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Swedish word of the day: pytteliten

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Swedish word of the day: pytteliten
Something that is very small indeed. Image: nito103/Depositphotos
15:30 CEST+02:00
Certain words are just fun to say, and our Swedish word of the day is certainly one of them. 'Pytteliten' is a way of describing something that's smaller than small.

It means something like 'tiny', 'miniscule', or 'teeny-weeny', and can be used to describe animals, buildings, or just about anything that's much smaller than average. You wouldn't usually use it to talk about people though, other than perhaps a particularly tiny baby.

If we take a closer look at the origin of the word, its second half – liten – is the Swedish word for 'small'.

Liten is often a confusing word for language-learners as its endings change depending on the (grammatical) gender and number of what it's referring to. There's liten/litet, used with 'en' and 'ett' words respectively in the indefinite form, and lilla for both genders in the definite form, as well as små which is used in the plural. If you already know English, you can probably guess that små and liten share their origins with the words 'small' and 'little', but while in English the variants are used interchangeably, in Swedish there are specific rules to follow. Pytteliten follows the same rules, so you'll see different forms such as pyttelilla and pyttesmå

Another form is the adverb pyttelite, which comes from the adverb lite (a little). This is used to describe verbs, while pytteliten and its various forms describe nouns. Pyttelite might be used in a sentence along with the verb it's describing, so you might say you speak pyttelite Swedish or that you're pyttelite interested in something, but it can also be used in contexts where the verb is implied. So if someone asks you if you speak Swedish, you can simply reply pyttelite. In this case, pyttelite is linked to the implied verb 'to speak' rather than the noun 'Swedish', so you don't need to change the ending.

As for the origins of the first half of the word, pytt used to be used in other contexts to mean 'small' in Swedish, both as an adjective and as a noun meaning 'little person'. So in pytteliten it's an intensifier, strengthening the meaning in the same way as jätteliten or mycket liten – translated literally it means 'small-small'.

But wait, is there any connection to the popular Swedish dish pyttipanna, we hear you cry. This is actually a disputed subject among Swedish linguists. Some argue that yes, the pytt here refers to the 'small things' (diced potatoes, onions, and meat) that make up the meal, but others claim it comes from the verb putta, which today means 'to push' or 'to putt' in the golfing sense, but used to mean the same thing as English 'to put'. According to that explanation, pyttipanna literally describes 'putting [ingredients] in the pan'.

Examples:

Det finns en pytteliten stuga i skogen

There is a teeny tiny cabin in the wood

Pratar du svenska? Åh, pyttelite...

Do you speak Swedish? Well, a tiny bit...

With thanks to The Local's reader Corien Hiddink, who submitted this word. Do you have a favourite Swedish word you would like to nominate for our word of the day series? Get in touch by email or if you are a Member of The Local, log in to comment below.
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