Swedish word of the day: koja

Today's word of the day is the kind of place you want to curl up and hide in on a cold January morning.

the word koja on a black background beside a swedish flag
Want to know how to tell your Swedish friends about that great den you built? Read on. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Our word of the day today is koja, the Swedish word for a small hut or den. The plural of koja is kojor.

Nowadays, the word koja is perhaps most spoken when talking about children, who may enjoy building a koja or playing in a trädkoja – a treehouse. A doghouse is also a form of koja in Sweden, where it is referred to as a hundkoja. Small cars such as Mini Coopers are also sometimes referred to as hundkojor.

In Swedish history, timber workers tasked with log driving – following felled timber as it floated down rivers (known as flottare or “floaters” in Swedish) – would sleep in a flottarkoja, and kolare (charcoal burners) stayed in kolarkojor near charcoal piles, as they required constant maintenance for charcoal production to succeed.

Here’s a song about flottare – listen out for our word of the day in the lyrics:

Koja as a verb can also be used to describe going to bed in Swedish, although this use is slightly outdated. The phrase att krypa till kojs is sometimes used to describe crawling into bed. The “s” at the end of “kojs” here is left over from when Swedish had a genitive case, still seen in certain phrases such as till havs or till sjöss (which can both mean “to sea” or “at sea”) and till sängs (to bed). Swedish no longer has a genitive case – Icelandic is the only Nordic language which has retained this.

The English phrase “from rags to riches” can be translated into Swedish as från koja till slott or “from hut to castle” – which is also the name of an early-2000s TV programme about home makeovers.

The word koja is also seen in other languages with a similar meaning. In many languages, a koja is the term for a cabin, berth or bunk on a ship: German has Koje, Dutch kooi (which can also mean cage) and Russian койка or kójka (also the name for a hospital bed).

Koja in Icelandic is the term for bunk-bed, koda in Estonian is the name for an entrance hallway where shoes and outdoor clothing are removed, and Japanese こや (koya) has almost the same meaning as in Swedish – a small hut or playhouse.

Example sentences:

Oj, vilken fin koja du har byggt!

Wow, what a nice den you’ve built!

Det är alltid trevligt att krypa till kojs efter en lång dag.

It’s always nice to crawl into bed after a long day.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is available to order. Head to 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 word of the day: liga

You may have this word in your native language or recognise it from football leagues such as the German Bundesliga or Spain's La Liga. Liga has a similar meaning in Swedish, too, with one crucial difference.

Swedish word of the day: liga

Liga originally comes from Latin ligāre (“to bind”). In most languages, liga means “league”, a group of individuals, organisations or nations who are united in some way.

Similar words exist in many European languages, such as Dutch, Spanish, Czech and Polish liga, Italian lega, French ligue and Romanian ligă.

A league is almost always something positive or neutral in other languages, but in Swedish a liga is something negative – a criminal gang, with the word ligist referring to a (usually young, male) gang member, thug or hooligan.

Political or diplomatic leagues are usually translated into Swedish as förbund (“union” or “association”) rather than liga: one example is the Swedish term for the League of Nations, Nationernas förbund.

The only exception to this rule is sport, where the popularity of international football leagues such as the Bundesliga and the Premier League has lessened the negative meaning somewhat in this context. Fans of hockey will be familiar with SHL, Svenska hockeyligan, and Sweden’s handball league is referred to as handbollsligan.

The history behind liga’negative meaning in Swedish can be traced back to the Thirty Years’ War, which took place largely within the Holy Roman Empire between 1618 and 1648.

Essentially, the Thirty Years’ War began as a fight between Protestant and Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire, with Catholic states forming the Catholic League and Protestant states forming the Protestant Union.

Sweden was – and still is – Lutheran, meaning that, when they got involved in the war in 1630, their enemies were the Catholic League – or the katolska ligan in Swedish, with its members being referred to as ligister or “league-ists”.

King Gustav II Adolf eventually beat the Catholic League in 1631 at the Battle of Breitenfeld, ultimately leading to the formal dissolution of the league in 1635 in the Peace of Prague, which forbade alliances from forming within the Holy Roman Empire.

Although this may seem like ancient history, Swedes still don’t trust a liga – the word’s negative connotations have survived for almost 400 years.

Swedish vocabulary:

Jag är lite orolig för honom, han har börjat hänga med ett gäng ligister.

I’m a bit worried about him, he’s started hanging out with a group of thugs.

Manchester United har vunnit den engelska ligan flest gånger, men City är mästare just nu.

Manchester United have won the Premier League the most times, but City are the current champions.

De säger att det står en liga bakom det senaste inbrottsvågen.

They’re saying there’s a gang behind the recent spate of break-ins.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.