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Top ten words you didn’t know came from Sweden

The Local · 23 Oct 2012, 15:15

Published: 23 Oct 2012 15:15 GMT+02:00

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The English language is made up by a hodge-podge of words borrowed and stolen from other languages.

For example, we took Santa Claus from Dutch, safari from Swahili and robot from Czech.

Similarly, giraffe comes from Arabic, the humble biro from Hungary, and you can’t even step into a restaurant without coming across French words.

Even the word restaurant is French!


But what has Swedish given us?

The truth is, hardly anything.

In fact, only seven or eight words by our count, and that was a stretch.

And worse, with the exception of smorgasbord (smörgåsbord in Swedish – a food buffet), and probably moped (from trampcykel med motor och pedaler "engined bike with motor and pedals"), they’re all ridiculous.

Ombudsman, Tungsten, Fartlek. And what on earth is a lingonberry?

More people use the words Celsius, Abba and Ikea but they’re proper nouns so we can’t include those.

But if you consider Old Norse, the language of the ancient Nordic gods, the Vikings, and Scandinavia itself, you’ll find that dozens of words have remained in our daily lexicon, no doubt forced upon English speakers when Viking warriors and merchants invaded Britain more than 1,000 years ago.

For example, the name of a popular weekly event comes from Old Norse, as does an everyday kitchen appliance - plus a popular birthday food...

Extra points if you can guess those three words, but to find out what they are, plus seven more, check out The Local's top ten here.

Story continues below…

And for all the sticklers who say these words aren’t Swedish, you're right. But Sweden didn’t exist then. Neither did Norway or Denmark.

This was Old Norse and this was Scandinavia - the land of the Viking Vocabulary.

Editor's note: All etymology taken from the Merriam Webster online dictionary.

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here

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Your comments about this article

16:58 October 23, 2012 by byke
"But what has Swedish given us? The truth is, hardly anything. "

God to see an article made from "hardly anything".

Especially when it then references the vikings. Especially when we all know Sweden didnt have vikings - Norway and Denmark did (Sweden hadnt been created for close to 400 years after the viking era.
17:27 October 23, 2012 by darkrealm
Being born and raised in the County of Yorkshire we owe a lot of our heritage to Vikings such as place names and words on our dialect. My only disappointment is they never brought any snus with them:)
18:41 October 23, 2012 by herur
"Especially when it then references the vikings. Especially when we all know Sweden didnt have vikings - Norway and Denmark did (Sweden hadnt been created for close to 400 years after the viking era."

Excellent display of ignorance, byke. Sweden had vikings, and these vikings were busy folk. They managed not only to exploit the east's riches, but also to take gelds in England (albeit not as frequently as those from Denmark and Norway in particular). And Sweden definitely existed. Not as the consolidated Christian state that we think of as the beginning of modern Sweden, but certainly as a nation, known at the time as Svíþjóð (Sweden is still known by that name in Icelandic). And not mention that even consolidated Sweden was a consolidation of petty viking tribes, mostly turned Christian.
18:57 October 23, 2012 by Reptile
@ byke

This summer we visited Denmark and went to a few of their museums. I remember seeing a very big map of Scandinavia with Viking settlements and I can assure you that Sweden had very many Viking settlements along the coastal areas, from the south of Sweden and up to Stockholm area. Go and educate yourself, ignorant fool!!!
19:18 October 23, 2012 by Göran Eklund
rutabaga !!!
21:44 October 23, 2012 by rise
@ byke

Your wisdom is breathtaking!
21:56 October 23, 2012 by Taxalien
@herur: No you are wrong. There are no Swedish Vikings. There are only Norwegian and Danish vikings. The Swedes traded eastward, pretty much like they do today with the baltics.
22:58 October 23, 2012 by Emerentia
There are runestones in Sweden that mention people who were Vikings from the area around Lake Mälaren. Ingvar the Far-Travelled for exemple, there are a lot of Ingvar runestones. Yes, they travelled east, traded and raided, that doesn't make them less vikings, than those who travelled to the west.
01:38 October 24, 2012 by herur

No, I'm definitely right. Like Emerentia mentioned, there are many runestones to account for this aside from all the other archeological finds that have been made and other written sources. The runestones that tell of Ulf of Borresta and his gelds in England come to mind.
03:07 October 24, 2012 by bira

What?!? So trading eastward is the definition of not being a Viking? What the heck are you on? Sweden has given us "hardly anything". Well, what about:

the 100 point thermometer scale (Celcius), the safety match, dynamite, the adjustable spanner, the milk-cream separator, 3-point safety belt, I could go on...
06:25 October 24, 2012 by skogsbo
Firstly, it's hitch pitch.

