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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Readers reveal: This is the best word in the Swedish language

What's the best word in the Swedish language, according to English-speakers? We let The Local's readers vote, and here's what they said.

Readers reveal: This is the best word in the Swedish language
Perhaps they're saying this word to each other? Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

First, readers nominated their favourite Swedish words on Facebook, Twitter and via a survey on The Local. Our editorial team then compiled a shortlist of ten words, based on the number of nominations the word received and our own decision whenever a tiebreaker was needed.

To pick the final winner, readers were given the chance to upvote their favourite word in a poll of the shortlist of ten. We received more than 2,700 upvotes (although it would have been possible for one person to vote several times via different devices or by opening their browser in private mode).

And the winner is: Tjena.

Pronounced a bit like shay-nah, tjena is one of those words that allows you to level up your Swedish and fake fluency when greeting someone. It is a more casual and familiar word for hej ('hello'), but works in almost all situations with perhaps the exception of meeting in-laws or a new boss for the first time.

“The sound has a touch of dearness, when I hear this word my heart smiles,” said The Local's reader Jyothi Pala from India, who was among those who nominated tjena to the competition.

While seen as an informal greeting today, tjena actually has a more interesting history than you think, and can be traced back to the 18th century as the phrase mjuka tjänare ('humble servant').

The runner-up in the competition perhaps comes as not much of a surprise: lagom.

Meaning 'not too much, not too little', lagom is one of the few Swedish words most non-Swedish speakers have heard of. You may have tired of it as buzzword that signifies the laidback Swedish lifestyle and the oft-cited claim that it is untranslatable (one of The Local's writers disagrees), but clearly it still has plenty of fans. Mulana from Indonesia, one of the many readers who nominated it, wrote: “It is a good way of thinking that we are equal with others. And we are no more special than others. It makes us respect others.”

Rounding off the top three is ö, one of the shortest words in the Swedish dictionary.

Ö means 'island'. “It's one letter long but because Sweden has lots of water bodies and thus islands, you see ö everywhere,” wrote Robin Joseph from India, who was one of several who nominated the word.

Many thanks to everyone who took part. Here are the full results:

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: tacofredag

Today’s word is a modern Swedish national tradition.

Swedish word of the day: tacofredag

Tacofredag simply means ‘Taco Friday’.

If you have been living in Sweden for a while you might be familiar with the concept of att mysa, ‘to get cozy’. If you are not, the number one mys-day is Friday, fredagsmys, or “Cozy Friday”, which we have previously covered. Fredagsmys has become somewhat of a modern national tradition, where the idea is to stay at home, watch a movie, have a chill and nice time together while eating fast food.

And the fast food of choice for fredagsmys is tacos, Tex-Mex style tacos, but with a Swedish twist. You might have seen the large taco section in your local supermarket and wondered. This is why it is so large.

Here’s the story behind it. Around 1990 Sweden was reemerging out of a financial crisis. Swedes were increasingly willing to spend again, and television advertising, which was illegal on cable based broadcast, was becoming a thing through satellite broadcasts from the UK. Somewhere around this time the idea of fredagsmys was born. To sit at home, eating easy to make food while watching television.  

Though crips company OLW was the major populariser of the phenomenon of fredagsmys through a series of popular adverts that started in 2009, the big winners of the new cultural phenomenon were the tex-mex producers Old El Paso and Santa Maria (which even changed its name from Nordfalks due to the success of its tex-mex products). 

Through in store demonstrations of how to assemble the tacos, and a series of advertising campaigns, tex-mex sales grew from 70 million to 1,2 billion SEK over 20 years from 1991-2011. In 2014 Santa Maria released a statement containing statistics from a survey which showed that 85 percent of Swedes eat Tex Mex regularly, and that 55 percent of them do it on Fridays. Though that survey was done on only 1000 people, it still gives an inkling of the popularity of the phenomenon.

So what are the essentially Swedish ingredients on tacofredag? Cucumber, pineapple, yoghurt sauces, canned corn and even peanuts. These are also things that you might find on Swedish pizzas such as the Africana or the Hawaii, or even the odd Kebab Pizza (another Swedish take on imported food). 

As you can see, tacofredag is a widely appreciated and, due to its twists, quintessentially Swedish modern tradition. Invite your friends over for tacofredag instead of Taco Tuesday, and don’t forget to include the Swedish ingredients. It will certainly be appreciated.

Example sentences:

Vi tänkte ha tacofredag till helgen, vill ni komma?

We’re having Taco Friday this weekend, you wanna come?

Åh, jag älskar tacofredag!

Oh, I love Taco Fridays!

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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