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CHRISTMAS

Ten essential words that explain Christmas in Sweden

'Tis the season to be jolly and brush up on your Swedish vocabulary with a whole bunch of new words to describe the festive season.

Ten essential words that explain Christmas in Sweden
Learning a new language is almost as exciting as Christmas. Photo: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se

Jul

The festive season is well and truly upon us, so what better time to take a look at the Swedish word for Christmas? Click here to read more

Julklapp

Our early Christmas gift to you is this festive word: en julklapp means 'a Christmas present'. Click here to read more

Snapsvisa

With just a few days to go until Christmas, this Swedish word will help you navigate your next julbord or Christmas party. Click here to read more

Prinskorv

This is one of the key players in the julbord buffet. But what's so princely about these small savoury snacks, and where does the word come from in the first place? Click here to read more

Pumla

This is a festive Swedish word that might just spark a lively debate around the julbord. Click here to read more

Uppesittarkväll

Did you know that the Swedes have a special name for the night before the night before Christmas? Click here to read more

Jultomte

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, Swedish-learners were wondering, 'where does the word jultomte come from, anyway?' Click here to read more

Annandag jul

On the second day of Christmas, The Local gave to you, the story behind the Swedish word for the second day of Christmas. Click here to read more

Mellandagar

You know those odd few days between Christmas and New Year when time seems to lose all meaning and your diet consists mainly of Christmas leftovers and chocolate? In Swedish, there's a word for them. Click here to read more

Glögg

It's fun to say, and more fun to drink. Click here to read more

We hope you enjoyed this collection of some of the Christmassy words from our Swedish Word of the Day series. To learn more phrases to help you survive the holidays, here's another handy article.

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: bamba

Not a dance, but a place where kids eat.

Swedish word of the day: bamba

Sveriges framsida, the frontside of Sweden, as many call Gothenburg, is a place known to have been voted Sweden’s best city, is one of the most sustainable cities in the world, and also the place with Sweden’s sexiest dialect.

Admittedly, I am from Gothenburg, so I may be biased, but I will tell you that sexy as the dialect may be (and I have been told that it is plenty of times), once in a while, like anyone from any region I imagine, I say a word that makes everyone stop and go, “What is he talking about?” This is one of those words. 

The word is used to designate a school dining hall, but apparently researchers have uncovered no provable origin for the word.

On Dialektbloggen, ‘The Dialect Blog’ of the Swedish Institute for Language and Folklore (Institutet för språk och folkminnen), Jenny Nilsson, a research archivist in Gothenburg, explains that the origin is not clear and that the term was probably invented by schoolchildren. People tend to assume that it is a contraction of the word barnbespisning, where barn means ‘child’ and bespisning can either mean ‘the act of feeding’ (usually on a larger scale) or ‘a dining hall’. 

The Swedish Academy also offers this explanation, where the entry for bamba reads: ‘attested since 1957; short form for barnbespisning’.

Jenny Nilsson further makes the point that Gothenburgers traditionally pronounce ‘rn’ as ‘n’, and that an ‘n’ before a ‘b’ in a word easily becomes an ‘m’ in the mouth. Which could then give us bamba.

Nilsson further writes that the date of origin of the word is also unclear, though it is attested since at least the 1950s. At the time, bamba was probably mainly used in Gothenburg, but after that it spread throughout the region, though the latest investigation into the matter seems to indicate that it is now receding back to Gothenburg. 

In an odd twist, news site Nyheter24 interviews the linguist Rune Westerlund who lives in Luleå on the topic of bamba. He explains that the word is also used in northern Kiruna, a town in the very very far north of Sweden. According to Westerblad it was also at one point used in his hometown of Luleå, which is about 270km southeast of Kiruna, though still in the far north of Sweden (it is a big place). The most logical explanation for this is influential immigrants from Gothenburg, according to Westerlund. 

Nyheter24 also includes another theory on the origin of the word, that bamba has a military connection. The ladies serving the food in the dining halls of the time were well known to have “a predilection for straight queue lines, strict controls on food intake, no running and fussing, and letting the food silence the mouth.”

Combining this ‘military atmosphere’ with Gothenburg’s well known penchant for puns, and BArnMatsBespisningsAnläggning, roughly ‘Children’s Food Feeding Facility’, could easily become bamba. That penchant for puns even has a name, it is called göteborgshumor, ‘Gothenburg humour.’

But alas, the mystery remains. 

The one lesson one can draw from this, if any, is to not go asking where you can find the bamba in any city but Gothenburg, or I suppose northern Kiruna, or you might find yourself dancing the night away to latin rock. 

Do you have any friends from Gothenburg? Ask them their favourite food they ate in bamba and if they can think of any other dialectal words from Gothenburg.

Ha det gött! 

Example sentences:

Vad serverar dom i bamban idag?

What are they serving in the dining hall today?

Man dansar inte här grabben! Vadå, är inte det här la bamba?

You don’t dance here, kiddo! What do you mean, is this not la bamba? 

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 US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.

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