What was my grandma saying?
March 9, 2021 4:36 AM   Subscribe

My grandma often said a phrase in my direction that sounded like: min-SHARE-duh-BORN and I've never been able to figure out what she was actually saying. Do you know? Sounded vaguely French but I'm not sure she knew its origin. Context inside.

It may have meant something like "oh, my sweet child / oh, my goodness" in another language -- that's what it always felt like to me -- but (since I was always around when I heard it) I don't know if she ever said it in any non-child-related contexts (e.g., did she ever say it about the news? I don't think so, but it's impossible for me to know).

Her parents were Swedish immigrants to Kansas (and spoke Swedish) around the turn of the 20th century. I think there was also a sizeable German-speaking population in KS, too, if that helps.

She migrated to northern Wisconsin as a child, where she would have been around lots of native Swedes and Norwegians. High school graduate and attended some nursing school. She read a lot, so it's very possible she picked up the phrase from a book. I think TV or movies is much less likely, but possible.
posted by TheKevinFlynnEffect to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Mon cher means my dear in French so you could definitely be on the right track there! Still working out what the second half could be.
posted by sillysally at 4:42 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]

I'm not an expert but I know some Swedish and "barn" is child in Swedish, "kärlek" is love and "min" is my.
posted by cornflakegirl at 4:44 AM on March 9 [5 favorites]

And you pronounce "barn" like born. I think you'd need a native speaker to rule it in or out though!
posted by cornflakegirl at 4:46 AM on March 9

I'm worried this might be a dreadful thing to do, and is not intended dreadfully, but Google Translate has "my sweet child" as "mitt söta barn".
posted by Grangousier at 4:54 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I never tried reverse translating what I thought it might have meant! Not dreadful. Great idea. She wasn't really a Swedish speaker, but heard and understood a lot, so maybe she corrupted "mitt söta barn". Surprised I didn't think of "barn" -- our kids just skied the virtual "Barnebirkie" recently.

Would love to hear from a native speaker or others.
posted by TheKevinFlynnEffect at 5:00 AM on March 9

Best answer: Native Swedish speaker: I think she's saying “min kära barn”, meaning “my dear child”. (Mitt kära barn would be grammatically correct, but min is perfectly understandable.)
posted by Signy at 5:11 AM on March 9 [19 favorites]

If you wanted to hear what Signy's answer sounds like you could go to Google Translate and click the Listen button to hear it being pronounced.
posted by iamsuper at 5:42 AM on March 9 [6 favorites]

Non-native Swedish speaker here. ”Min kära barn” is super duper common here. Nthing everyone else.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:00 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I think we have an answer! Thank you, all. I'm marking Signy's answer as the best, but I really appreciated all the contributions and Bella Donna's confirmation of "min kära barn" in wide use.

I said I wouldn't have thought to reverse search for my guess at the phrase's meaning, and that is true for this morning, but a foggy memory is coming back to me that I may have tried -- years ago -- to reverse search for "my sweet child" as Grangousier did (in addition to searching terrible attempts at spelling and translating a foreign language that I'd only heard as a child, which, predictably, got nowhere). But I wouldn't have pronounced the Swedish text well enough to realize how closely it matched what I remembered (especially with "min" in for "mitt").

Finally, it's been really nice for me this morning to hear my Grandma's voice saying "min kära barn" over and over in my head this morning, and to find out from you folks that it really did mean "my dear child" after all. So thanks!
posted by TheKevinFlynnEffect at 7:34 AM on March 9 [32 favorites]

I think she's saying "men kära barn". The "men" means "but" and is kind of part of the set phrase.
posted by Herr Zebrurka at 12:38 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, Herr Zebrurka, that's really interesting.

When I shared this thread with my family, my older sister said that she heard it more like "mitt chedda born," so I think it's clear that one of these variants is what she was saying. We all had a good discussion and it was fun to remember her this way. So, thanks again.
posted by TheKevinFlynnEffect at 8:40 AM on March 16

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