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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Swedish word of the day: gift

'False friend' is the name given to words that look and sound like a word in another language but mean something completely different. The Swedish word 'gift' is a step beyond that: it has two distinct meanings in Swedish, neither of which is the same as the English 'gift'.

Swedish word of the day: gift
Do you mean gift or gift? Image: nito103/Depositphotos

Gift means both 'married' (when used as an adjective) and 'poison' (when used as a noun), something that has caused confusion to plenty of Swedish language-learners.

It's not as strange as it might seem.

Both forms of gift have their roots in the Old Norse word gipt, which meant 'something given'. Over the years, the meaning changed very little in English, which is where the word 'gift' comes from, but in Swedish, the word developed into giva, which became closely associated with marriage.

Far from modern-day weddings in which both partners are equal before the law (in Swedish weddings the bride and groom typically enter the church together to symbolize this equal partnership), years ago marriage involved a father 'giving away' his daughter (as is still the case in many places). The word for dowry was hemgift, and gift came to be used as the adjective meaning married, but today there is no negative or sexist connotation and it describes married men as well as women.

Meanwhile in Germany, the word gipt went on a very different etymological journey. Several centuries ago, gift was used to mean 'a present' but over the years the meaning changed until it became used solely as a euphemism for poison somewhere around the year 800. Then, Sweden borrowed the noun gift (poison) back from German.

To avoid confusion, it helps to learn the related words to each use of gift. The verb 'to marry' is att gifta sig, while the noun (marriage) is ett äktenskap. In the sense of 'poison', the adjective 'poisonous' is giftig and the verb 'to poison (someone)' is att förgifta (någon).

Thankfully, the Swedish word for a gift is straightforward: en present.

Examples

Hon är gift och har tre små barn

She is married and has three small children

Hon har tagit gift

She has taken (consumed) poison

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: konsensuskultur

Some would say today’s word describes the most quintessentially Swedish thing there is.

​​Swedish word of the day: konsensuskultur

Last week we covered the word möte, where we mentioned how Swedes are all about consensus. How so, you might ask. Well, some say that the obsession Swedes have with möten (‘meetings’) is emblematic of something called konsensuskultur, the ‘culture of consensus’, a phenomenon they claim might be the very spine of the Swedish spirit, if there is such a thing. 

According to these columnists, you can see it everywhere in Swedish society: in people wearing similar clothes on the streets (H&M etc), the constant möten at work, why the public debate on immigration has pushed voters toward the Sweden Democrats, why integration is failing, the leadership style of Swedish managers, the very idea of ‘lagom’, in every major shift in Swedish political history. Or in other words, basically in all the history and culture of Sweden.

Whether or not konsensuskultur truely has such massive reach, consensus is definitely sought after in Sweden (although one might argue that this is true of every healthy society). 

The idea of konsensuskultur also creates certain paradoxes. In 2015, at the height of the Syrian migration crisis, the Rabbi and author Dan Korn wrote that konsensuskultur was both the reason why Swedes were so refugee-friendly and simultaneously the reason why integration into Swedish society was such a failure.

Dan Korn argued this was not in fact a paradox, but instead the result of consensus on two different issues: one over welcoming refugees, and another over how to behave or not behave in Swedish society.

For immigrants living in Sweden, konsenskultur is not a word you will hear that often, but is is a phenomenon to keep in mind: 

When moving forward with group activities involving Swedes, it is often best to first have a discussion to reach some sort of consensus. 

Similarly, when analysing the twists and turns of the Swedish political landscape, it is always worth keeping an eye open for those moments when Sweden undergoes a paradigm shift, or in other words, finds a new consensus

A good way of using the word konsensuskultur, which might also start up an interesting conversation, is to ask a Swedish friend if they see Swedes as having a strong konsensuskultur

Example sentences:

Sverige sägs vara ett land med en stark konsensuskultur.

Sweden is said to be a country with a strong consensus culture.

Sara, tycker du att Sverige är ett land präglat av en stark konsensuskultur?

Sara, do you think Sweden is a country marked by a strong consensus culture?

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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