Friday, 21 January 2011

My latest article: King Harald’s twenty years on the throne

Monday was not only the twentieth anniversary of the death of King Olav, but also the twentieth anniversary of King Harald V’s accession to the Norwegian throne and today twenty years have passed since he swore his oath to the Constitution in the Parliament Chamber.
At a press conference in 1991 the new King assured the journalists that there would be no “palace revolution”, but two decades on “revolution” might perhaps seem an apt term for the significant changes to the monarchy in the present reign. The Norwegian monarchy today is in many ways different from the monarchy of King Olav and in an article in Dagsavisen today (external link) on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary I look back at King Harald’s reign so far and analyse the development of the monarchy during those twenty years.


  1. Interesting article, sir.

    I don't think we're in any noteworthy disagreement on how things are.

    I am, however, in agreement with Mr. Per Egil Hegge on the misuse of the terms "i forhold til" and "fokus," and misuse of those terms does tend to ruin the reading of an otherwise good article -- for me.

    Regarding the statement that Parliament already in 1821 had stated clearly that influencing the content of the Constitution was no business of the King, was this an official Parliament resolution? What about the admission from about the same time that the King did possess even absolute veto powers against constitutional amendments, as this was part of the concept of a constitutional monarchy?

  2. I cannot see that I have misused the terms "i forhold til" or "fokus" - would you care to explain why you think so? (You are of course welcome to do so in Norwegian).

    Parliament has not passed a resolution explicitly banning the King from influencing the contents of the Constitution, but from 1821 and throughout the reign of Carl XIV Johan Parliament consequently rejected all attempts by the King to influence the Constitution. For more about that I refer you to my recent article "Carl Johan som Norges konge - Maktkampen mellom konge og storting" in Historie no 3-2010.

  3. I have no doubt that Parliament rejected all constitutional amendment motions from the King. Also, eventually Parliament rejected the King's right to deny assent. However, there was a concession at an early point after 1814 of the absolute right to deny assent to constitutional amendments. I came across this during my research in 2005. I found it interesting, and I believe it should be considered in any complete historic account of the principles of deciding the content of the Constitution. You perhaps touch on this in the mentioned recent article?

    As for the linguistic issues, "i forhold til" basically translates into "compared to". Lots of people -- erroneously -- use it for many other "interpretations," e.g., "with regards to" ("med hensyn til"), which would be a correct term -- I believe -- in your context, but not the only correct term. As for "fokus," you may consider me a "focus" purist, but "focus" should be reserved for optics, medicine, graphical user interfaces, and perhaps another few fields, where there is one focal point and one thing either is in focus or not. When one talks about emphasizing or giving attention to some things more than others, those are terms that should be used, that is "emphasis" and "attention." Of course, I could elaborate more, but this will have to do -- for now at least.

    Have a nice rest of your weekend, sir!

  4. I am not immediately familiar with the "concession" you refer to, but you are a bit cryptic, so I would appreciate if you would be more specific about when this was and what form it took.

    If this were indeed the case, it seems both Parliament and monarch must subsequently have been unaware of it, as an absolute veto was among those constitutional amendments King Carl Johan suggested again and again and again - and which was always rejected by Parliament. Carl XIV Johan reasoned that such a right to veto ought to have been a given because it existed in other constitutional monarchies with which it was natural to compare Norway and because he believed this would lead to a more correct and even balance between the powers as it would give him the right to accept or reject Parliament's proposals in the same way as Parliament could accept or reject his. Parliament on the other hand argued that the King did already have other powers which evened this balance out.

    Then to the linguistics or perhaps more specifically the semantics:

    I disagree with your conception that "i forhold til" basically translates into "compared to". It also - and more literally - translates into "in relation to", which is the meaning I have used it twice in this article.

    As for the word "fokus" I think your interpretation of how it may be used is much too narrow and indeed purist. It is common usage to use the term also when it refers to more than one item and in general it is not uncommon to apply a term to another subject than the context in which it was originally used. An example might be the expression "to read someone's face" - from a purist point of view one may perhaps argue that only texts can be read, but yet the expression is commonly used in that way.

    Language is an organism which is constantly developing, not a static thing. If one term should forever be used only on the specific subject to which it was originally applied (like your suggestion that "focus" should never be used outside optics, medicine, graphical user interfaces and maybe some other fields), the language would not develop and would become poorer, which I would consider a loss.

  5. Sorry for the much belated follow-up, sir.

    I will have to pick up the issue of the parliamentary committee concession on the absolute right to denial of assent to constitutional amendments at some later time, as it was something I came across and I do not have notes on it available. I am sorry that I cannot be more specific at this time.

    As for the issue of "i forhold til," I am certainly aware that the use of this term for anything denoting some sort of relation is in wide use. That, however, does not necessarily make it correct Norwegian. E.g., the mix of "ovenfor" and "overfor" and the cutting up of Norwegian single words into several words, as is more customary in, e.g., English, are also quite common. Whether the extended use of "i forhold til" has come to a stage where it is "correct Norwegian" is certainly debatable. I would argue that it in best case is poor, correct Norwegian. Consider, for instance, these sentences:

    - Har han det bra i forhold til sin kone eller i forholdet til sin kone?
    - Vi markerer oss i fohold til våre konkurrenter, men overfor vår kunder.

