Swedish word of the day: snögubbe

the word snögubbe on a black background beside a swedish flag
Do you want to build a snowman? Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Here's the third word in The Local's Christmas-themed word of the day series, running from December 1st to Christmas Eve.

Today’s wintery word of the day is snögubbe, the Swedish word for snowman.

If you’ve spent a lot of time in Sweden, you will probably have come across the word gubbe before, usually used as an affectionate – or derogatory, depending on the context – word for “old man”, which makes a snögubbe a “snow old man”.

According to the Swedish Academy’s dictionary, the word snögubbe has existed in Swedish since 1804.

And it’s an important word. In some areas of Sweden, like northern Swedish town Kiruna, snögubbar aren’t just a winter phenomenon, and you might even have a chance to build one well into the summer if the weather is on your side.

A traditional snögubbe is usually made of kramsnö, soft snow which has the perfect consistency for rolling snowballs. This kramsnö is then rolled into two or three large snöbollar (snowballs) stacked on top of one another, with a morot (carrot) for a nose, and pinnar (sticks) for hands.

One popular snögubbe among Swedish children is Olaf from the Disney film Frozen (Frost in Swedish), although the earworm “Do you want to build a snowman?” is translated as “Vill du inte ut och leka?” (Don’t you want to come out and play?) in the Swedish version of the film – apologies in advance for getting this song stuck in your head all day.

British readers may also remember the children’s book The Snowman from 1978, about a boy who builds a magical snowman who comes to life. This book, and the film adaptation released a few years later, is still popular in Sweden, where you can find it in bookshops under the name Snögubben – a great gift idea for any Swedish-speaking children in your life.

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See also on The Local:

Example sentences:

Vill du ut och bygga snögubbar?

Do you want to go outside and build snowmen?

Vi gjorde en snögubbe med barnen i går, men den har redan börjat smälta nu.

We made a snowman with the kids yesterday but it’s already started melting now.

Need a good Christmas gift idea? 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 – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.


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