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SWEDISH LANGUAGE

Our top picks of the 36 ‘new’ words that defined Sweden in 2021

A new list of the 36 words that defined Swedish society this year have been unveiled. Unsurprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic dominated Swedish discourse in 2021.

a child playing with letters of the alphabet
Which of the Swedish words below is your favourite? Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

At the end of every year, the Swedish Language Council and language magazine Språktidningen choose a selection of words that became part of daily conversation over the last 12 months. 

Although it’s called “the new word list,” the words aren’t always completely brand new, and quite a few of the words are English loans.

This year, 36 words made the list, with most having something to do with the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic or the climate crisis. Here are The Local’s 10 favourites: 

Coronabubbla

One of the government’s main recommendations during the pandemic was to keep a distance from others and avoid spending time with people from different households. This meant people had to choose who would be in the tight circle of friends and family they could spend time with, or their “corona bubble”.  

Kommer du att vara i min coronabubbla? – Will you be in my corona bubble?

Coronahund

Did you get a dog this year? You’re not alone. According to the Swedish Kennel Club, the number of registered dogs in Sweden increased by 11 percent in 2020. But a dog is for life, not just the pandemic. As people head back to working from an office, kennels are struggling to keep up with demand. 

Han är min coronahund – He’s my corona dog

Domedagsskrollande

Bad news sells, and there’s been no end to the bad news in the last few years. We can’t stop ourselves from scrolling through negative news, mainly via social media. In English, we’ve taken to calling this doom scrolling. In Sweden it’s been called “doomsday scrolling”. 

Jag kan inte sluta mitt domedagsskrollande – I can’t stop my doom scrolling

Fono 

Remember when FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) was the new word one everyone’s lips? Well, now it’s FONO. Rather than missing out, it’s a Fear Of Normality that people are struggling with, if we ever return to more normal circumstances. 

Jag kan inte gå tillbaka till jobbet, jag har fono – I can’t go back to work, I have FONO

Gangfluencer

“If the gangsters of old were careful to keep a low profile, today’s criminals belong to a different school,” wrote Swedish magazine Allas in May. “They flash their money, expensive watches and designer clothes on social media and post stories from exclusive holiday trips.”

Gangfluencers lyxlivstilar finansieras av illegala aktiviteter  – Gangfluencers’ luxury lifestyles are funded by illegal activities

Generation corona

While it’s older people whose health has been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, “Generation C” is increasingly defined by crises. Young people are reporting that they’re struggling with mental health and motivation for online learning. Those born after 1999 are coming of age in the midst of an unprecedented crisis and it’s their education and job prospects that are suffering. 

Det är en tuff tid för generation C / generation corona – It’s a tough time for generation C

Metaversum

The metaverse is a virtual reality where all digital content exists in an infinite multidimensional space. The word metaverse was coined in 1992 by American author Neal Stephenson in the novel Snow Crash. Today it looks more like online giants such as Facebook – newly renamed “Meta” – ruling over the entire internet. 

Jag vill inte vara med i Mark Zuckerbergs metaversum! – I don’t want to be in Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse!

Snällvägg

A nice news word! Växjö is among the growing number of cities that have a “nice wall” where you can give away winter clothes that you no longer need and pick up a coat if you need one. According to Språktidningen, the word is a translation loan from Persian ‘dīvār-e mehrabānī. The phenomenon originated in Iran in 2015 and has since spread around the world.

Jag skänker min gamla jacka till snällväggen – I’m donating my old jacket to the nice wall

Spökkök

This translates to “ghost kitchen”. It’s not that kitchens took Halloween extra seriously this year, but during the pandemic, famous restaurants relocated from city centres to offer take-away menus closer to where people live. People have been eating out less and taking away more, so kitchens are becoming quieter, and spookier.  

Det har förvandlats till ett spökkök – It’s turned into a ghost kitchen

Återförvildande

This is the Swedish word for “rewilding”; restoring nature to its so-called original state, before it was affected by human activity. But what that looks like remains to be decided.  

Vi borde återförvilda landsbygden – We should rewild the countryside

Here is the full list of this year’s 36 new words (in Swedish).

Do you want to learn more Swedish words? 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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SWEDISH LANGUAGE

What irritates Swedes the most about the Swedish language?

A new study shows that more than one in five Swedes is irritated by the pronoun "hen", and the same number can't stand it when compound words are split up. Here's a rundown of the main offenders.

What irritates Swedes the most about the Swedish language?

One in five Swedes dislike the gender-neutral pronoun hen

In the study, carried out by Novus on behalf of language magazine Språktidningen, 22 percent of Swedes said that the pronoun hen was the most irritating aspect of the Swedish language. 

