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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: sköldpadda

Today's word of the day is a great example of Sweden's more literal way of naming animals.

the word sköldpadda on a black background beside a swedish flag
Today's word of the day is less about the word, and more about what it says about how Swedes name animals. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Sköldpadda is the Swedish word for turtle, also used for the turtle’s non-amphibious cousin, a tortoise.

But why have we chosen to highlight this as the Swedish word of the day today?

The answer is simple, sköldpadda is not only a great word in its own right, but it also demonstrates the Swedish language’s more literal way of naming animals, when compared with English.

The literal translation of sköldpadda is “shield toad”, which is a pretty accurate description of a tortoise’s appearance.

Other entertaining – and very literal – Swedish animal names include näbbdjur or “beaked animal” for a duck-billed platypus, and fladdermus or “flap mouse” for a bat.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that superhero Batman is known as fladdermusmannen – “flap mouse man” in Swedish – but his original Swedish name – used between 1951 and 1990 was läderlappen or “leather patch”, the Swedish name for a type of bat known as a Vesper bat in English.

The Swedish word for sloth is sengångare, or “late-walker”, reflecting this animal’s relaxed attitude to getting anywhere fast – some sloths move so slowly that green moss has been known to grow in their fur.

Similarly, a bältdjur – “belted animal” – is the Swedish term for an armadillo – although, the English word – originally from Spanish, meaning “small armoured animal” – is also pretty literal.

Another Nordic animal with a literal name is an isbjörn or an “ice bear” – a slightly more literal translation than English’s “polar bear”.

Visitors to aquariums may have come across a bläckfisk or “ink fish” – a squid, or even an åttaarmade bläckfisk – an “eight-armed ink fish” or octopus.

A noshörning or “nose-horn” is the Swedish word for a rhinocerous, and a flodhäst or “river horse” is a hippopotamus – although technically these animals’ English names are also literal descriptions – English just never got around to translating them from ancient Greek, where hippos means “horse”, and potamós means “river”. Similarly, the original Greek rhinokerōcomes from rhis “nose” and keras, “horn”.

Are there any literal Swedish animal names we’ve missed? Let us know!

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 USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

Member comments

  1. Sköldpadda along with Arbetsförmedlingen are my two favourite words. I love the sound of them, the complexity of them (from someone learning Swedish from an English background) and i love Swedish compound words. I mean, how long is too long for a word? 🤷‍♂️

    Thanks for a great article Becky

  2. Many thanks Becky + colleagues for the Word of the Day articles. Always interesting. Here’s a few more zoology words:

    tusenfoting – thousand feet/footed (used for both centipede and millipede)
    nattfjäril – night butterfly (moth)
    fjärilslarv – butterfly larva (caterpillar)
    nötskrika – nut screech (?!) (jay)
    vattenödla – water lizard (newt)

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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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