Swedish word of the day: semester

This word might mean the exact opposite of what you'd expect.

Swedish word of the day: semester
A word you need to know this time of the year. Image: nito103/Depositphotos

Semester means 'holiday/vacation' in Swedish, and is used to refer both to the extended periods of leave from school, university, or work, and to overnight holidays. It's a pretty crucial word in Sweden, where full-time workers are entitled to at least 25 days' holiday by law, and up to four weeks of that can usually be taken consecutively during the summer.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about annual leave in Sweden

Hear how it's pronounced in the clip below:

That means that if someone says jag är på semester (I'm on holiday/leave), they might mean they've simply taken time off work, or that they're away travelling. And a semesterjobb is a temporary job undertaken during the holiday period, usually university summer holidays.

The related verb semestra means 'to go on holiday', for example 'vi ska semestra i Sverige i år' (we're going to go on holiday in Sweden this year). You can also use the phrase åka på semester instead. 

So why is the meaning different from English 'semester', referring to a term of education?

Well, in Latin, semestris meant 'six-month', coming from sex (six) and mensis (month, from the word for 'moon'). It entered English and French through German as a word for a university or school term, as these were split into two units within a year; six months each.

In Swedish, though, semester has been used since the 18th century to refer to holidays, originally linked specifically to army officers, who had the right to a certain amount of vacation.

The Swedish word for a term of education is termin.

You can find the word semester in several compound nouns, such as campingsemester (camping holiday), semesterö (holiday island) or semestertillägg ('holiday supplement', the extra pay workers in Sweden receive when they take annual leave as part of the country's vacation law).

And the recently coined portmanteau hemester (hem or 'home' + semester) is the equivalent of the English term 'staycation' to refer to a holiday within one's country of residence. Less commonly, you'll hear svemester (from Sverige or 'Sweden' + semester), which means the same thing within Sweden.


Jag behöver en semester!

I need a holiday!

Vi tog en månads semester i Italien

We took a month's holiday in Italy

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: ockerhyra

A word of the day which makes strange use of usury.

​​Swedish word of the day: ockerhyra

Ocker is the Swedish word for usury, and not the Australian for someone who “speaks and acts in a rough and uncultivated manner, using Strine, a broad Australian accent” for the Aussies out there who might recognise the term. 

Usury, of course, is when a lender makes monetary loans which unfairly enrich them. The term is used either in a moral sense, then as a condemnation of taking advantage of others’ misfortune, or in a strictly legal sense, where ocker refers to the crime of charging a higher interest rate for a loan than that which is allowed by the law. You might know an individual who does that not as a usurer, but a loan shark

But ockerhyra has nothing to do with loans or loansharks, at least not directly. The shark, however, might still be there, as you will see.

Hyra simply means ‘rent’ – in this case the rent you pay for an apartment or any other rental property. So ockerhyra means ‘usury rent’, but how can a rent be usurious? Well, it cannot since it is not a loan. What instead is meant here, is at least part of the moral sense of the word ‘usury’, whereby someone is taking advantage of another’s situation. 

Someone setting an andrahandshyra, a second hand rent, which is unreasonably high, would be setting an ockerhyra. This is a topic which The Local has previously dealt with, and there are instances to get help with that. The main reason people can get away with this is because many are desperate to find a place in the city, often Stockholm, and therefore will not alert the authorities. But also, owing to the fact that it is not a punishable crime, all that might happen is that the person subletting their place for more than is reasonable might be forced to pay some money back.

Furthermore, the word ockerhyra does not necessarily imply this type of scenario, it can also be used to generally complain about rents being too high. And many do complain about this.

Do you feel a bit upset about the sometimes absurd rents in Stockholm or in another city? Why not make use of the word ockerhyror in a conversation on the topic?

Just remember that the word is quite strong, so try not to accuse a friend of charging an ockerhyra – might be safer to just question whether they are charging a bit much. Good luck!

Example sentences:

Alltså, det är verkligen ockerhyror på nybyggnationer! Jag är sååå trött på den här skiten.

I mean come on, the rents on new builds are outrageous! I’m sick and tired of this shit.

Duncan, varför tar du ockerhyra på stället du hyr ut i andrahand?

Duncan, why are you charging an exaggerated rent on the place you’re subletting?

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 US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.