Pålegg, the greatest invention since sliced bread.

Today I’m talking about non-existent words for foods in the English language… or one word to be exact.

First an homage to the sandwich, the greatest culinary feat in human history second only to the invention of sliced bread (shut up pizza and sushi, yeah you might be a genius combination of flavours and one of you might even be healthy, but nobody cares!). In Norway they also enjoy the genius food spawned from the melding of sand and witches but forgetting t’s. So much do they love it in fact that they’ve come up with a word for the stuff inside the sandwich. It’s called pålegg.  

A word that doesn’t exist in English, along with a letter too. What is an Å?

What is this strange letter? Is it a throw back to some kind of ancient language? Are Norwegians massive Stargate fans that decided to jazz up their alphabet by using gate symbols instead of regular letters (there’s a nerdy reference for you)? Is it just an A with a wart?


None of the above. It is in fact the far more reasonable answer that it is an extra letter of the alphabet. Norwegian has three extra letters that are as follows:

Æ – Looks like something from a Chaucer text and sounds like ‘ah’. (A in Norwegian has a different sound from an English pronunciation sounding more like ‘are’)

Å – Sounds like the noise that comes out of a person’s mouth in the presence of a micropig. Aw.

Ø – Sounds like the noise that comes out of a person’s mouth in the presence of a Chihuahua. Er.

(Apologies to anyone who has a distaste for micropigs or to any individuals who can actually manage to look directly at a Chihuahua and not vomit)


Getting back to sandwiches and words that don’t exist. Pålegg is thus pronounced in the same way an Olympic sprinter might address an injured limb… ”poor leg”. Ha! Get it? Sorry.

So pålegg refers to what’s inside the sandwich. I suppose you could argue that we have such a word in the English language; we definitely have the concept. It’s not as though people are stopped in their tracks at the thought of putting something between the two pieces of bread.

“Ok so I’ve cut the bread… Now there’s something else I should do next… what was it? What was it?”…Sandwich toaster. Gotta be the sandwich toaster, that must be how you make a sandwich, otherwise what do we have it for?” 

You could just say sandwich filling, or spread is perhaps the closest we get to it. But that still doesn’t get right to the action like pålegg does. It means everything and anything that you might want to put in a sandwich, from brown cheese (please see my first entry if this sounds like something disgusting that you would never want to put in a sandwich but would like to know why you would want to) to coleslaw, or salami to peanut butter. There is even a pålegg sign in the supermarket that denotes where all sandwich related items might be.

So why didn’t we think of this?

My theory is this.

For Norwegians the filling, or pålegg, is much more visible on a day to day basis. Bare with me now. I’m not suggesting that they are endowed with the worst super power ever,

“Sandwich man is here to perv through your bread!”

Nor do I think they simply just stand staring into the fridge admiring its content,

“I’m so cold, but it’s so beautiful!”

No, what I’m referring to is a strange form of amnesia that affects Norwegians’ ability to build a sandwich by causing them to forget to put the top layer of bread on. The effect of this however is that the pålegg is left bare and naked for all to bask in its glory. The sheer frequency and subsequent embarrassment of often omitting the breaded roof of the sandwich has lead to the creation of another new word, smørbrød. Pronounced smerr brerr, as if you’re saying it like a teenager who isn’t happy with the food he’s been given (probably because the top piece of bread was forgotten), it is found in most cafés and corner shops in Norway as a breakfast or lunchtime snack. Despite this endemic memory loss, that has left Norwegians perplexed at how much extra bread they have at the end of each day, the consequence has resulted in an unshielded view into the heart of the most wonderful of foods, the sandwich, and given them a great appreciation of the wondrous substances that lie inside. Driven mad by seeing such a pure and holy thing on such a regular basis they searched deep into their souls for the name of the thing that stood ‘spread’ out in front of them. Thus the word pålegg was born!

But that’s just my theory.

Of course maybe we just don’t need a word for pålegg and can survive perfectly fine without it, simply by connecting two, already existing, words together instead of wasting our time creating new words for things… I still kind of think it would be more fun to have a single word for it though. Sandwedge? Spreadling? Tuffet? I don’t know where that last one came from, just sounds right. What kind of tuffet do you want on your sandwich?

No? Ok, whatever.





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