SHARE
COPY LINK

CHRISTMAS

Swedish word of the day: pumla

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 pumla on a black background by a swedish flag
What do you call the decorations on your Christmas tree? Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today we’re looking into a festive Swedish word that might just spark a lively debate around the julbord.

That word is pumla, a dialect term for a Christmas bauble, which becomes pumlor in the plural.

In standard Swedish, the compound noun julgranskula (literally ‘Christmas tree ball’) is used to describe the ornaments.

But in the snowy north of Sweden, in Norrbotten and nearby areas, pumla is the more popular term. Around Piteå, many people use the alternative word polla, while pommel and póoll are also used in some specific areas.

These words have German roots and are related to German pummelig, meaning ‘plump’ or ‘dumpy’, and pummelchen, meaning ‘chubby’. When pumla was first used in northern Swedish dialects, it meant ’round thing’ or ‘ball’ generally but is now more commonly heard in the specifically Christmassy sense.

Pumla was added into the official dictionary by the Swedish Academy in 2014 after lively campaigning from speakers of these variants of Swedish.

In fact, an organisation called Pumlans vänner (friends of Pumla) was set up back in 1988 to advocate for pumla‘s entry into the dictionary. The founder, Ove Friman from Luleå, said he was inspired to start the organisation when he asked his partner to get pumlor, who didn’t understand what he meant.

Example sentences

Vi har många pumlor i granen

We have lots of baubles on the Christmas tree

De här pumlorna ser mycket fina ut

These baubles look really pretty

Need a good Christmas gift idea?

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: skärgård

You don't have to spend long in Sweden to hear the word skärgård, especially if you live in cities like Stockholm or Gothenburg where the population relocate to the nearby skärgård every summer. Where does the word come from?

Swedish word of the day: skärgård

Skärgård is, like many Swedish words, a compound word made up of the word skär, describing a small rocky outcrop and gård, which has a number of meanings such as “courtyard”, “farm” or “garden”.

Although skärgård is often translated to English as “archipelago” – a group of islands – the word officially refers to an archipelago made up primarily of small islands, close to the coast of a larger island or landmass, such as the rocky archipelagos near Stockholm and Gothenburg.

Other kinds of archipelago – such as those which are not close to other landmasses, or those made up of larger islands – can be referred to as an arkipelag or ögrupp. However, many Swedes will just use skärgård for any kind of archipelago.

Although the word skärgård doesn’t exist in English, a variant of skär has made its way into the language. The English term for this type of small rocky outcrop is “skerry”.

Skerry has an interesting etymology in English – it comes from the Old Norse term sker, which refers to a rock in the sea. This is related to the Swedish word skära, meaning “cut” – a skerry is a rock cut off from land.

Sker came into English via Scots, where it is spelled skerry or skerrie. Other languages also have this word, such as Norwegian skjær/skjer, Estonian skäär, Finnish kari and Russian шхеры (shkhery). It can also be found in Scottish Gaelic sgeir, Irish sceir and Welsh sgeri.

This also reflects the geographic area where skerries are found – there are skerries or skärgårdar along the northernmost part of the Swedish west coast near Bohuslän and Gothenburg, as well as on the east coast near Stockholm. The Norwegian coast also has a large number of skerries, and Skärgårdshavet or “the Archipelago Sea” lies off the southwestern coast of Finland.

In Russia, the Minina Skerries (Shkhery Minina) are one example of a skärgård, and in Scotland, Skerryvore and Dubh Artach in the Hebrides are also made up of skerries. Northern Ireland is home to The Skerries, off the Antrim coast, and Skerries is also the name of a coastal area of Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.

You may be wondering if the surname of the famous Swedish Skarsgård family of actors – Stellan, Gustaf, Bill, Valter and Alexander Skarsgård, among others – comes from the word skärgård. Although the spelling is similar, this name actually comes from the town of Skärlöv on the island of Öland, and means “Skar’s farm” (Skares gård, in Swedish).

Example sentences

Jag ser redan fram emot sommarsemestern – vi har hyrt en stuga ute i Stockholms skärgård.

I’m already looking forwards to summer – we’ve rented a cottage out in the Stockholm archipelago.

Sverige har många skärgårdar, fast Skärgårdshavet vid Finlands västkust är störst i världen med över 50 000 öar och skär.

Sweden has a lot of archipelagos, but the Archipelago Sea off Finland’s west coast is the biggest in the world has over 50,000 islands and skerries.

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 USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

SHOW COMMENTS