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Norwegian Compound Words

In Norwegian compound words, the head, i.e. the part determining the compound's class, is the last part. Only the first part has primary stress. For instance, the compund tenketank (think tank) has primary stress on the first syllable and is a noun (some sort of tank).

Compound words are written together in Norwegian, which can cause words to become very long, for example sannsynlighetsmaksimeringsestimator (maximum likelihood estimator) and menneskerettighetsorganisasjoner (human rights organisations). Another example is the title høyesterettsjustitiarius (originally a combination of supreme court and the actual title, justiciar). Note also the translation En midtsommernattsdrøm (A Midsummer Night's Dream).

If they are not written together, each part will naturally be read with primary stress, and the meaning of the compound is lost. This is sometimes forgotten, occasionally with humorous results. Instead of writing, for example, lammekoteletter (lamb chops), people make the mistake of writing lamme koteletter (lame, or paralyzed, chops). The original message can even be reversed, as when røykfritt (no smoking, i.e. "smoke free") becomes røyk fritt (smoke freely).

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Other examples include:

Terrasse dør ("Terrace dies") instead of Terrassedør ("Terrace door")
Tunfisk biter ("Tuna bites", verb) instead of Tunfiskbiter ("Tuna bits", noun)
Smult ringer ("Lard rings", verb) instead of Smultringer ("Doughnuts")
Tyveri sikret ("Theft guaranteed") instead of Tyverisikret ("Theft proof")
Stekt kylling lever ("Fried chicken lives", verb) instead of Stekt kyllinglever ("Fried chicken liver", noun)
Pult ost ("Fucked cheese") instead of Pultost ("Soft cheese")
Smør brød ("Butter bread") instead of Smørbrød ("Sandwich")
Klipp fisk ("Cut fish", verb) instead of Klippfisk ("Clipfish")
These misunderstandings occur because most nouns can be interpreted as verbs or other types of words. Similar misunderstandings can be achieved in English too. The following are examples of phrases that both in Norwegian and English mean one thing as a compound word, and something different when regarded as separate words:

stavekontroll (spellchecker) or stave kontroll (spell "checker")
kokebok (cookbook) or koke bok (cook a book)
ekte håndlagde vafler (real handmade waffles) or Ekte hånd lagde vafler. (a real hand made some waffles.)

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