Swedish word of the day: brandtal

Here's a word that comes in useful when trying to follow politics, as well as during business negotiations, but has no direct English translation.

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

Brandtal can be broken down into two words: brand (fire) and tal (speech).

Tala means 'to speak', and it's a synonym of prata (to talk). There is a bit of a difference between the two: tala is slightly more formal, and often refers to one-sided talking such as a speech or lecture, while prata is more informal and usually refers to conversations more generally. The noun ett tal means 'speech'. 

And as regular readers of this column will know, brand is one of two common Swedish words for fire. Eld describes small, controlled fires or fire in general, and brand describes bigger, usually uncontrolled blazes.

A brandtal, then, is speech that uses fiery rhetoric. You might translate it in English as 'a rousing speech', 'a grand speech', or an 'impassioned speech'. It's usually combined with the verb hålla (to hold), as in hon höll ett brandtal (she gave an impassioned speech).

How you might react to an especially impressive brandtalvia GIPHY

It's actually a relatively new term in Swedish, and comes from the phrase brinna för, which literally means 'to burn for' but is used to refer to something you're especially dedicated to or passionate about. For example, jag brinner för integration (I'm passionate about integration) or jag brinner för fotboll (I'm passionate about football.

The word brandtal is often used to refer to speeches by politicians and activists (it's been used a lot recently to talk about the speeches by climate campaigner Greta Thunberg) but can also be used about ordinary people, for example if a teacher or work colleague talks during a lesson or meeting about a topic close to their heart. 

To give another example, if an actor or sportsperson gives an ordinary thank you speech after winning an award, this wouldn't be considered a brandtal, but if they took the opportunity to talk about an issue such as equality in sport or diversity on screen, that could be a brandtal.

Brandtal comes with some related words, although they aren't very commonly used. Someone who gives a brandtal is a brandtalare (something like 'giver of an impassioned speech', but it rolls off the tongue much better in Swedish) and you can use the verb brandtala ('to give a rousing speech'). For example: Presidenten brandtalade om våld (the president gave an impassioned speech about violence).


Politikers brandtal väckte debatt om utbildning

The politician's impassioned speech started a debate on education

Kaptenen höll ett brandtall för läget

The captain gave a rousing speech to his team

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: 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 to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.