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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Swedish word of the day: nollåtta

You can still hear this Swedish relic from the pre-mobile phone age, sometimes even in Stockholm.

Swedish word of the day: nollåtta
Image: nito103/Depositphotos
“We say people from Stockholm aren't really 100 percent. That's because they're nollåttar ('zero eights')!” 
 
It's a joke that would only be found funny by a small subset of people, most of whom live out in Sweden's farthest-flung regions (such as Norrbotten, where this writer heard it on Monday). 
 
Nollåtta, from the Stockholm dialling code 08-, (noll is 'zero', åtta is 'eight'), still functions as pejorative shorthand for a Stockholmare or person from Stockholm, even as landlines become ever rarer.  
 
The dialling code in central Stockholm was changed to 08- back in 1963. Then in 1992, the then state telecoms company Televerket moved those in the wider Stockholm region, who had previously been 07-, onto 08- to free up a new set of numbers for the emerging mobile phones. 
 
Nollåtta today is generally used as a mild insult or as a piece of friendly banter targeted at people hailing from the capital. The noun is often preceded by a strengthening adjective such as jävla (bloody), jäkla (damned) or förbannad (accursed). 
 
Stockholmers living and working in a northern Swedish town might find their colleagues jokingly — or perhaps only half-jokingly — berating them with din jävla nollåtta (you bloody Stockholmer). 
 
If a Stockholmer living in the Swedish provinces dares to give any impression that they consider themselves more educated or skilled than the locals, they should expect to find the words typisk nollåtta (typical Stockholmer) snorted behind their backs, in disdain at their perceived arrogance. 
 
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Among Stockholmers themselves, the moniker has however become a source of pride in a case of linguistic reappropriation analogous to reclaiming of the former insult 'queer' by the gay community.
 
Stockholmers living in the regions, or on a visit, might self-mockingly point out some of their big city habits, with the words: “Jag vet, typisk nollåtta“, (I know, typical Stockholmer). 
 
John Falkirk, a Stockholmer working for the Helsingborgs Dagladet newspaper in southern Sweden, even had a column, Nollåttan Testar (the Stockholmer tries things out) in which he tried out stereotypical local things and then wrote about them from his Stockholm perspective. 
 
On August 8, 2008 — or in Swedish dating convention 080808 — Stockholm even held a citywide '08 day' celebration, with dance floors set up outside the City Hall and on Stureplan (as seen in the photograph below) and free breakfast and karaoke in the Stockholm Globe Arena.  
 
Stockholmers celebrate 08-dagen on 8 August 2008. Photo: Erik Abel/TT
 
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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