 comes from the novel of the same title, but people might use that without having even seen a copy of the book.

Do you, for instance, know why you say something is “a sight for sore eyes”? The saying is attributed to Jonathan Swift, who in A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation wrote “the sight of you is good for sore eyes”. Or did you know that the phrase “busy as a bee” is attributed to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales? Some research is likely to yield more examples like these, and Norway has one long quote from a book that is so ingrained in society that any Norwegian you ask will know what you are talking about, regardless of whether they have read the book it comes from.

What I am referring to is the “Law of Jante” or “Janteloven” in Norwegian. It was written by Aksel Sandemose, who was Danish, but lived in Norway. His writing was actually a combination of the two languages, but  knowing that Norwegian writing is derived from Danish, either language is quite easy to understand. There are ten laws, and the gist of them is  that whoever you are, you are not to think you are anything more special or better than “us”.

The English Wikipedia article on the law has the list translated:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

The law is so ingrained that whenever someone acts too confident they are told to remember the law of Jante. The Norwegian people police each other with these rules, as do Danes and Swedes. Can you think of anything borrowed from literature that is completely ingrained in the society you come from?

These ideas might make you wonder what will be in use in everyday language in the future. Will muggle become an everyday term? And if so, what would it mean? What other words, phrases and ideas might become the norm in the future?