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Norwegian word of the day: Uoverskuelig

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected] • 13 Oct, 2022 Updated Thu 13 Oct 2022 15:52 CEST
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Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

For when you just can't deal.

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What is uoverskuelig? 

This word contains skuelig, a substantive from of the verb at skue, which means “to view” but is not common in spoken Norwegian, where at se på or kikke på (“to look at” in both cases) are more likely to be used to refer to looking at or viewing something.

At skue is often used in a more literary sense and can be compared to saying “consider” or “regard” when talking about looking at something. If you “cast your eyes upon” an object or landscape, you skuer it.

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With the prefix over- , overskuelig means something that is possible to get a clear view of, to comprehend its full extent. Figuratively, this means to fully understand, master and be in control of something – not just to look at it.

The negation particle u reverses this meaning, giving you something that is hard to comprehend or deal with, so much so that you don’t really know where to start.

Why do I need to know uoverskuelig? 

It’s a curious and very commonly used word but one that is notoriously difficult to translate accurately into English.

As a side point, I think the double vowel at the start gives it a nice aesthetic. Lots of negated words are like this – uutholdelig (“unbearable”) and uavbrudt (“uninterrupted”) to name a couple of examples.

If you have a task – or more broadly, a day – ahead of you that you just don’t feel you have the energy or knowledge to deal with, you can say it’s uoverskuelig. In verb form, jeg kan ikke overskue means the same thing – approximately, “I can’t deal/cope with”.

Not being able to overskue something can be related to its size or complexity, but can also reflect your own condition – if you are feeling extremely tired, even a trip to the supermarket can be uoverskuelig.

It is also commonly used without the negation: Kan du lage middag i dag? Ja, det kan jeg godt overskue (“Can you take care of dinner today? – Yes, I can handle it”).

Examples

Jeg må sjekke ligningen min, men det er litt uoverskuelig.
I need to check my tax return, but it’s quite complex.

Å tenke på å vaske huset føles helt uoverskuelig når jeg er så sliten.
To think about cleaning the house feels completely impossible when I am so tired.

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Frazer Norwell 2022/10/13 15:52

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