Everybody knows that English has borrowed the words ombudsman and smorgasbord from Swedish. But did you know that rutabaga is another Swedish loan? And that it was borrowed from a rural Swedish dialect, not standard Swedish?
“Rutabaga” is an American word for the kind of turnip known to Englishmen and Australians as swede. Indeed, the plant hybrid probably once arose in Sweden. In standard Swedish, though, it’s called kålrot, “cabbage root” — which is botanically speaking exactly what it is. “Rut-” in “rutabaga” is simply rot, “root”. Bagge (“-baga”) means “ram”, and my speculation is that the big mean turnip was compared affectionately to the bigger meaner kind of sheep. But standard Swedish wouldn’t put that extra -a- between rot and bagge. Unsourced statements around the web suggest that the word rotabagge originated in Västergötland province.
I rarely eat rutabaga. When I do, it’s diced with other veggies in broth soup, or mashed with potatoes to produce the wonderfully sweet and orange rotmos. Or rutamus, as I guess Americans would call it.
I was inspired to write about this by Norm Sherman’s sobering and chilling gangster lyric for his song “Rutabaga“. Their words were all splurred when they sloke!