Swedish word of the day: mula

the word mula on a black background by a swedish flag
Here's a word for next time you're caught in a snowball fight with a bunch of kids. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Here's the next word in The Local's Christmas-themed word of the day series, running from December 1st to Christmas Eve.

Today’s word of the day is mula – a word you are unlikely to hear unless you regularly hang out with young Swedes.

There’s a long-standing linguistic saying that Inuits have 50 different words for snow – the truth of this phrase is debatable, but what can be said for certain is that Swedes have lots of different words for mula.

Mula does not have a direct English translation – it is best described as the act of rubbing snow into someone else’s face. It is also the Swedish word for a mule (the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey) but this article will discuss the former definition.

In a questionnaire carried out in 2006 by Språket – a language programme from Sveriges Radio, Sweden’s public service radio station – reporters discovered that Swedes have 95 different words for the act of rubbing snow into someone’s face.

Of the 6,000 respondents to the questionnaire, a clear majority answered that they use the word mula when describing this action, although there still were clear regional differences in other words for mula.

Gotland – Sweden’s largest island, lying to the east of the Swedish mainland – is one outlier, where respondents were more likely to say bryna than mula. Värmland, in west central Sweden, is another outlier, with the majority of respondents there most likely to say kryna.

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See also on The Local:

Other popular alternatives to mula were purra and pula, as well as some less common, but entertaining words such as snötvätta (snow wash), snöbada (snow bathe), snödoppa (snow dip) and snödöpa (snow baptise).

Swedish-speakers in the Finnish regions of Uusimaa (Nyland in Swedish) and Ostrobothnia (Österbotten in Swedish, Pohjanmaa in Finnish), also use the word pesa – a Swedified version of the Finnish word for “wash”, pestä. 

There you have it – mula – the word you never realised was missing from your snow vocabulary.

Example sentences:

Vill du leka snöbollskrig med oss? Nej, ni kommer bara mula mig!

Do you want to have a snowball fight with us? No, you’re just going to rub snow in my face!

Tror du det fanns en mula i stallet när Jesus föddes?

Do you think there was a mule in the stable when Jesus was born?

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 USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.


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