Swedish word of the day: slarva

Here's how to tell your partner they've done a bad job of the washing up.

the word slarv on a black background by a Swedish flag
Probably best not to go around calling people a slarv/slarva unless you know them well. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

The Swedish verb slarva can be roughly translated as “to be careless”.

When used with the preposition bort (“away”), in the phrase att slarva bort, it can mean “to lose something out of carelessness”. Incompetent police can, for example, slarva bort important evidence, or a person can be accused of att slarva bort sitt liv (“wasting their life”).

A football team might slarva bort en poäng (“throw away a point”) to another team in an important match, or someone may slarva bort pengar (“throw away their money”) if they do not have control of their spending.

A person can also slarva sig igenom something – att slarva sig igenom en kurs, for example, would describe someone managing to complete a course despite acting carelessly, messily or generally not really trying. Similarly, att slarva ihop something, would describe putting something together or achieving something despite being incompetent or not trying.

Slarva can also be used to describe carelessness in a moral sense, not just an untidy or unhygienic sense. You could be accused of att slarva med sprit (“being careless with alcohol”) if you spend too much time drinking, or if you stay out partying for too long.

Similarly, in times where it was looked down upon to have too many sexual relationships – particularly for women – a woman seen as being ‘loose’ or ‘easy’ could be referred to as a slarva – roughly translated as “slut”.

Nowadays, women can still be referred to as a slarva or slarvmaja (“messy Maja” – Maja being a common Swedish female first name), although this usually refers to them acting carelessly, or being messy or unhygienic, rather than who they sleep with. The male version of this is slarver.

Att slarva med kvinnorna (“being careless with women”) was used in the past to describe a man who had sex with lots of women (in a time where monogamy was the norm), or, nowadays, may describe a man having an affair with someone else despite being in a relationship.

slarva can also be used to mean a cloth or rag, usually one which is a bit tired and worn out.

The adjective form of slarva is slarvigt, which may be used disparagingly to describe something, often a job, which has been done badly – a good English translation is “botched”.

Example sentences:

Jag har sagt åt dig fyra gångar att städa ditt rum, din slarvmaja!

I’ve told you four times to clean your room, you messy Maja!

Vi beställde ett nytt kök men det var så slarvigt gjort att de ska riva ut och göra om det.

We ordered a new kitchen but it was such a botched job that they’re going to tear it out and do it again.

Hoppas inte jag har slarvat med den här artikeln.

I hope I haven’t done a bad job of this article.

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.