The first reported use of the gender-neutral pronoun, to be used instead of han (he) or hon (she), was in the 1950s, when it was used by language professor Karl-Hampus Dahlstedt, but it didn’t appear in writing until linguist Rolf Dunås wrote a newspaper article in 1966 proposing the introduction of the new pronoun.

After that, use of the pronoun was mostly limited to those within the LGBT community until 2012, when a children’s book sparked debate and media attention thanks to the exclusive use of hen to refer to its characters.

In 2015, hen entered the Swedish dictionary, a move which made it more difficult for critics to argue that it wasn’t an established or accepted alternative to han or hon.

As Språktidningen’s editor-in-chief Anders Svensson points out in this article, the pronoun hen has had an ideological and political dimension since debate took off in 2012, and this is still clearly visible today.

Although 22 percent of the survey’s respondents listed hen as the most irritating aspect of the Swedish language, this number rose to a whopping 50 percent amongst respondents who identified with the Sweden Democrats.

On the other side of the political spectrum, those sympathising with the Left Party, the Greens, the Liberals or the Centre Party were least likely to find hen irritating, with a mere 5 to 7 percent of these groups putting it in first place.

Torbjörn Sjöström, CEO of polling company Novus, told Språktidningen that these results didn’t surprise him.

“The fact that hen is irritating for Sweden Democrat sympathisers more than others is not surprising. People join that party because they want things to be like they were in the past. A new word which is gender-neutral symbolises a lot of the developments these people are against,” he explained.

One in five against särskrivning

The same amount, 22 percent, stated that särskrivningar – writing compound words incorrectly as two separate words – annoyed them the most.

This may sound like a minor error, but särskrivningar (literally: “separate writing”) can lead to major misunderstandings. Just look at these amusing examples of särskrivning gone wrong:

En rödhårig kvinna: “a red-haired woman”

En röd hårig kvinna: a red, hairy woman

Kassapersonalen: “checkout workers”

Kassa personalen: “useless employees”

Barnunderkläder: “children’s underwear”

Barn under kläder: “child under clothes”

In contrast to debates over the use of the word hen, debates over särskrivning have raged since the 1800s, where they were often considered to be major mistakes if featured in a text. One reason for this, Svensson notes, is that order in itself was seen as beautiful at this time.

Maria Bylin, language advisor at the Swedish Language Council (Språkrådet), told Språktidningen that she recognises this argument in modern debate on särskrivningar.

“You associate developments in the language with the country and with society,” she explained. “So whatever changes you can see in the language, you think it will happen in society, too.”

One popular scapegoat for this increase in särskrivning is the influence of English on the Swedish language. In English, we have fewer compound words than in Swedish, although they do still exist: a few examples are postbox, doorknob and blackberry. It is, however, harder to form compounds than in Swedish.

To return to the examples above, it would look strange to write “redhairedgirl”, “checkoutworker” or “childrensunderwear” as compounds in English.

So, is the rise of English to blame for mistakes in Swedish? Not according to linguist Katharina Hallencreutz, who noted when studying high school students’ English essays that they had no issues writing English compound loan words such as makeup or popcorn. 

This also wouldn’t explain the large amount of särskrivningar seen in historical texts in Sweden: they feature heavily in laws dating back to the 1200s, as well as Gustav Vasa’s Swedish bible translation, which was published in 1541.

One surprising result of the survey was the fact that young people were more likely than older people to find särskrivningar irritating:

“That surprised me a bit,” Svensson told public broadcaster SVT. “Often you hear the argument that older people think young people write carelessly and särskriver too much.”

Svensson wasn’t sure why this was, but did have a theory: “I suppose those who have recently finished school – most of them have learnt when words should be written as one word, and when they should be separate,” he told SVT.

English loanwords

The influence of English on the Swedish language was a major bugbear for a number of respondents, though. As many as 15 percent of those in Novus’ survey answered that “unnecessary English loanwords” were the most irritating thing about modern Swedish.

English loanwords were most irritating amongst Swedes over 65, where 29 percent stated they were the number one source of irritation, a number which was much lower in other age groups.

Lena Lind Palicki, a Swedish lecturer at Stockholm University, said that this could be to do with comprehensibility. She noted that irritation over English loanwords was especially high amongst older respondents who had left school at 16.

“We can assume that these people have a lower level of English, and then it’s a democratic problem, if English loanwords are used which can be difficult for many people to understand,” she told Språktidningen.

Palicki can’t imagine that English will remain as large a source of annoyance in the future as it is now, though.

“The irritation over English loanwords may have gone out of date in twenty years. Today’s youth will not start to be irritated by the same things as today’s elderly, but they’ll probably start making a symbolic issue of things they struggle with in school today,” she told the magazine.

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