What are your favourite words in Swedish? (Part 2)

In the second part of a series on the best words in Swedish, The Local's regular panelists dissect everything from bacon rind to the common breast wart.

What are your favourite words in Swedish? (Part 2)
Photo: Tambako the Jaguar

Claudia Tenenblat

Claudia Tenenblat

I will have to say my favorite word is hmmmm. The first time I was here I heard a phone conversation between my husband and his mother that lasted for five minutes in which he said only that. But in so many variations!

After so many years, this still surprises me; the apparently infinite possibilities of the “word” hmm. Such as “Are you ready?” “Hmm” (yes). “Are you sure?” “Hmm” (maybe). “Do you like it? “Hmm” (no). “Hmm” (listen!). “Hmm” (really?).

To tell you the truth, I am not so sure I like it but it is so peculiar… so Swedish! The worst thing is, I am beginning to use it myself! Hmmmm…

Then there are the family relations names: mormor, morfar, farbror, moster, barnbarn, etc. They all seem so primitive, more like descriptions than people. And when you widen the generations, it gets even worse: mormorsmor or farfarsfar!

On the other hand, there are some beautiful words and expressions in Swedish. I particularly like annorlunda (different) and att vara kär (to be in love).

[TL notes: Mormor, for example, means maternal grandmother, but translates literally as mother mother.

The others mentioned above:

Morfar, maternal grandfather, lit. mother father

Farbror, uncle, lit. father brother

Moster, aunt, lit. mother sister

Barnbarn, grandchild, lit. child child

Mormorsmor, maternal great grandmother, lit.mother mother’s mother

Farfarsfar, paternal great grandfather, lit. father father’s father]

Nabeel Shehzad

Nabeel Shehzad

There are quite a few Swedish words that make me confused. I know their meaning now, but still find them hard whenever I see them.

One of them is utbildning, it simply means education but I always get the impression that it is some kind of a building (or rather: the exit to the building).

Another word that I find very hard to say is sjuttiosju, the Swedish translation for seventy-seven. I still don’t know how to pronounce it correctly (either shuti-shooo or khuti-khooo). Whatever it is, I still find it very funny to say.

Another Swedish word that I really like is fika. I think it cannot be really translated but it means something like having coffee with your friends but can be used for any social gathering.

One word in Swedish that I don’t like at all is skatt. I think everyone is Sweden knows its meaning. (For those who don’t know, it means ‘tax).

Sanna Holmqvist

Sanna Holmqvist

Sommarmorgon (summer morning). For the sound of it. All those m’s and o’s have a nice, relaxing sound to them, which describe very well a proper Swedish summer morning: beautiful, warm, early, sunny; you take your breakfast coffee outdoors and sit in the sun, knowing you have a long, lovely day ahead. A Swedish summer day is very long, because of the sun being up for so many hours.

If I like sommarmorgon because it sounds beautiful, the word I like least in the Swedish language must be fläsksvål. Not because of what it means (it simply means bacon rind), but the sound of it reminds me of finger nails being scratched against a black board.

Typical for Swedish are a number of words that are very literal, and I like them because they are so direct and practical. Husdjur (lit. house animals) means pets, i.e, animals you have in the house (cats, dogs, guinea pigs…), as opposed to the ones in the stables (!).

Noshörning (lit. nose horn) means rhinoceros. Well, you have an animal, he has a horn on his nose, what could be a better name for him than nose horn? No latin, no confusion. Very practical. Very Swedish.

Långsint (lit. long-minded) is another favourite word. Not because being långsint is a good thing, but because it is such a good word and lacks an equivalent in English. According to my dictionary, it means someone who “doesn’t forget things (forgive) easily, he is always bringing up the past”. As opposed to kortsint (lit. short-minded) which means someone who forgives, forgets and moves on.

It is interesting, I think, that we obviously find långsinthet (lit. long-mindedness) so offensive that we needed a particular word for it!

Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström

I have way too much fun with the Swedish language. I am pretty fluent, but English is still my dominant language. Because of this, I like to play with Swedish. I like direct translations. Literal translations. Word for word.

The beauty of Swedish is that it can be an incredibly descriptive language despite, or maybe because of, its simplicity. The Swedish vocabulary is full of words that are straightforward and to the point.

Of course, there are a few that stand out. Some because of that simplicity. Others because they make me laugh. Which probably doesn’t speak highly of my maturity level. Either way, these words always bring a smile to my face.

Tandkött – in Swedish it means gums. A literal translation, which is

descriptive in a glorious and somewhat disgusting way, means tooth

meat. It has a nice ring to it I think.

Bröstvårta – in Swedish it means nipple. Literally though? Breast wart. Not exactly a pretty picture.

Grönsaker – in Swedish it means vegetables. Literally, it ends up meaning green things. Simple, yet descriptive. I think it really gets the point across.

I know that translating anything word for word can result in plenty of entertainment. But for some reason, the straightforward description seems to lend itself to quite a few Swedish/English gems like these.

Tiffany Hoffman

Tiffany Hoffman

One of my favorite things about the Swedish language is that there is no limit to how many letters a word can have. So, words like rusdrycksförsäljningsförordningen [rules governing the sale of alcoholic beverages] exist.

