Swedish word of the day: medlidande

Swedish word of the day: medlidande
Image: nito103/Depositphotos
Our word of the day can be used to express the painful sadness you feel when a loved one – or a complete stranger – is hurting.

Our Swedish word of the day – medlidande – was suggested by The Local's Member Chris Parrish, who wrote in an e-mail: “I spent time working with adults from all walks of life in Sweden and was warmed by the natural ability of many to feel compassion for others, regardless of nationality, religion or skin colour. I'm sure this is still present even though the far-right winds are blowing stronger.”

Medlidande consists of two parts, med which means 'co-' or 'with' and lidande which means 'the state of suffering'. Its closest English equivalent is 'compassion', the act of feeling kind-hearted sympathetic concern or sadness for another person who is suffering or has been affected by some kind of misfortune.

Today its meaning is figurative, but in old Swedish it could also literally mean that a person shared an affliction with someone else, or for example that a body part was affected by pain elsewhere in the body.

It can also be expressed as a verb form: jag lider med dig, I'm suffering with you, and indicates that you feel the other person's pain, so strongly that you are even prepared to carry some of it in a philosophical sense.

Similarly, the word compassion (which is used in various forms in languages such as English, French and Italian) comes from the Latin com ('with', 'together') and pati ('to suffer', compare to for example 'The Passion' which in Christianity refers to the crucifixion and final period of the life of Jesus).

But because lidande is a modern word that – unlike 'passion' – is used to talk about suffering in everyday speech, medlidande perhaps comes across as more blunt and literal than its English equivalent.

As The Local has previously noted, the Swedish language is wonderfully literal.

“For me compassion doesn't come close to the Swedish 'suffering with', but I suppose that is part of the joy of learning another language, examining and bringing the words to life,” Parrish told The Local.


Jag känner stort medlidande med dig

I feel great compassion for you

Jag vill inte ha deras medlidande

I don't want their compassion

Hon är väldigt medlidsam

She is very compassionate

With thanks to The Local's Member Chris Parrish, 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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