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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Swedish word of the day: tjena

Our Swedish word of the day is another way of saying 'hello'.

Swedish word of the day: tjena
Hej is foolproof, but tjena is more adventurous. Image: nito103/Depositphotos

In Sweden you can never go wrong with a simple hej as a greeting.

Whether you're talking to your friend, a child, an adult, your boss or a complete stranger – hej always works, and is the safest bet if you are not sure what level of formality to aim for.

But if you're confident enough to branch out into the great wide world of slang, you may want to consider going for a tjena. It is more familiar than a hej and is not appropriate for greeting a prospective employer in a job application, but as Swedish is not a particularly formal language, it works in nearly all other contexts.

Tjena is short for tjenare which can also be spelled tjänare.

It actually does come from the word tjänare (pronounced with a slightly longer äää), which means 'servant', and the greeting can be traced back to around 1775 in its longer version mjuka tjänare ('humble servant').

Nowadays, few Swedes reflect on this archaic meaning of what is considered an informal greeting phrase rather than a subservient way of showing civility and deference to a very important person.

Other, even more informal, variants include tjenixen, tjenamors, tjabba or tja.

Examples:

Tjena kexet, står du här och smular?

Hey there biscuit, are you standing here crumbling? (a Swedish pick-up line based on the fact that the word kex can refer both to a biscuit and to an attractive man or woman)

Tjena Olle, det var inte i går!

Hi there Olle, long time no see! (literally: Hi there Olle, it wasn't yesterday [that I saw you])

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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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: soppatorsk

In Sweden, if you run out of petrol on the road you have 'soup-cod'.

Swedish word of the day: soppatorsk

Soppatorsk is a slang word which literally means soup-cod, soppa is ‘soup’, and torsk is ‘cod’, but is not to be understood as ‘cod soup’, that would be torsksoppa. Instead the two words that make up soppatorsk have additional meanings in slang. One of the additional meanings of torsk is ‘failure’, which is the intended meaning here. The verb att torska, ‘to cod’, is to fail, or to lose, to get caught. The meaning of the noun torsk here is ‘failure’. And soppa is simply a slang term for ‘petrol’. 

The proper term for what soppatorsk means is bensinstopp, which means ‘engine failure due to running out of petrol’. It is used in the exact same way.

An additional meaning of torsk that you should be mindful of is ‘a john’, as in someone who frequents prostitutes. So you cannot call someone ‘a failure’ by calling them a torsk, that would mean calling them a sex-buyer.  

Soppatorsk is quite common in use and has been around since about 1987. The use of its two parts is also quite common. And torska, as in ‘getting caught’ or ‘losing’ is even a bit older, dating back to at least 1954. We haven’t been able to find out how long soppa has been used to mean ‘petrol’.

A few examples of the use of soppa and torska in the senses that they carry in soppatorsk are : ‘Vi har ingen soppa i tanken,’ means ‘We have no petrol in the tank’. ‘Vi torskade is a common way of saying ‘We lost’. 

Practice makes perfect, so try to use the word of the day, here are a few example sentences. 

Example sentences:

Nä, det är inte sant, soppatorsk.

No, I can’t believe it, we’re out of petrol.

Full tank tack, man vill ju inte få soppatorsk ute i vildmarken.

Fill her up please, don’t wanna run out of petrol out in the wilderness.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.

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