Of course, these types of super-long words are really specialized, but they’re still fun. Here’s a YouTube video with fun, difficult-to-pronounce Swedish words:

Aside from any super-long words–which immediately go on my list of favorites to say–I really like the words lagom (just right) and skönt (a nice feeling). Since there isn’t really an exact translation into English, it makes these words really unique.

Lastly, I think I have to confess that some of my favorite words to use are words that I made up. Of those, I really like barnfågel–which to me is a completely logical word for “baby bird”. Oh, and semla is my favorite word when I’m craving something sweet.

Carina Silfverduk

Carina Silfverduk

When I first arrived in Sweden, I already knew a bit of Swedish. I often fell into fits of giggles every time I saw the word slut. Slut REA! The possibilities for pictures to send to my American friends and family seemed endless. The problem, of course, is that you need to know English AND Swedish to appreciate the humor. If you don’t know what slut (end, final) or rea (sale) stand for then it’s not that funny.

I also like other words that are shorter than their English counterparts (i for ‘in’, for example). I like them because I’m lazy when I use my phone to text message; shorter words are easier to text. I’ve decided that the ultimate efficient texting method would be to combine the shorter English words and Swedish words and write in Swenglish as many of my friends call it.


Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

There are about ten Sámi languages alive today, spoken across the northern parts of Scandinavia and eastern Russia. But they are among the many Indigenous languages around the world that are at risk of disappearing. 

Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

You might have heard that there are over 200 words for snow in Sámi languages, which is unsurprising, given the climate of the Sámi homeland in Northern Europe. But there’s a lot more to the languages than snow. 

The Swedish Sámi parliament website says that “language is the bearer of cultural heritage and reflects our people’s common view of life and values. Language transfers knowledge about nature and the world.”

But Sámi language fluency has been declining rapidly for decades. Pite Sámi is critically endangered, with fewer than 50 living speakers, all in Sweden. Today, Northern Sámi is the most widely spoken. 

Due to assimilation policies in all the countries the Sámi found themselves in, older generations of Sámi people were not allowed to speak their own language in school, meaning some languages have already been lost. 

The Local spoke to speakers and researchers of the languages to find out some of the most unique and beautiful words still in use.

1. Sápmi  

Sápmi is the Northern Sámi word for the traditional dwelling place of the Sámi people, which encompasses the northern parts of Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Since the 20th century, national borders and state policies have divided Sápmi and the people who call it home. 

Location of Sápmi in Europe

A map of where Sápmi in northern Europe. Map: Wikipedia

Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjärvi is part of the Sámiskeveivisere, Sámi Pathfinders, a group of young Sámi people who visit high schools and teach students about Sámi culture. She says Sápmi itself is one of her favourite words. 

“The word means a Sápmi without borders, it means relatives, sisters and brothers, and community,” she says. 

2. Eadni 

Eadni means ‘mother’ in Northern Sámi.

“It’s one of the first words that children learn,” says Berit Anne Bals Baal, a lecturer of linguistics at the National Centre for Sámi Language in Education at the Sámi University College, who chose it as her favourite word.

It has a complex phonology (sound system), and is similar to the Northern Sámi word for Earth, which is eanan

3. Guohtun  

Guohtun is a Northern Sámi word that describes the ideal conditions for reindeer to find lichen to graze under a covering of snow. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s one of those words that resists simple translation.

Lars Miguel Utsi, the Vice President of the Sámi parliament of Sweden, says, “Guohtun is a very complex word. It encompasses geography, plants, lichens, snow, and reindeer. It exemplifies the language and its connection to land and water.”

“It’s a very soothing word because it means that there is food and the reindeer can reach it,” he said. 

4. Giitu  

Giitu means ‘thank you’ in Northern Sámi.

Anyone who knows some Finnish might notice that it sounds quite similar to the Finnish word for ‘thank you’, kiitos. That’s because Sámi languages have more in common with Finnish than with Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, coming from the same language family: Finno-Uralic. 

You can respond to giitu with leage buorre which means ‘you’re welcome.’

5. Čáiddas 

This means snowball. We couldn’t have a list of Sámi words without having something specific to snow, could we? 

6. Vuovdi 

This means forest in Northern Sámi. Vast swathes of Sápmi is covered in forest. Sámi reindeer herders rely on old-growth forests to let their reindeer graze; they eat the kind of lichen that only grows in older forests. 

7. Boazu

Reindeer husbandry is a vital part of Sámi life. Photo: Image Bank Sweden

In all Sámi languages, there are two different words for reindeer. In Northern Sámi there is goddi and boazu.

Boazu means a reindeer who has been tamed and can be milked. Goddi is the word for wilder reindeer.  

Reindeer herding is an important aspect of Sámi culture and a vital source of income for many Sámi people. The Sámi parliament estimates that about 2,500 people are dependent on income from reindeer husbandry. 

8. Bures

An easy one! This is how you say “hello” to another person in Northern Sámi. 

9. Goahte  

Goahte is a type of hut in Lule Sámi. It’s a traditional Sámi home that can be built in several different ways, depending on what material is available, like with wooden panels or a construction of wooden poles covered with peat or cloth.

10. Sámediggi 

This is the Northern Sámi word for the Sámi Parliament. There’s a Sámi parliament in each country that divides Sápmi.

In the Scandinavian countries, it’s essentially a government agency with the aim of representing the Sámi people and increasing opportunities to participate in public debate.