Eleven Swedish 'false friends' you need to watch out for

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Eleven Swedish 'false friends' you need to watch out for

Never, ever take the Swedish language at face value. This is a language where "puss" means "kiss" and "kiss" means "pee". And that's just the beginning...


1. Dragon

Have you ever read a recipe that suggests you add a pinch of "dragon" to your Sunday roast? Well, don't panic. They're only referring to the aromatic herb known in English as tarragon.

Note: If you're out of tarragon, a slight dose of panic may still be in order.

Photo: MelkiaD/Flickr

2. Fart

There's a clever and delightful little Swenglish play on words – "It's not the fart that kills you, it's the smell". Why is it clever? Well, the word "fart" is Swedish for "speed", and the word "smäll" (pronounced smell) is the Swedish word for "crash". So, it's not the speed that kills you, it's the crash.

Also, a speed camera is called a fartkamera. That's not even a joke.

Photo: ben dalton/Flickr

3. Prick

"Don't forget to prick your eyes," a Swede might tell you.

Don't worry – they just mean "Don't forget to dot your i's". You see, prick means dot. A punctual Swede might even tell you to meet them "at 8pm on the prick", as in, 8pm on the dot. Incidentally, the little dot on the letter i is called a tittle in English. Learning something? Good. Let's carry on.

Photo: Arjan Richter/ Flickr

4. Bad

Ever seen a swimming hole in Sweden that has the word "BAD" nearby? Don't fret – the word isn't referring to the quality of the water (or the swimming hole) – it just means "bathing place". It'll be good and bad at the same time. While we're talking about bad, hold on to your hats, because the next word is the polar opposite.

Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

5. Bra

No, no, no, Swedes aren't talking about women's lingerie when you ask them how their weekend was (well, probably not anyway). The word bra means good. "Hi Sven, how are you?" "Oh, I'm bra, very bra indeed. I had a super bra weekend actually." Sounds a bit silly, but that's Swedish for you.

Incidentally, the word for bra in Sweden is behå, which is another way of saying BH, which literally stands for breast holder. Not bad. Quite bra actually.

Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/TT

6. Slut

Get your mind out of the gutters, this word just means "End". So, a "slutstation" is the final stop on the train line, for example. A "slutspurt", meanwhile, is just the final splurge of a sale in a store. The end of Swedish films sometimes have the word SLUT, just like how French films have FIN (another false friend!). The word slut is also pronounced differently – sloot.

Photo: Eoghan OLionnain/Flickr

7. Dog

If you get a text saying "Grandfather dog", don't be mistaken. This word has nothing to do with the canine pet and man's best friend. No. Dog is the past tense of "to die". In other words, your grandfather is dead.

Photo: Sarah_Ackerman/Flickr

8. Glass

Don't eat too much glass, a Swede might tell you. Never fear, they're not talking about glass as we know it, they're talking about ice-cream. The Swedish word for glass, meanwhile, is glas. Confused? Join the club.

Photo: Cédric/ Flickr

9. Barn

Ever seen one of those road signs in Swedish that say "Look out for the barn" and then wondered why there's never any old barns around? Well, it's probably time you learned that barn is the Swedish word for "child". And "children" incidentally.

Photo: Christian Holmér/Flickr

10. Full

If a Swede tells you they are full after Christmas dinner, you should think twice before you make a joke about the food. The word "full" means "drunk". This can also confuse Swedes. If you're speaking English with your Swedish dinner host, and you tell them you're too full for dessert, you can guarantee at least one raised eyebrow. You have been warned. 

Photo: Ross Catrow/Flickr

11. Grunt

Grunt. How could we miss grunt? While the picture might suggest grunt is the noise a swimmer makes when realising he is about to jump on an emerging shark head, it really just means "shallow". 

Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

This is an updated version of a gallery by Oliver Gee, first published by The Local in 2014.


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