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Nine untranslatable Swedish words - caught on film

The Local · 9 May 2012, 14:14

Published: 09 May 2012 14:14 GMT+02:00

The debate about whether Swedish is a rich or poor language could continue long into a sun-kissed Stockholm afternoon, depending on who you ask. But just for today, let’s all agree that it’s certainly got some nuggets of gold that we’re missing in English.

Here at The Local, we’ve already covered ten common Swedish words that are sorely missing from English, but what about the less common words, and the downright obscure words?

Click here for a gallery of the top 9 unusual Swedish words you won’t find in English

For example, what do we call someone who simply will not enter the water, regardless of its temperature?

We’ve gathered nine off-the-wall Swedish words here in a gallery with a description of what they mean. Not one exists as a single word English - they are...untranslatable.

Armed with this knowledge, we (rather cheekily) sent The Local’s Oliver Gee out on the streets of Uppsala, eastern Sweden, to challenge regular Swedes into doing the impossible – translating the untranslatable.

And yes, Swedes are brilliant at English, but clearly no one is perfect…

We suggest familiarizing yourself with the words first before watching the video.


Oh and one more thing: “lagom” and “fika” do not get a mention. This was intentional.

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here

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The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

14:33 May 9, 2012 by canam
That was a nice segment and enjoyable to watch. Thanks!
14:38 May 9, 2012 by Åskar
"Dygn" is one word that I really miss in the English language.
14:40 May 9, 2012 by myhol
Great fun and nice with videocontent.
14:44 May 9, 2012 by Snood
Surely Palla, if it does indeed mean "stealing fruit that isn't yours" would be "Scrumping" in English, a single word translation.....
14:48 May 9, 2012 by Abe L
Where is "liksom"? This is uttered by every Swede in a random location in every sentence they speak at least once.
16:18 May 9, 2012 by Alohart
"Liksom" can be used as "like", so it like has a like single English word equivalent like.
16:28 May 9, 2012 by calebian22
Dygn is day. There are 7 days in a week. This is referencing a 24 hour period, a solar day. If this wasn't so, in English you would hear people saying there are 14 days in a week, if day only mean daytime. If you don't believe it, look it up on Merriam Webster. Now, they are actually brilliant in English.
17:28 May 9, 2012 by M&M
Linslus is camwhore - urban dictionary definition though (not sure if that´s been accepted by oxford or websters or whatever yet) NOT to be mistaken with the original reference to a whore on camera!
20:22 May 9, 2012 by proteasome
In English we have the expression dirty old man but not really a single word. Also it does not really fit the young guys who are desperate to find a "date" to take home from the club at 3 AM. Swedish word that fits the bill, snuskhummer. Translated literally as in dirty lobster.
21:18 May 9, 2012 by spo10
had fun watching the video. hope there will be more to come.
22:23 May 9, 2012 by dizzymoe33
We call a person who likes to be in the picture all the time "camera hogs"!!

A person who won't go into the water no matter if it is warm or cold is called a "chicken" or "scaredy cat"!!

If someone is picking fruit from someone else's fruit trees we call that "stealing"!! I could on and on but I think I am done now.
06:24 May 10, 2012 by Da Goat
Extremely disappointing there is only one single word there which is palla which can be translated as snitch /ing (in my part of the world) all the others are composite words (some are complete sentences)

so a zero from 10 marks from me!

good try but no cigar!

I think there are shorter and better words for all those in English (well in my neck of the woods anyhow) maybe not the sour herring premier however as we don't have that smelly delicacy ..... i could suggest smellyfishday (that is much more succinct and rolls off the tongue nicely LOL) hmmm.. can one translate succinct into Swedish I wonder? absolut precis?
09:22 May 10, 2012 by girlllllllly
Great segment. Been searching for a good translation for badkruka for long time. More like this.
10:33 May 10, 2012 by Åskar

Apparently you don't get the concept of "dygn" opposed to "day" at all.
21:29 May 10, 2012 by Coaxen
There are other languages that differentiate between the daylight time and a 24-hour period. So "day" doesn't capture "dygn" at all.

In German it's called Nychtemeron or Tagnacht (which means daynight).
00:34 May 11, 2012 by Da Goat
Apparently "dygn" is superfluous in english as it is not needed anywhere! and if you do translate it, it makes no sense, hence we don't bother!
21:04 May 11, 2012 by tris888
Can a word have two meanings?

If not, then there is no translation for dygn. But if magically a word can mean more than one thing depending on context, then dygn = day.

Linslus = ham

Badkruka = why not aquaphob?
14:24 May 12, 2012 by skylarkpilot
All this about translation ! a lot of these words do have pretty precise translations such as "scrumping" for stealing fruit. Some others such as surstrumming, well why would anyone other than Swedes want to eat rotten fish ? I believe in English we would call that "stuff you should chuck out".
07:34 May 13, 2012 by Khaliil
@ Snood #4 Scrumping is only for apples.

@ dizzymoe33 #11"camera hogs" is 2 words, so is "scaredy cat" which like "chicken" has other meanings, not just for water, "stealing" also is general.
19:33 May 16, 2012 by NataBee
Sorry but I have heard sooooo many Swedes taking pride in their bulle and the word "lagom", and they keep chanting "lagom is untranslable unstranslable unstranslable unstranslable!! It means not too much not too little, just enough and it's untranslable unstranslable unstranslable unstranslable". Before admitting defeat, I would like to know why several words such as "adequate" or "sufficient" or "moderate" cannot bear the same meaning?
10:24 June 16, 2012 by azimuth
These words maybe be untranslatable to English but some of them have counterparts in Russian. And I guess other words have counterparts in other languages.

So no, they aren't untranslatable.
07:22 June 19, 2012 by Englishman_In_Norpan
Wrong! One can scrump for all fruit, not just apples. The oxford dictionary confirms this;

"Pronunciation: /skrʌmp/


[with object] British informal

steal (fruit) from an orchard or garden:"
21:53 July 4, 2012 by calebian22
Åskar and coaxen,

I understand what dygn means. Apparently you don't understand that day is the direct translation. Apparently Webster's is wrong too. Bow before the intelligence of all knowing, all man educated (equivalent to public high school educated) Swedes.
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