    As for "focus," I agree that one should "allow" not so literal interpretations. However, "focus" tends to be used quite extensively beyond an interpretation where there is one thing in focus and it is either in focus or not. We hear about "more or less focus," several things being in "focus," "main focus," etc. It tends to be a word used by people who do not have better words. Please note that I am not accusing you, sir, of being such a person.

    With the extensive use -- or misuse -- of the word "focus," precision in our language is reduced, and that, sir, makes the language poorer. Please also see this short note from the quarterly Ordet (Riksmålsforbundet).

    On another note, I have serious reservations about the innovative use of "terningkast" ("throw of a dice"), especially in the Norwegian media. A term denoting randomness is used as a term for grading with the numbers one through six. Hopeless!

    That being said, I agree that language is an organism constantly in development.

  6. I look forward to hearing what form that concession supposedly took.

    Splitting one word into two - "tak ras", "ananas ringer" (so pick up the phone, then...), "vinter ferie", when will we see "kron prins"? - is certainly wrong and indeed one of the most basic mistakes one can make in Norwegian. I do not think the contemporary use of the term "i forhold til" can be compared to that at all - that is merely a disambiguation.

    It is not wrong to use it in either of the examples you give "in relation to his wife" or "compared to his wife", but it might be useful to consider being specific so as to avoid imprecisions or confusion about what one really intends to say. There are of course countless other similar disambiguations in the Norwegian language (as in other languages).

    Arne Skouen said in his old age that inventing "terningkast" was one of the things he regretted most from his days in VG. It is indeed a silly metaphor just because of the randomness. And that there are six categories is also rather unhelpful as there is no middle category. At one stage I considered a point system like a star ranking for books I review at this blog. If I had not abandoned the idea, it would have had five categories, which I found sufficient: 5 - Excellent, 4 - Above average, but not excellent, 3 - Average, 2 - Below average, but not terrible, 1 - Terrible.

  7. It may take quite a while before I get back to the concession issue.

    As for "i forhold til," my objections against its extended use remain, as it does with some other Norwegians as well. I do not think we will reach an agreement, which also goes for some other issues, and as a matter of principle I do not "agree to disagree." :-)

  8. BTW, I agree, as a general rule, that it is a good thing to avoid expressing oneself in ambiguous ways, alternatively clarifying afterwards.

  9. I am pleased to finally get back to the "concession issue," sir.

    What we are discussing is the question of the right to deny assent to constitutional amendments -- not the right to deny assent to other bills.

    The King moved to amend the Constitution in 1821, as I am sure you know.

    On Constitution Day about three years later, May 17, 1824, the Constitutional Committee made its recommendation to Parliament.

    In the recommendation, it is written:

    Erfaringen har desværre viist, at et Folk, som ei alene attraaer, at leve under Love, som beskytte den personlige Frihed og sikre Eiendomsretten, men ogsaa vil sikre sig Vedligeholdelsen af disse Fordele, for dets egen Sikkerhed og Værdigheds Skyld nødvendig maa beklæde dets Konge med en saa udstrakt Magt, at han med Kraft kan værne om Nationens Rettigheder, uden at tage sin Tilflugt til Vilkaarlighed.

    Kongens absolute Veto indtager det første Sted iblandt disse Constitutions-Gjenstande.

    Det er en erkjendt Sandhed, at hvor en Konge og en Folke-Repræsentation existerer, maae begges Rettigheder være nøie afveiede imod hinanden, for at den ene af disse Magter ikke skal gjøre Indgreb i den andens Rettigheder.

    Later in the same recommendation:

    Ingen constitutionel Konge benytter gjerne den Ret, et Veto medfører, imod en National-Forsamling; men denne Ret bør existere, fordi den i Følge sin Natur er betryggende, og frembyder et lovlig Middel til, uden at tye til Magten, at standse en farlig Opbrusen, der ofte har sin Grund i enkelte Personers eller Borgerclassers overdrevne Fordringer, fornærmet Egenkjærlighed eller skuffede Forventninger.

    The committee concluded on the issue of the right to deny assent:

    Til Slutning maa det være Committeen tilladt endnu at anmærke, at, da det efter dens Formening er en klar Følge af Sagens Natur, at ingen Forandring i Grundloven kan skee, uden de constitutionelle Magters fælleds Samtykke, saa maa Kongen, som Følge heraf, samt med Hensyn til Grundlovens §. 112, antages at være i Besiddelse af et absolut Veto, ihenseende til Forslag angaaende Forandringer i Grundloven.

    Hence, I believe it is quite clear that a committee of Parliament in 1824 conceded that an absolute right to deny assent for constitutional amendments existed.

    The committee recommendation can be found online here.

    I hope your non-Scandinavian speaking readers can have me excused for not translating the excerpts into English.

  10. Apparently, sir, the first two excerpts were citations from the proposition.

    However, the conclusion is evidently the opinion of the committee.


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