Everything We Thought We Knew About the Swedish Chef Is Wrong

From The Atlantic Wire:

Americans of a certain age who grew up on the Muppets often adore the Swedish Chef. He is a touchstone of sorts, we can hear his voice in our minds, we can repeat the gibberish-sounding words and phrases he says to one another and know precisely what we are speaking of. It takes us back to childhood! But many actual Swedes hate the dude, or, really, really dislike him. After all, he’s a stereotype, possibly offensive, certainly bumbling, and probably not even Swedish.

Slate’s Jeremy Stahl investigates all this for piece that brings our nostalgia up against some current-day analysis: “What Do Swedes Think of the Swedish Chef?” Could anyone dislike the Swedish Chef? Yes. One key reason a lot of Swedes do is that that they’re always being asked what they think about him. They don’t think he’s funny, partly because the nonsense he speaks is interpreted as Swedish, or Swedish-sounding, a fact “bewildering and annoying to Swedes,” writes Stahl, who is married to a Swedish woman. (Stahl also taught Slate readers about the Swedish tradition of watching Donald Duck cartoons on Christmas Eve.) To Swedes, the chef sounds Norwegian. This is linguistics. Stahl explains, “Swedish and Norwegian share a common linguistic antecedent, and Swedes and Norwegians easily understand each other’s languages. The accents are quite different, however, and there are words that are exclusive to each dialect. The tongues are dissimilar enough for Swedes to be able to hear Norwegian in the Swedish Chef’s ramblings instead of Swedish.”

Stahl points also to the research of Stockholm University professor Tomas Riad, the author of an article “titled ‘Börk Börk Börk. Ehula Hule de Chokolad Muus.’ (The title comes from the Chef’s trademark untranslatable gibberish and means nothing in Swedish).” Riad believes that though the words of the chef mean nothing, the rise and fall of his sing-song tone make him more likely to be Norwegian, and Stahl includes a number of clips in his Slate piece to support this theory.

Continue reading the rest of the story on The Atlantic Wire