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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Swedish word of the day: sonderingsperson

Today's word should help you understand Swedish politics a little better.

Swedish word of the day: sonderingsperson
This word is very handy these days. Image: nito103/Depositphotos

In case you need a refresher, Sweden emerged from the September election with no clear winner, and after two months of talks, the first person to be proposed as PM got voted down by parliament on Wednesday. 

This is where the sonderingsperson comes in. The verb sondera means 'to feel out' or 'to sound' and sondering is the noun form, meaning 'probing' or 'sounding out'. Person, you may have guessed, means 'person'.

When there's no clear majority to form a government, parliament's speaker gives one of the party leaders the task of chatting to the others to see if they'd be able to get enough support for a government, either through forming a coalition or by opposition parties agreeing to tolerate, or not vote against, the proposed government. This is the sonderingsperson (sounding-out person) who is given a sonderingsuppdrag (task of sounding out [the other party leaders]) and begins the sonderingar (probes/talks).

It's a temporary role, usually given for a specified period of around two weeks, and even if the sonderingsperson is able to put together a successful government proposal, that doesn't mean they'd necessarily be prime minister.

So far, two people (Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson and Social Democrats leader Stefan Löfven) have been given the role of sonderingsperson for two weeks each, but failed to put together a workable government. Now, it is likely that another person will be asked to sondera, and the baton could be passed to someone new or back to one of the previous sonderingspersoner. If that all sounds complicated, welcome to Swedish politics in 2018.

French-speakers might recognize the verb sonder (to probe or survey), which is the origin of the Swedish political term, but there's no etymological link to the German prefix sonder-, meaning 'special' or to Swedish sönder, meaning 'broken'. 

FOR MEMBERS: How to talk about politics like a Swede

Examples

Talmannen meddelar att han ska utnämna en ny sonderingsperson

The speaker announces that he will name a new person to carry out talks with the aim of forming a government

Centerledaren vill bli ny sonderingsperson

The leader of the Centre Party wants to be the new person to carry out talks with the aim of forming a government

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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For members

SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

​​Swedish word of the day: möte

The word of the day is perhaps Sweden’s second favourite pastime, after 'fika', and they often go hand in hand.

​​Swedish word of the day: möte

In 2017 Swedish television published an article with the headline, Möteskulturen frodas i Sverige, “The Meeting Culture is Thriving in Sweden”. For a non-Swede that might seem like an interesting and perhaps bizarre headline, but to the initiated it is all too familiar. 

A möte is simply a meeting, but for Swedes möten are something you do at every opportunity. Need to decide anything at all? Let’s have a möte. This can seem like an awful waste of time to a non-Swede, but Swedes are all about consensus. The idea is that after you have consensus you can move forward more efficiently. And Swedish society seems to do that really well. And it does not hurt that a möte is the perfect time for fika, or more precisely mötesfika.

As a bit of history, the English ‘meeting’ and Swedish möte are related, and they are also related to ‘moot’ as in ‘moot court’ or a ‘moot point’, “an issue that is subject to, or open for discussion or debate; originally, one to be definitively determined by an assembly of the people.” That assembly of people was originally an old Germanic type of town hall, a ting, where people met to discuss communal matters and settle disputes.

Today we can find the word ting in the names of the Icelandic parliament, the Althing, the Danish parliament, the Folketing, and the Norwegian parliament, the Storting. In Sweden you still find it in the name of the lower courts, Tingsrätten

The point is, there is a very old tradition of möten in Scandinavian culture. The Icelandic parliament, for instance, claims to be the oldest in the world. Whether the Icelanders can beat the Swedes at the time spent in möten at work is unsure, no statistics seem to be readily available for a comparison. 

Malin Åkerström, the researcher who was interviewed in the piece by Swedish television, claims that the public sector are the primary champions of möten, but it is also very common in the private sector. And möten are on the rise in many workplaces. 

Here it might help to know that in Sweden a möte can also be between you and just one other co-worker to discuss almost anything, so the term is quite broad. Then there are so called arbetsplatsträffar, more commonly referred to as APT, a type of longer, more serious möte that many workplaces hold regularly (there you can almost always count on fika). 

As you can see, Swedes love their möten – so why not find an excuse to stämma tid för ett möte with one of your Swedish friends or maybe a coworker? You might just make their day.

Example sentences:

Bettan, kan vi stämma tid för ett möte?

Bettan, can we decide on a time for a meeting?

Jag blir galen med alla dessa konstanta möten, va fan är det för fel på svenskar?

I’m going insane with all these constant meetings, what the hell is wrong with these Swedes?

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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