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When Frodo is leaving Rivendell for home, Bilbo gives him a bunch of notes which are signed "B. S." (in the Swedish translation), or "B.B." in the English original, for Bilbo... S? I felt a cold sensation down my spine, as if I had missed something crucial about the entire story, and looked it up on Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bilbo_Baggins doesn't mention anything about "Bilbo S" as far as I can tell.

https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bilbo_Bagger (the Swedish-language version of the same article) does mention that Bilbo Bagger (the Swedish name for Bilbo Baggins) is "also called" Bilbo Secker... But I have no memory of this being mentioned at any point before, and the English article has no mention of an alternate name.

What's with "Secker"? The only thing I can think of is that "Secker" sounds like "Säcker", which might be alluding to "säck" which means "bag", as in "Baggins"... but that's pretty far-fetched, especially as he is referred to as "Bilbo Bagger" in Swedish in all other places except for the initials on his noted.

What's with Bilbo "S."/"Secker"?

To make it clear, the only reason I "know" about "Secker" is the Wikipedia article, which could be making it up for all I know; I don't remember reading it in the actual books. (But I could've forgotten about it.)

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There are two Swedish translation of Lord of the Rings.

One by Åke Ohlmarks, of which Tolkien was very critical, and a much more recent translation by Erik Andersson which is much better regarded.

A post on Global-lingo.com gives the following information:

In the Swedish translation (by Åke Ohlmarks’ 1959-1961) he is called Bilbo Bagger (bagge = male sheep). In Erik Andersson’s 2004-2005 translation he is more appropriately called Bilbo Secker (säck = sack/bag).

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  • I wonder how they handle the Sackville-Bagginses – Yorik Oct 14 at 18:35
  • @Yorik Ohlmarks translation ’Säcksta-Bagger’, Andersson translation ‘Kofferdi-Secker’. (You realise that I’m just googling this stuff?) – Spagirl Oct 14 at 23:34
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As Spagirl said, "B.S." stands for "Bilbo Secker" in the second Swedish translation of Lord of the Rings, based on the translation "bag" -> "säck" (pronounced "seck"). While the word "bag" exists in modern Swedish, it's an obvious direct import from English and does not work in context.

There is however a bit more depth to this story. The original Swedish translator of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Åke Ohlmarks, was a bit of a special character. He took great liberties with his translations, and would both embellish the language and try to figure out the origins of a name to recreate it in Swedish rather than translate it. This made his translations quite popular among the readers, but his rushed work, agnostic view of proof-reading and sometimes spotty knowledge of English would often lead to more or less glaring mistranslations. He also didn't take kindly to any form of criticism.

These mistranslations caught Tolkien's eye, as language was very important to him (being a philologist and all), and would lead to an escalating conflict between the Tolkien family and Åke Ohlmarks over the years. This lead Tolkien to produce a translation guide for his books to make sure the mistake would never be repeated again, and when Swedish publisher Norstedt approached the Tolkien family to ask for permission to do a second translation, Christopher Tolkien only allowed it on condition that it would have nothing to do with Ohlmarks' translation.

The second Swedish translator, Erik Andersson, employed a group of Swedish Tolkien fans to review his translation and provide suggestions, but his faithfulness to Tolkien's laconic prose over Ohlmarks more poetic translations combined with the fact that a lot of names had to be changed to follow the translation guidelines (Bilbo's and Frodo's surname being a prime example) means many Swedish fans still prefer Ohlmarks' translation to this day.

To return to the original name, I personally don't believe Ohlmarks mistook the root of "Baggins" for "bagge" (ram, male sheep) in his translation, but rather that he didn't think the name meant anything at all and simply changed the ending to roll better off the tongue in Swedish.

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