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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Swedish word of the day: lördagsgodis

Today we'll take a look at a very sweet word with a sinister backstory.

Swedish word of the day: lördagsgodis
Image: nito103/Depositphotos

Introducing: the Swedish weekly tradition of lördagsgodis.

This word literally means 'Saturday sweets' or 'Saturday candy'. Lördag is the Swedish name for Saturday, which comes from the Old Norse name laugardagr which meant 'bathing day'. Laug meant 'pool' or 'lake' and dagr meant 'day'.

Vikings are believed to have washed themselves once a week, on a Saturday, washing and combing their hair and beards as well. This was actually much more than many other people at the time, and the Vikings' personal grooming habits were commented on in many writings by foreign monks and scribes. Today, the word for Saturday in all the Scandinavian languages comes from the Old Norse word meaning 'bathing/washing day'.

Godis meanwhile means 'sweets/candy', and is a shortening of the term godsaker (literally 'good/tasty things') using the popular ending -is. Godis in modern Swedish is a countable noun, like British English 'sweet' but unlike American English 'candy', so you can have en godis (one sweet/one piece of candy) or två/tio/hundratals godisar (two/ten/hundreds of sweets or pieces of candy). 

Lördagsgodis, then, refers to the Swedish tradition of stocking up on sweets at the weekend. This usually means pick'n'mix style sweets, which you'll find in the supermarket in the godisvägg (wall of candy) as it's sometimes called. Pick'n'mix is called plockgodis (literally 'candy for plucking) in Swedish, or lösgodis (loose sweets). These days, you might also see some health-conscious Swedes opting for naturgodis instead (literally 'natural candy', this refers to nuts, seeds, berries and dried fruit also served pick'n'mix style), but Swedes still eat more sugar than almost any other nationality worldwide.

READ ALSO: Swedish word of the day: fredagsmys

When you first discover the godisvägg. via GIPHY

It's a beloved weekend activity, so each Saturday you'll see many families with small children (and childless adults too!) filling up their paper bags with the sweet stuff.

Cute, right?

Well, this tradition has a very murky past. In the late 1950s, a series of experiments were carried out on patients at mental health hospitals, and these unethical tests were the origin of lördagsgodis. During the Vipeholm Experiments, named after the hospital in Lund where they took place, patients were encouraged to eat huge amounts of sugary sweets in a deliberate attempt to get cavities in their teeth, so that scientists could research the link between sugar and dental health, which was unclear at the time, and how to treat them.

The researchers discovered that there was indeed a clear link between high sugar consumption and teeth cavities. And so the Medicines Agency recommended that Swedes limit their candy-eating to once a week, since this would have less of an impact on their teeth than daily snacking – although pick'n'mix-style loose candy wasn't allowed in Sweden until 1985. Before that, you had to stock up on your salty liquorice and fudge at an old fashioned sweet shop.

Despite its origins in these controversial tests, lördagsgodis lives on in Sweden as a beloved tradition. And it's one that many internationals will learn to love too.

Examples

Lördagsgodis är alltid en bra idé!

Having sweets on Saturday is always a good idea!

Lördagsgodis är ett unikt svenskt fenomen

Having sweets on Saturday is a uniquely Swedish phenomenon

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: hyfsat

Today’s word will help you say that things are going alright or that Peter is okay at karaoke.

Swedish word of the day: hyfsat

It is a decent word, and okay one, rather good, and it has a well-polished past.

Hyfsat or hyfsad most often means that something is ‘okay’, ‘decent’, ‘alright’ or even ‘rather good’, which can apply to a great number of things. And its etymological cousin hyfs, is a quality of character. 

Behind both of these words and their uses lies a lesser known verb, to hyfsa. A word which is perhaps slowly becoming out of date. 

But hyfsa, in spite of its slow descent into the archaic, is a very useful word, as it has the general meaning of ‘to tidy up’. That is to say it can be used for a number of situations that imply a bit of tidying up: whether it be your own appearance, like trimming a bit of your hair, evening out your fringe; or fixing a bit in your garden, like trimming the hedge. 

You could even use it to describe a quick tidy up at home ahead of a visit, like giving a vase or some other ornament a bit of a polish, or just putting some things in their right place. 

From hyfsa we get both hyfs and hyfsat

Hyfs, as previously mentioned, has to do with character, more precisely with behaviour. Hyfs is simply to have a well-polished or presentable manner (especially toward your elders): att ha hyfs, ‘to be polite’, or att vara ohyfsad, ‘to be rude’ or un-hyfsed.

Young people might not use it as much anymore, but all Swedes know the word.

Hyfsat or hyfsad on the other hand describes the quality of something or how someone is at something. Something that is hyfsat will do, it is okay and acceptable, implying that it would be so even to the person you are addressing.

Beyond that it can also be used to describe your own or someone else’s performance at karaoke, or any other thing, if you ever get the question. It is also an appreciation of things, and can also describe something as being ‘moderately so’, ‘not too’ or ‘fairly so’, as in en hyfsat snar framtid, meaning ‘a not too distant future’. In some sense it brings to mind that ever elusive word: lagom.

Generally, one can say that it implies that something is acceptable, and by linguistic extension, its root in hyfsa, that some work has been done to achieve that. Or in other words, that whatever it is it is not entirely uncared for, lacking in effort or preparation. It has done enough to be deserving of basic approval. It is hyfsat. 

Example sentences

Hur gick det på karaoken? Det gick hyfsat bra – “How did it go at karaoke? It went fairly well.”

Är Peter bra på karaoke? Han är hyfsad. – “Is Peter any good at karaoke? He’s alright.”

Hörru, hur går det med den där rapporten? Hyfsat – “Hey, how’s that report coming along? Not too bad.”

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.

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