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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: riksdag

When you meet for a diet in the realm.

​​Swedish word of the day: riksdag

Riksdagen is the Swedish parliament, you will find its cognates in the old Danish term for their parliament, rigsdagen, although they now use the term folketing, and in German, the Reichstag

Riks– is from rike, which means ‘realm’ or in other words ‘kingdom’ as in kungarike. Svensk ordbok, the Swedish dictionary published by the Swedish Academy, tells us that rike is attested as far back as the 11th century on rune stones, that it is of Celtic origin, and that it is related to rik, the Swedish word for ‘rich’. It is believed to be of the same origin as rex in Latin, meaning king. Which should make kungarike a pleonasm, a redundancy, though hardly anyone will know that rike has this origin.

For comparison, ‘realm’ in English is from the Old French reaume, which in modern French is royaume, meaning ‘kingdom’. This is also from roy meaning ‘king’ which ultimately derives from the Latin rex, also meaning ‘king’. The kicker here is that Old Celtic languages and Latin were fairly closely related, some argue this is the reason they were easily replaced by Latin when the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic-speaking peoples. 

The -dag part of riksdag means ‘day’, but there is more to this word in this context, meaning an ‘appointed day’ or ‘gathering’. In English you can find a similar word in ’diet’. Howso, you ask? 

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Well, ‘diet’ goes back through Old French to the Latin diaeta, which could mean ‘a public assembly’, ‘a set day of trial’ or ‘a day’s journey’. That in turn derived from the Ancient Greek δῐ́αιτα meaning ‘way of living’ or ‘living space’ or ‘decision/judgement’. Which somehow was influenced by the Latin diēs, meaning ‘day’ – things get complicated at times in etymology it seems. Going to the riksdag then is going to the ‘diet of the realm’.

The word riksdag is borrowed from the German Reichstag, though the traditional Germanic term for these meetings or governing assemblies was a ting (as in the Danish folketing, mentioned above). We also touched on this in our möte word of the day article.

Sveriges riksdag, as you may well know, is the legislature and supreme decision-making body of the Kingdom of Sweden. You can visit the riksdag at Riksdagshuset on Helgeandsholmen in Stockholm, where you can watch debates or attend a guided tour. 

So, next time your friend tells you about their new diet, you can tell them all about the etymology of the name of the Swedish parliament. Have a good weekend!

Example sentences:

Vet du varför man har ordet ‘dag’ i riksdag?

Do you know why they use the word ‘dag’ in ‘riksdag’?

Vill du följa med mig till riksdagen?

Do you wanna tag along to the Swedish parliament? 

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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