Swedish word of the day: skön

This is a word that often appears in Swedish tongue twisters, but there's more to 'skön' than meets the eye.

Swedish word of the day: skön
A useful Swedish word. Image: nito103/Depositphotos

Skön – as you may guess from its similarities with the German word 'schön' – comes from the Middle High German word 'schoene', and as many other Swedish words, it is short but with a huge variety of meanings.

Let's go through them, but first, let's talk about pronunciation.

The dreaded Swedish sj-sound (or in this case sk) is a so-called voiceless fricative phoneme which can be found in tongue twisters such as sju sköna sjuksköterskor. It is notoriously hard to pronounce for newcomers and it does not help that Swedes pronounce it wildly differently depending on where in Sweden they grew up.

It may help to think of the sj-sound (IPA: ɧ) as a breathy 'sh' or a sort of sigh through rounded lips. You can also click the audio symbol on the Swedish Academy dictionary website to listen to how to pronounce skön.

Here's what the sj-sound sounds like:

Skön means 'beautiful' and appears in compound words such as skönhet (beauty), skönmåla (painting something in a better light) or skönlitteratur (fiction). However, note that if you only want to refer to a person or scenery as beautiful, it is more common these days to describe them as vacker or even snygg.

If you do use the word skön to talk about a person, it will more likely be interpreted as a reference to their personality, that they are simply a nice and relaxed person to be around. I'm not a linguist, but I would imagine that someone who uses skön this way is the kind of person who also feels comfortable calling people 'dude' or 'Hi guys, I'm Emma and I'm going to be your server today, is everything all right for you guys?'*

Conversely, a person who is oskön (who I guess many might say is the kind of person who makes snarky comments about people who use the words skön or dude) is not very nice at all. The prefix o is often used in Swedish as a form of negation for adjectives, adverbs, verbs and nouns, similar to the English prefix 'un-'.

Skön is perhaps most often used to describe something that is pleasant to touch or just nice or refreshing in general. For example, vilken skön soffa ('what a comfortable couch'), det är skönt att duscha efter en löptur ('it's nice to shower after a run') or det skulle vara skönt med semester ('it would be nice to have a holiday').

Kattens päls är mjuk och skön (the cat's fur is soft and comfortable). Image: via GIPHY


Vad skönt att han gick, han var riktigt irriterande

What a relief that he left, he was really annoying

Det är skönt att ligga och dra sig på morgonen

It's nice to have a lie-in in the morning

Thank you to reader Prajakta Shirodkar for suggesting this word. 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: konsensuskultur

Some would say today’s word describes the most quintessentially Swedish thing there is.

​​Swedish word of the day: konsensuskultur

Last week we covered the word möte, where we mentioned how Swedes are all about consensus. How so, you might ask. Well, some say that the obsession Swedes have with möten (‘meetings’) is emblematic of something called konsensuskultur, the ‘culture of consensus’, a phenomenon they claim might be the very spine of the Swedish spirit, if there is such a thing. 

According to these columnists, you can see it everywhere in Swedish society: in people wearing similar clothes on the streets (H&M etc), the constant möten at work, why the public debate on immigration has pushed voters toward the Sweden Democrats, why integration is failing, the leadership style of Swedish managers, the very idea of ‘lagom’, in every major shift in Swedish political history. Or in other words, basically in all the history and culture of Sweden.

Whether or not konsensuskultur truely has such massive reach, consensus is definitely sought after in Sweden (although one might argue that this is true of every healthy society). 

The idea of konsensuskultur also creates certain paradoxes. In 2015, at the height of the Syrian migration crisis, the Rabbi and author Dan Korn wrote that konsensuskultur was both the reason why Swedes were so refugee-friendly and simultaneously the reason why integration into Swedish society was such a failure.

Dan Korn argued this was not in fact a paradox, but instead the result of consensus on two different issues: one over welcoming refugees, and another over how to behave or not behave in Swedish society.

For immigrants living in Sweden, konsenskultur is not a word you will hear that often, but is is a phenomenon to keep in mind: 

When moving forward with group activities involving Swedes, it is often best to first have a discussion to reach some sort of consensus. 

Similarly, when analysing the twists and turns of the Swedish political landscape, it is always worth keeping an eye open for those moments when Sweden undergoes a paradigm shift, or in other words, finds a new consensus

A good way of using the word konsensuskultur, which might also start up an interesting conversation, is to ask a Swedish friend if they see Swedes as having a strong konsensuskultur

Example sentences:

Sverige sägs vara ett land med en stark konsensuskultur.

Sweden is said to be a country with a strong consensus culture.

Sara, tycker du att Sverige är ett land präglat av en stark konsensuskultur?

Sara, do you think Sweden is a country marked by a strong consensus culture?

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.