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Swedish word of the day: hemsk

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Swedish word of the day: hemsk
This word is terribly common in Swedish. Image: nito103/Depositphotos
13:59 CET+01:00
Hemsk is a word whose meaning has changed a lot over the years, and it's a useful one to have in your vocabulary.

Today, the adjective hemsk means 'terrible', 'awful' or 'grim', so it has decidedly negative connotations. The noun en hemskhet means 'a horror'

You can also add a 't' use it as an adverb, hemskt, which might take some practice to pronounce correctly. As an adverb, it is similar to the English word 'terribly' and can be used as an intensifier without any negativity. For example, you could say jag är hemskt ledsen (I am terribly sorry) or filmen var hemskt bra (the film was awfully good), or vi var hemskt kära! (we were terribly in love).

Usch, vad hemskt! via GIPHY

The word has an interesting history.

It has the word hem (home) as its root, so was originally used to describe something linked to the home or connected to the home.

Then it came to refer to people who had never left home, and gradually the meaning evolved to become 'timid', 'foolish' or 'dull', and the negative meaning was further strengthened over time to the current meaning. This meaning became popularized during the 19th century, and one of the works of poet Elias Sehlstedt is titled Hemskt är lifvet (Life is ghastly).

On the other hand, if you do want to describe something as 'homey', you probably want a word like trivsam (comfortable/cosy), enkel (simple, unfussy) or hemtrevlig (just like home, cosy). 


Vilken hemsk tanke

What a horrible thought

Det var en hemsk tid för oss alla

It was an awful time for all of us

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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