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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: julklapp

Here's the next word in The Local's Christmas-themed word of the day series, running from December 1st to Christmas Eve.

the word julklapp on a black background by a Swedish flag
Consider this article a lexical julklapp. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Consider this word of the day an early gift from The Local: en julklapp translates as a Christmas present.

If you want to say you received something ‘as a Christmas present’, you use the preposition i, for example: jag har fått en tröja i julklapp av min mamma (I got a jumper as a Christmas present from my mum).

At first glance, the word might be confusing, since the usual Swedish translation for the noun ‘present’ is simply en present (the noun gift, as regular readers will know, means something totally different and altogether not very Christmassy).

So where does klapp come into it?

Without the prefix jul-, which means ‘Christmas’ and whose history we’ve delved into before, en klapp means ‘a clap’ or ‘a tap/pat’ and is the noun form of the verb klappa (to pat or clap). One context you’ll often hear it in is the phrase en klapp på axeln (a pat on the back) which is used in the same sense as the English idiom.

If you were to travel back in time and experience Swedish Christmas several centuries ago, you wouldn’t find the locals shopping for chocolates or toys. Instead, Sweden had a tradition of gift-giving almost reminiscent of American Halloween ‘trick or treating’.

Swedes would knock on the doors of friends and neighbours before leaving behind a small token gift anonymously, perhaps a straw or wooden ornament, usually made by hand. Often these were accompanied by a small gift tag with a jokey riddle or poem that explained the meaning of the gift.

So the word julklapp referred to en klapp på dörren (a knock on the door), the tell-tale sign that the gift had arrived, and the noun was first recorded in the Swedish language in 1741. Before this time, it was generally only the upper classes who gave out holiday gifts, and those were usually exchanged at the New Year rather than on Christmas.

It wasn’t until the later 19th and 20th century that it became more common to buy Christmas gifts, rather than make small items, as Sweden underwent industrialisation and incomes rose. But though traditions may have changed, the word julklapp has survived in the Swedish language and remains a key part of the festive vocabulary to this day.

According to different traditions, in Sweden the presents might be given by the jultomte (a Swedish alternative to Santa Claus) or, er, the Christmas goat (read more on that here). In other families, the presents are simply left under the Christmas tree or exchanged between family members.

Example sentences:

Jultomten delade ut julklapparna.

Santa handed out the Christmas presents.

Jag fick den i julklapp.

I got it as a Christmas present.

Looking for a good idea for a julklapp?

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 – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: skranket

Today’s word is a bar, just not the kind you want to be propping up.

Swedish word of the day: skranket

A skrank is ‘a separating rail, especially in a public institution’ or ‘an upright standing construction by a staircase.’ A ‘handrail’ one could say, but not quite. In Swedish skrank would nearly never be used in that context, for that you would use the word räcke. Skrank instead refers to a domarskrank, a ‘judge’s rail’. 

English speakers will know it as ‘the bar’, that is the bar by which a lawyer stands, which is also where the English word ‘barrister’ comes from. 

Skranket primarily occurs in the expression inför skranket or sometimes as att träda inför skranket. Träda has the same root as ‘to tread’, and means ‘to walk,’ ‘to step,’ or ‘to appear.’ And inför means ‘in front of’. The meaning is then ‘to appear in front of the bar to be judged’. 

You say ‘in front’ of the bar, even though in Swedish courts, the person on trial, the lawyers, and the judge, all sit behind it, with the bar separating the audience. 

The reason for this is that until the new Swedish Code of Judicial Procedure came into effect in 1948, the bar used to be placed between the judge and the everyone else, including the lawyers and the accused. 

Svensk ordbok, the dictionary published by the Swedish Academy, gives us the origin of the word. Skrank is attested to since 1624, and it really does feel like an old word to a Swedish ear. It comes from the Low German schrank, which meant ‘bars; cordon’.

The dictionary gives us another Swedish word, inskränkt, which has the same origin. Inskränkt means to be ‘narrow minded’ or ‘limited’, most often referring to someone’s intellectual capacities.   

Try not to be inskränkt, and do your best to avoid att träda inför skranket. Ask your friends and colleagues if they know what a skrank is, chances are that the meaning of this unusual word is unknown to them, especially to the younger ones.

Example sentences:

Pelle, vet du vad ett skrank är?

Pelle, do you know what a ‘skrank’ is?

Vad händer med Pelle? Han ska träda inför skranket imorgon.

What’s up with Pelle? He’s going on trial tomorrow.

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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