In Norway, when a party goes wild, when a soccer match gets heated, when a rare swordfish spears out of a fjord with a loud noise and a massive splash, there is only one appropriate response: “Det var helt Texas!”
In English, “That is totally texas!”
Yes, it is a reference to America’s second-most populous state, and no, it’s not really a compliment. Possibly unbeknownst in the Lone Star state, Norwegians have been using the term “texas” (always lower case, often accompanied by an exclamation point) to mean “exciting,” “crazy” or “out of control” for roughly half a century.
Americans – perhaps because we were too busy being “Texas” to notice – only found out a few days ago, when a reporter for Texas Monthly stumbled across a conversation about the term on Tumblr.
“Y’all,” the headline informed readers, partly amused, partly indignant, “Norwegians use the word ‘Texas’ as slang to mean ‘crazy.’ The things you learn on the Internet.”
The etymology of the phrase is fairly straightforward, if something of a stereotype.
“This historically goes back to Norwegians watching cowboy movies and reading literature about the wild West, you know?” Anne Ekern, a senior adviser at the Norwegian consulate in Houston, told NPR. “And the wild West held, I think with most Norwegians, held a strong Texas association. So when we use the expression ‘Texas,’ we think about – you know, most of us think about a lot of action, a lot fun and a lot of things going on.”
The first recorded use of “Texas” to mean “crazy” came in the 1957 novel “The boy who wanted to buy Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation,” according to the BBC. The author, a writer, professor and poet with the very alliterative name Vegard Vigerust, wrote “would make it even more texas in the village?”
These days, the term is widely used, Daniel Gusfre Ims of Norway’s Language Council told the BBC. The phrase “helt texas” (completely crazy) has been used in newspapers at least 50 times this year.
“Metonymy,” or the substitution of an associated word or phrase for a thing or concept itself (for example, calling a businessman a “suit”) is common in Norway, Gusfre Ims said. Norwegians use the term “hawaii football” for an “out-of-control” match, and “klondike,” the site of the Canadian gold rush, to describe wild economic expansion.
But he was eager to assure readers that the term is in no way a denigration of Texans themselves.
“What Norwegians think about Texas has nothing to do with the expression. We know Texas is not a lawless society,” he said.
Across the Atlantic, the reaction was, well, varying degrees of ‘texas.’ Some took immediate offense to the term, posting comments on the Texas Monthly article that are not printable in a family newspaper.
Others were proud of the designation.
“I think that most Texans, especially with a sense of humor, kind of take that as a mark of pride,” Dan Solomon, the enterprising Texas Monthly reporter who broke the story, told NPR. “If you go to a party and things are raging and you say it was ‘texas,’ that’s all right. That seems like a thing we can live with.”
There is already a DetVarHeltTexas.com selling t-shirts bearing the phrase. The owners of the site have already laid claim to the trademark for “Det Var Helt Texas” and the phrase “Population: crazy,” as well as a Google maps pin that reads “Yee-haw!”
Meanwhile, Norwegians are likely to keep shaking their heads and calling things “texas.” At least, until they find out about Florida.