Swedish word of the day: haveri

Today's word of the day has led to a debate about Sweden's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

the word haveri written on a blackboard next to the swedish flag
Haveri, a word with an interesting history. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

The second report by the independent Corona Commission, set up by the government last year to investigate Sweden’s pandemic response, described it as a haveri that large-scale testing was initially delayed by discussions between different actors about responsibility and funding.

Outgoing Prime Minister Stefan Löfven took issue with the use of the word haveri, telling Swedish news agency TT in an interview: “Haveri, I think that’s stretching it. It sounds like the entire society collapses, and that’s not true. I think haveri is a strong word.”

This article won’t look at Sweden’s pandemic response, but we will take a closer look at the word haveri itself.

In the original Swedish version of the second report, the Corona Commission writes about the initial testing strategy: “Kommissionen anser att det knappast kan beskrivas som annat än ett haveri att en diskussion om ansvar och finansiering bidrog till att någon storskalig provtagning inte kom till stånd förrän den första vågen var över.”

The official English translation translates haveri as “complete failure” and reads: “The Commission is of the view that it can hardly be described as anything other than a complete failure when a discussion about responsibility and funding was a factor in preventing any large-scale testing getting started until the first wave was over.”

KEY POINTS: The new verdict on Sweden’s coronavirus response

Haveri has a wide range of meanings, including “failure”, “disaster”, “accident” or “train wreck” – both literally and figuratively.

It can be used in Swedish to describe anything from something as serious as a plane crash (indeed, the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority, which is the government body that investigates civil or military accidents and incidents with the aim of improving safety, is called Statens haverikommission in Swedish) to a comparatively less serious computer failure.

“Complete failure” could also be translated as totalt misslyckande in Swedish, which would probably be seen as relatively “softer” than haveri. In any case, it’s an example of how words can’t always be translated verbatim, how they mean different things to different people, even when speaking the same language, and how a disagreement about an issue can often derail to an argument about semantics.

The word haveri has existed in Swedish since at least 1665, and comes from either the Low German haverie, the Dutch haverij, or the French avarie. According to the Swedish Academy’s dictionary, they probably stem from the Arabic awar, meaning “defect”.

Interestingly, the English word “average” also comes from awar. In fact, the word average originally referred to splitting the cost of the financial loss from goods damaged in transit, and only later did it take on its modern meaning of an estimation of a middle value.

One last thing: You may spot the word haveri in the Swedish compound noun rättshaverist and think it refers to someone breaking the law (rätt), but in fact the words are not related at all. Rättshaverist instead comes from the German word Rechthaberei and refers to a querulant, a person who insists on their right even down to minor grievances (rättshaverist in this sense literally means “a right-haver”).


Fartyget har havererat

The ship has broken down

Regeringens bostadspolitik är ett totalt haveri

The government’s housing policies are a complete failure

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.

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​​Swedish word of the day: pyttipanna

This word of the day is a lot of bits of leftovers.

​​Swedish word of the day: pyttipanna

Pyttipanna or pytt i panna is a Swedish dish, but really a Nordic dish, as it exists in Norway (pytt i panne), Denmark (biksemad), and Finland (pyttipannu). The word or words supposedly mean ‘little bits in a pan’. Panna of course is simply ‘pan’ as in ‘frying pan’. But pytt, it seems, is an interesting little word. 

Taken as is, pytt has several meanings: a penis (see pitt), a small person (as in liliputian, lilleputt), a local name for the ‘marsh tit’, which is a little bird, or simply small. But all of those might be wrong. The Swedish Academy actually proposes that the pytt in pyttipanna did not originally mean ‘small’, but that it instead might come from putta, a word that today only means ‘push’, but which has the same root as the English ‘put’ and once also had that meaning. 

This would of course mean that the correct translation into English of pyttipanna is ‘Put in a Pan’! While many refer to it as ‘Swedish Hash’ or ‘Swedish Fry Up, and one could imagine it as ‘Pieces in a Pan’, Jamie Oliver sticks to the actual name pyttipanna when he makes it, and that is the recommended way.

The dish itself is a dish worth tasting for reference, as nearly every Swedish school child will have eaten it, sometimes several times a month, during their entire schooling. The dish is as Swedish as any. And there are fancier variations if you wanna go that way – look for krögarpytt. 

As is often the way with words, people constantly find new and at times even funny uses for them. Pyttipanna is no exception. 

Here you can see Swedish journalist Sara Mitchell-Malm making great use of pyttipanna in the sense of someone being ‘pyttipanna-ed’ or in other word proverbially cut to pieces. The target is British prime minister Liz Truss, and Mitchell-Mann also grabs the opportunity to get a jibe in at the Swedish minister for foreign affairs, Ann Linde.

Translation: ‘Aaah, a whole hour of British local radio journalists making pyttipanna of Liz Truss – the evening shift couldn’t start better. You have to listen, I beg you, she makes Ann Linde on German television seem like a professor of rhetoric.’

What Sara Mitchell-Mann is doing here is replacing the standard slarvsylta, another dish used to say that someone is being shredded by critics or opponents, with pyttipanna. An English language equivalent would be the American ‘making chop suey of someone’. 

Before you ascend to Mitchell-Mann’s Jedi level of pyttipanna use, start by making the dish for your friends. There are many great recipes online. Good luck!

Example sentences:

Gillar ni inte pyttipannan så kommer jag göra pyttipanna av er nästa gång! 

If you don’t like the pyttipanna, I’ll make pyttipanna of you next time!

Pyttipanna eller krögarpytt? Vad är skillnaden?

Pyttipanna or krögarpytt? What’s the difference?

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.