Swedish word of the day: polkagris

Here's the next word in The Local's Christmas-themed word of the day series, running from December 1st to Christmas Eve.

the word polkagris on a black background beside a swedish flag
Have you eaten many polka pigs this year? Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today’s word describes a festive sweet treat with surprising Swedish origins.

The polkagris is the name of the candy cane: rolls of peppermint flavoured, usually red and white striped candy in the shape of a stick or a hook.

The sweets were invented by Swedish confectioner Amalia Eriksson in the town of Gränna in 1859, and today, as in other countries, they are enjoyed year round as well as being used to decorate Christmas trees. 

The polka in the name comes directly from the dance, polka. 

At the time this fast-paced Slavic dance was a new thing in Scandinavia, and it was used in the name polkagris because of the fast candy-twirling action needed to roll the red and white sections together before the sugar sets to give the stick its distinctive swirls.

As for gris, this literally means “pig”, but was a common slang term for candy or sweets in the 1800s.

You’ll also hear the sweets referred to as polkakäpp, especially when the end is curved round into a hook (to be hung on a tree), from the word käpp meaning “stick”.

This is a more generic term, whereas the polkagris usually refers to sweets made with Eriksson’s precise methods and secret recipe. This was closely guarded, and the first shop making authentic polkagrisar outside Gränna opened as recently as 2011. Today it is also made in the Swedish Candy Factory in California.

And today you can also find a huge variety of flavours of polkagrisar, from the traditional peppermint to the more original apple, mojito, or caramel, to name just a few.

Example sentences:

Polkagrisar med ena änden böjd kallas ofta polkakäppar och kan hängas upp som julpynt

Candy sticks with one end bent are often called candy canes and can be hung up as Christmas decorations

Vita chokladtryfflar med smak av polkagris

White chocolate truffles flavoured with candy cane (peppermint)

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 – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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Swedish word of the day: liga

You may have this word in your native language or recognise it from football leagues such as the German Bundesliga or Spain's La Liga. Liga has a similar meaning in Swedish, too, with one crucial difference.

Swedish word of the day: liga

Liga originally comes from Latin ligāre (“to bind”). In most languages, liga means “league”, a group of individuals, organisations or nations who are united in some way.

Similar words exist in many European languages, such as Dutch, Spanish, Czech and Polish liga, Italian lega, French ligue and Romanian ligă.

A league is almost always something positive or neutral in other languages, but in Swedish a liga is something negative – a criminal gang, with the word ligist referring to a (usually young, male) gang member, thug or hooligan.

Political or diplomatic leagues are usually translated into Swedish as förbund (“union” or “association”) rather than liga: one example is the Swedish term for the League of Nations, Nationernas förbund.

The only exception to this rule is sport, where the popularity of international football leagues such as the Bundesliga and the Premier League has lessened the negative meaning somewhat in this context. Fans of hockey will be familiar with SHL, Svenska hockeyligan, and Sweden’s handball league is referred to as handbollsligan.

The history behind liga’negative meaning in Swedish can be traced back to the Thirty Years’ War, which took place largely within the Holy Roman Empire between 1618 and 1648.

Essentially, the Thirty Years’ War began as a fight between Protestant and Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire, with Catholic states forming the Catholic League and Protestant states forming the Protestant Union.

Sweden was – and still is – Lutheran, meaning that, when they got involved in the war in 1630, their enemies were the Catholic League – or the katolska ligan in Swedish, with its members being referred to as ligister or “league-ists”.

King Gustav II Adolf eventually beat the Catholic League in 1631 at the Battle of Breitenfeld, ultimately leading to the formal dissolution of the league in 1635 in the Peace of Prague, which forbade alliances from forming within the Holy Roman Empire.

Although this may seem like ancient history, Swedes still don’t trust a liga – the word’s negative connotations have survived for almost 400 years.

Swedish vocabulary:

Jag är lite orolig för honom, han har börjat hänga med ett gäng ligister.

I’m a bit worried about him, he’s started hanging out with a group of thugs.

Manchester United har vunnit den engelska ligan flest gånger, men City är mästare just nu.

Manchester United have won the Premier League the most times, but City are the current champions.

De säger att det står en liga bakom det senaste inbrottsvågen.

They’re saying there’s a gang behind the recent spate of break-ins.

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.