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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: röra

Today's word of the day has a number of different meanings.

the word röra on a black background by a swedish flag
Who would have thought that such a small word could mean so many different things? Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you’ve been following the recent developments in Swedish politics, you may have seen the political situation described as a “röra”.

In this context, röra refers to a mess, with the adjective being rörigt – messy.

Another topical use of the word röra is in the phrase den rödgröna röran – the red-green mess – originally coined during an election debate in 1994 between then-prime minister, Moderate Carl Bildt and leader of the opposition, Social Democrat Ingvar Carlsson. In essence, the term refers to the fact that compromises between the Social Democrats and the Green Party often end in a röra.

The phrase rödgrön röra is still popular today, with journalist Håkan Boström of newspaper Göteborgs-Posten describing the political situation on Wednesday as En rödgrön röra utan motstycke”, or “An unparalleled red-green mess”.

However, röra has a few other meanings – both as a noun and as a verb.

Firstly, you may have noticed that Swedes love to eat röroryou’ll spot them in supermarkets or restaurants, usually used to describe some kind of dip, spread or sauce.

Hummus, for example, the chickpea-based spread or dip, can be referred to as kikärtsröra – chickpea dip. Guacamole, the avocado-based dip often served with Swedish tacos, can also be referred to as a avokadoröra.

At many Swedish holidays such as Easter, Christmas or Midsummer’s Eve, you’re likely to spot gubbröra on the buffet table – literally translating as “old man dip”, this is a mixture of chopped sprats, boiled eggs, chives and dill.

A classic restaurant dish is Toast Skagen, named after Denmarks northernmost town where the North Sea meets the Baltic, which consists of toasted bread topped with Skagenröra – a spread traditionally made from prawns, mayonnaise and dill, sometimes with the addition of red onion, lemon or fish roe.

Wondering how to order scrambled eggs for breakfast? Ask for äggröra.

Greek tzatziki, Levantine baba ghanoush, Italian pesto and South American chimichurri – yep, you guessed it, all röror.

This comes from the verb, röra, meaning “to mix”. Another meaning of röra can be “to touch”, both in a physical and emotional sense. Returning to politics, Magdalena Andersson stated that she was “väldigt rörd” or “extremely moved” after she was elected as Sweden’s first female prime minister on Wednesday. 

This meaning can also be seen in the word rörelse, meaning “movement” – both a political movement and the physical movement. Two people may also be rörande överens on a subject – meaning that they are entirely in agreement.

Don’t get a röra confused with a rör, though – the first is a dip, the latter is a pipe.

Examples:

Den röriga rörmontören blev rörd till tårar över hennes rörande bra gubbröra.

The messy pipe fitter was moved to tears by her exceptionally good gubbröra.

Jag tappade en hel burk ris på golvet igår och den gick sönder. Vilken röra!

I dropped a whole jar of rice on the floor yesterday and it broke. What a mess!

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.

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

​​Swedish word of the day: fisförnäm

Today’s word is an expression Swedes use when other people think a little too highly of themselves. 

​​Swedish word of the day: fisförnäm

Fisförnäm is a composition of the two words fis, meaning ‘fart’, primarily one with a hissing sound, and förnäm, which means ‘noble, distinguished’. The combination is a slight slur for someone who is ‘stuck up, cocky, or thinks themselves better than others’ but who in actuality is not better at all. Perhaps somewhat comparable to the American expression of ​​’thinking the sun shines out of one’s own arse’ or simply ‘self-important’.

The late linguistics professor Jan Strid once explained fisförnäm on Swedish radio. While doing so he explained that the reason that fis refers to hissing farts is because it most likely has the original meaning of ‘blowing’. Which explains the word askfis, ‘ash fart’, meaning the youngest child which does nothing but sit by the fire blowing into the ashes and getting them all over the face. Then there is the bärfis, the ‘berry fart’, the insect commonly known in English as either shield bug or stink bug. There the word obviously refers to the bad smell produced by the bug. 

The late great professor then went on to explain how fisförnäm has a sibling in struntförnäm which means the same thing. Strunt, which in Swedish means ‘nonsense’, comes from German with the original meaning of ‘dung’, ‘dirt’ or ‘filth’. So struntförnäm in a way means ‘filth noble’ and by extension fisförnäm has the same original meaning: someone who says they are great, but they are really not better at all.

And that is a word that in a way is quintessentially Swedish. Why? Because of Jantelagen

Many of you are surely already familiar with the Law of Jante, but for those of you who are not, Jantelagen, first formalized in a satirical novel by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, is a set of rules or attitudes that many Swedes, Norwegians and Danes supposedly espouse. You might enjoy having a look at celebrated Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård explaining it on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Fisförnäm has been found in print as far back as 1954, some 21 years after the publication of Sandemose’s book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor), in 1933. So it is younger than the formalization of the Law of Jante, but there is probably no connection between the two besides the societal norms both are expressions of. And though the 10 rules of the so called Law of Jante were first expressed in the aforementioned book, the attitudes are much older. 

To think yourself better than others is still somewhat frowned upon in Sweden, even if it is true. If you are familiar with Swedish football history you might have seen this in the Swedish public’s reaction to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s rise to stardom. Some Swedes just could not stand his boisterous attitude, some still can not. But of course, fisförnäm is not applicable to Zlatan, since he is arguably the best Swedish footballer of all time. 

Fisförnäm is an insult, but not a bad one, and might even be used a bit jokingly. You could perhaps try to use it when someone does not want to join an activity that is a bit ridiculous. For reference (and a laugh) you might have a look at when famed Swedish show host Stina Dabrowski asked Margaret Thatcher to do a little skip in place on her show.

Example sentences:

Sluta var så fisförnäm nu, du kan väl va med?

Stop being so self-important, why not join in?

Nä, jag orkar inte följa med dit, de är alla så fisförnäma.

Oh no, I’d rather not go there, they are all so unduly haughty. 

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.

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