SHARE
COPY LINK

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Swedish word of the day: vårvinter

Today's chosen word is a beautiful one that describes an exciting time of the year.

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

Vårvinter can be broken down into vår (spring) + vinter (winter), so the meaning isn't too tricky to work out: literally, spring-winter. 

It's used to describe the time of year in between those two seasons, and can be used as a noun, as in 'varje vårvinter åker vi skridskor på sjön' (every year between winter and spring, we go ice-skating on the lake) or be turned into a compound noun such as 'det var en vacker vårvinterdag' (it was a beautiful day in the period between spring and winter).

At first it might not seem especially exciting linguistically, but it feels like a very Swedish word. Something visitors or newcomers to Sweden often remark upon is the stark difference between the seasons in the Nordic nation. Winter and spring are already very distinct in Sweden, and the vårvinter time also has its own unique character. 

Sweden has a very specific way of measuring the seasons. In order for the start of the winter season to be officially declared, the average temperature needs to stay below 0C for five consecutive days, and once it climbs back above zero for a full seven days in a row, the arrival of spring is marked. This means it's possible for some towns to skip an entire season, or for the country to experience multiple seasons in different places within one day. 

Vårvinter on the other hand isn't defined so rigidly; it's more to do with the general feeling.

It has even been called the 'fifth season' by weather agency SMHI, which says: “During the latter part of winter, high pressure often means sunny days and clear, cold nights.” The sun is up for more hours of the day, and feels stronger than usual because it's often reflected by the snow, which often melts during the day before being re-frozen during cool nights.

Vårvinter is used more in the north of the country than the south, which makes sense as these are the parts where the winter is so long that it helps to break it into two distinct sections. And in some parts of the north, the term marsapril (March-April) is also used to describe the period, where there's still plenty of snow but also increasing sunshine.

Vårvinter is a sign of hope. It might be the time that you change from your warmest winter coat to the second warmest, start turning your heating down, or begin making plans for Midsummer. The word itself also contains a note of optimism by placing vår before vinter, suggesting the prominence of the warmer season, something which is especially welcome in a country where the winter stretches on for so many months.

Examples

Det är något underbart med vårvinter

There's something wonderful about the late winter/early spring period

Vårvintern smälte ner till vår

The late winter period melted into spring

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.

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: fisförnäm

Today’s word is an expression Swedes use when other people think a little too highly of themselves. 

​​Swedish word of the day: fisförnäm

Fisförnäm is a composition of the two words fis, meaning ‘fart’, primarily one with a hissing sound, and förnäm, which means ‘noble, distinguished’. The combination is a slight slur for someone who is ‘stuck up, cocky, or thinks themselves better than others’ but who in actuality is not better at all. Perhaps somewhat comparable to the American expression of ​​’thinking the sun shines out of one’s own arse’ or simply ‘self-important’.

The late linguistics professor Jan Strid once explained fisförnäm on Swedish radio. While doing so he explained that the reason that fis refers to hissing farts is because it most likely has the original meaning of ‘blowing’. Which explains the word askfis, ‘ash fart’, meaning the youngest child which does nothing but sit by the fire blowing into the ashes and getting them all over the face. Then there is the bärfis, the ‘berry fart’, the insect commonly known in English as either shield bug or stink bug. There the word obviously refers to the bad smell produced by the bug. 

The late great professor then went on to explain how fisförnäm has a sibling in struntförnäm which means the same thing. Strunt, which in Swedish means ‘nonsense’, comes from German with the original meaning of ‘dung’, ‘dirt’ or ‘filth’. So struntförnäm in a way means ‘filth noble’ and by extension fisförnäm has the same original meaning: someone who says they are great, but they are really not better at all.

And that is a word that in a way is quintessentially Swedish. Why? Because of Jantelagen

Many of you are surely already familiar with the Law of Jante, but for those of you who are not, Jantelagen, first formalized in a satirical novel by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, is a set of rules or attitudes that many Swedes, Norwegians and Danes supposedly espouse. You might enjoy having a look at celebrated Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård explaining it on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Fisförnäm has been found in print as far back as 1954, some 21 years after the publication of Sandemose’s book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor), in 1933. So it is younger than the formalization of the Law of Jante, but there is probably no connection between the two besides the societal norms both are expressions of. And though the 10 rules of the so called Law of Jante were first expressed in the aforementioned book, the attitudes are much older. 

To think yourself better than others is still somewhat frowned upon in Sweden, even if it is true. If you are familiar with Swedish football history you might have seen this in the Swedish public’s reaction to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s rise to stardom. Some Swedes just could not stand his boisterous attitude, some still can not. But of course, fisförnäm is not applicable to Zlatan, since he is arguably the best Swedish footballer of all time. 

Fisförnäm is an insult, but not a bad one, and might even be used a bit jokingly. You could perhaps try to use it when someone does not want to join an activity that is a bit ridiculous. For reference (and a laugh) you might have a look at when famed Swedish show host Stina Dabrowski asked Margaret Thatcher to do a little skip in place on her show.

Example sentences:

Sluta var så fisförnäm nu, du kan väl va med?

Stop being so self-important, why not join in?

Nä, jag orkar inte följa med dit, de är alla så fisförnäma.

Oh no, I’d rather not go there, they are all so unduly haughty. 

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