These new Swedish words perfectly describe life in the time of corona

Extraordinary and tough circumstances often lead to innovation, and that extends to language too. These ten words might help you articulate your feelings and experiences during the coronavirus better in Swedish.

These new Swedish words perfectly describe life in the time of corona
People sit a distance from each other on a jetty in Stockholm on Tuesday. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The coronavirus crisis has forced us to expand our vocabularies, not only by learning new scientific and medical words (here's a list of the words that will help you understand Swedish news coverage) but also by the need to invent new words to reflect a new reality.

Several neologisms have popped up in Swedish news and on social media to describe the ways our lives have changed.

Coronatider | The time of coronavirus

If you know any Swedish at all, you've probably figured out that the Swedes are big fans of compound words, created by combing several other words together. You can add corona as a prefix to plenty of words, from coronaskägg (coronavirus beard, or facial hair grown during self-isolation) to coronarenovering (coronavirus renovations, or the DIY work you carry out at home).

But by far the most common is coronatider, which could be translated as 'the time of coronavirus' or 'the coronavirus era'. Look out for the ubiquitous phrase i dessa coronatider (in these times of coronavirus), inserted into plenty of information leaflets and news articles.

Corontän | Coronavirus quarantine

Combining the words corona and karantän (quarantine), this can be used to talk about either obligatory quarantines due to the virus, or self-imposed isolation for those who have symptoms or suspect they have been exposed to coronavirus. 

In Sweden there is no official rule about quarantining, but anyone who develops cold- or flu-like symptoms should stay at home until they have been symptom-free for at least two days. The World Health Organisation advises a self-quarantine of 14 days if someone else in your household has symptoms, even if you are healthy.

Folkhälsonationalism | Nationalism based around the Swedish coronavirus strategy

Sweden's coronavirus strategy has been led by the Public Health Agency, and has received international attention due to the lack of any enforced lockdown. Folkhälsonationalism describes nationalistic loyalty towards the Swedish approach; an attitude where people defend the agency against any criticism. 

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell (centre on stage) has become the figurehead for the national strategy. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

Coronanera | To masturbate during the coronavirus outbreak

This portmanteau of coronavirus and onanera (to masturbate) was coined by journalist Jenny Lindh, in her words, “for quarantine-related sexual frustration”.

Hobbyepidemiolog | Armchair epidemiologist

We all know one, or have interacted with them on social media; people who have developed strong opinions on epidemiology even if they didn't know what the word meant a few months earlier.

This word can be used pejoratively to emphasise someone's lack of expertise, but it doesn't have to be entirely negative. It's not a completely new word and was recorded in Swedish at least as early as 2017, but unsurprisingly it has recently become a lot more widely used.

Karanträna | To work out during increased time at home

A mix of karantän and träna (to work out), this verb describes any at-home exercise you might be doing, either via a gym's online session, through workout videos, or other improvised training. The idea might be to avoid karantänkilon (quarantine-kilo, or the weight you put on due to stress and increased time at home), or simply to maintain good physical and mental health.

In Sweden there is no limit on how often you can go outside for exercise however, and gyms remain open with increased hygiene routines in place. But a lot of organised sports, especially contact sports, have been cancelled for the spring and summer. 

Tvåmetersregel | Two-metre rule

The two-metre rule refers to the distance you should keep from others in public, and the noun has been used in adverts from the 1177 healthcare service among others. In Sweden, it's an unofficial rule, with the Public Health Agency simply advising that people keep a safe distance from others in public spaces, but the guideline from many international agencies and 1177 is to stick to a two-metre distance as often as possible.

People in Sweden can leave their homes, as often as they like, but should keep distance from others in public places. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Stugskam | Shame linked to travelling to a summer cabin despite recommendations to avoid travel

Yep, this one definitely sounds catchier in Swedish. Sweden has now eased its restrictions on domestic travel, but there was long repeated guidance to avoid travelling to rural areas, especially during public holidays, because of the risk of bringing the infection from hard-hit larger cities and overloading healthcare in these less densely populated areas. But without any enforcement, some people took the journey anyway.

An alternative is fjällskam, literally 'mountain shame', due to the advice to avoid travel to rural tourist locations. Both words are an adaptation of flygskam (flight shame), which officially entered the Swedish language in 2018 to describe embarrassment over frequent flying due to the climate impact.

Hostskam | Shame of coughing

Along similar lines, hostskam is the sensation you might feel when caught coughing in public. Anyone with any symptoms of cold or flu is supposed to stay at home, but if you suffer from seasonal allergies this could be a tough one to avoid.

Covidiot | People who behave recklessly and in violation of coronavirus restrictions

This word first showed up in the English language, but Swedish speakers use plenty of loan words so it didn't take long to be transferred to Swedish (with the emphasis on the final 'ot', and the Swedified plural covidioter). It refers to people who break the guidance in place to reduce spread of infection. To transform it into an adjective, it's covidiotisk. Example sentence: Vilka covidioter! (What covidiots!)

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​​Swedish word of the day: riksdag

When you meet for a diet in the realm.

​​Swedish word of the day: riksdag

Riksdagen is the Swedish parliament, you will find its cognates in the old Danish term for their parliament, rigsdagen, although they now use the term folketing, and in German, the Reichstag

Riks– is from rike, which means ‘realm’ or in other words ‘kingdom’ as in kungarike. Svensk ordbok, the Swedish dictionary published by the Swedish Academy, tells us that rike is attested as far back as the 11th century on rune stones, that it is of Celtic origin, and that it is related to rik, the Swedish word for ‘rich’. It is believed to be of the same origin as rex in Latin, meaning king. Which should make kungarike a pleonasm, a redundancy, though hardly anyone will know that rike has this origin.

For comparison, ‘realm’ in English is from the Old French reaume, which in modern French is royaume, meaning ‘kingdom’. This is also from roy meaning ‘king’ which ultimately derives from the Latin rex, also meaning ‘king’. The kicker here is that Old Celtic languages and Latin were fairly closely related, some argue this is the reason they were easily replaced by Latin when the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic-speaking peoples. 

The -dag part of riksdag means ‘day’, but there is more to this word in this context, meaning an ‘appointed day’ or ‘gathering’. In English you can find a similar word in ’diet’. Howso, you ask? 

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Well, ‘diet’ goes back through Old French to the Latin diaeta, which could mean ‘a public assembly’, ‘a set day of trial’ or ‘a day’s journey’. That in turn derived from the Ancient Greek δῐ́αιτα meaning ‘way of living’ or ‘living space’ or ‘decision/judgement’. Which somehow was influenced by the Latin diēs, meaning ‘day’ – things get complicated at times in etymology it seems. Going to the riksdag then is going to the ‘diet of the realm’.

The word riksdag is borrowed from the German Reichstag, though the traditional Germanic term for these meetings or governing assemblies was a ting (as in the Danish folketing, mentioned above). We also touched on this in our möte word of the day article.

Sveriges riksdag, as you may well know, is the legislature and supreme decision-making body of the Kingdom of Sweden. You can visit the riksdag at Riksdagshuset on Helgeandsholmen in Stockholm, where you can watch debates or attend a guided tour. 

So, next time your friend tells you about their new diet, you can tell them all about the etymology of the name of the Swedish parliament. Have a good weekend!

Example sentences:

Vet du varför man har ordet ‘dag’ i riksdag?

Do you know why they use the word ‘dag’ in ‘riksdag’?

Vill du följa med mig till riksdagen?

Do you wanna tag along to the Swedish parliament? 

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.