Next, the Nordic boundaries and nations didn't exist in their current form a thousand years ago, so the above argument and the article are meaningless.

Both languages share many common Latin and Germanic origin words, English isn't even the original language of the UK, it has Celtic it Gaelic origins. English is from numerous invasions.
09:43 October 24, 2012 by rise
MAP over Scandinavian viking settlements between the 8th and the 11th centuries:


Vikings from what became Sweden went eastwards and south eastwards. However the Anglo-Saxon history telling does not take the activities in the east in account, leaving the history of the vikings incomplete. But as a matter of fact the first Russian state was governed by svear (English: Swedish, Old English: Sweonas), by a man named Rörik (Russian: Rurik). This according to Slavic history telling (Primary Chronicle), not Anglo-Saxon.
10:16 October 24, 2012 by herur

Indeed, the main direction was east and south for the vikings of Sweden. However, England and the west must have been important as well since there are so many runestones documenting this. These runestones are called the England runestones:

10:16 October 24, 2012 by EP
The headline says Top 10 words that came from Sweden and then later you admit that they actually come from Old Norse and Scandinavia ... so much for consistency.

Kaka is also means sh*t in many languages (french, spanish) ... get a laugh whenever the Swedes talk about kaka :-)
10:36 October 24, 2012 by skogsbo
The article was only written to get you to click through ten pages.

There are about a 1000 old Norse loan words in the English language, compared to about 10000 French.

Far better old Norse examples would be sister, get, take, hit, .. but when Swedish language was influenced by main land europe just like the UK, we have many newer words in common, that have nothing to do with viking invasion, but more to do with the educated religious pple who for centuries were the only people who could read or write, in any language.
12:43 October 24, 2012 by Vastgote

Considering the vast majority of the runestones in the world are located in Sweden. Few in Denmark, and even fewer in Norway makes one wonder if for instance Norway even had vikings. Hard to argue on what's written in stone 1000 years ago eh?
15:40 October 25, 2012 by Dimetrodon61
The English word Borough" is derived from "borg" a fortified site/ fortified town.

The word "kraken -referring to a sea monster, a giant squid- is derived from "krake" a norse word meaning a tree that has been uprooted by a storm and displays its root system, looking a bit like a squid.

Today's Swedish instead use the word "krake" for "miserable person" usually in the context of disease/misfortune.

The word "viking" originally referred to those who set off from Norway and what is today western Sweden -the "vik" whose apex is the Oslo fjord.

Thechnically those who set off East were not called "vikings" by their contemporaries but since the 19m century all Norse raiders and traders have received the label "viking".
15:18 October 26, 2012 by lorenzogranada
It seems that the expression "So long!" comes from the same viking-norse source - according to the oxford etymological dictionary. It means something like "While we are apart".
15:56 October 26, 2012 by klubbnika
#1 @byke

Don't be ridiculous, byke. Even been to Birkagarden?
23:25 October 26, 2012 by FatherJon
What about 'canoodle' as in the Frank Sinatra song about 'kissin' an' canoodlin' = to 'cuddle'
04:39 October 28, 2012 by Skaperen
The English word "smut" froim Swedish "smuts" And there's also "skit" (and "skitt" in Norwegian). But that's not "skit" in English. It's another word.

Actually, English has a lot more words that came from all the various old Scandinavian language forms. The Scots language is similarly affected.
15:19 November 1, 2012 by skogsbo
Skaperen, the Scots speak English (or at least they do their best), if you've tried listening to a drunk glaswegian at 3am you'll know what mean. If you mean Gaelic, then I think english and it many variants over the past 2000yrs displaced it, not modified it. Celtic/Gaelic is the original language of the UK, 2000yrs plus ago, before it was invaded continuously since.
14:28 November 2, 2012 by jostein
By all accounts, the northhmen could communicate quite handily with the anglosaxons they met in the british isles. Which is not strange since the Saxons came out of Jutland only 200 years before. So how can you tell if a word is Saxon? Or if it was brought by the northmen?
11:21 November 21, 2012 by jimbo83
I am Scottish but spend quite a bit of time in Sweden. I am always amused by the number of Scots words (as well as English) that clearly have the same roots as in the Swedish language.
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