Swedish word of the day: gnälla

Today's word of the day is gnälla, which can be translated in to English as "whinge" or "whine".

Swedish word of the day: gnälla
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Someone who whines a lot could be referred to as a gnällspik (“whine nail”), a gnällpipa (“whine pipe”) a gnällmåns (“whine Måns”), or even a gnällisa (“whine Lisa”), with Måns and Lisa being common male and female Swedish names, respectively.

You may also hear dogs and children accused of att gnälla, especially young children and dogs whining because they want something.

Gnällbältet (“whine belt”) is an informal term often used to refer to the area of Sweden regarded to have a “whiny” or gnällig dialect, due to their use of the “schwa” sound, a vowel sound produced when the mouth is completely relaxed. This sound is pronounced like “uh”, and is found in the “a” in ‘about’ and the “e” in “dinner”.

The dialect of people in the gnällbälte uses this “schwa” after certain vowels, leading speakers of this dialect to sound like they are complaining or whining.

The gnällbält is situated in the middle of Sweden, near the cities of Eskilstuna and Örebro, west of Stockholm. According to Fredrik Lindström, presenter for language documentary Svenska dialektmysterier, the gnällbälte stretches from Laxå in Örebro county, to Kjula in Eskilstuna county. Lindström, coincidentally, comes from Eskilstuna.

People from Eskilstuna usually claim that those from Örebro are more whiny, whereas those from Örebro usually say the same about people from Eskilstuna.

The location of the gnällbälte according to Lindström. Photo: User: Kigsz/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0

In Svenska dialektmysterier, Lindström presents his theory for why people in the gnällbält sound so whiny.

According to his theory, the gnällig dialect can be traced back to a period where two rival tribes, the svear (Swedes) and the götar (Goths) lived in Sweden, with the svear inhabiting the east and the götar the west. Lindström believes that the svear had a more prestigious dialect as they held a position of power, and that the götar living in the gnällbälte adapted their dialect to sound like the svear, resulting in the whiny vowel sound.

Now, both of the original dialects of the svear and the götar have changed and disappeared, with the gnällig dialect from the gnällbälte a leftover linguistic quirk from Sweden’s history.

The svear, coincidentally, gave their name to both the country of Sweden, and the region of Sweden known as Svealand, situated in the centre of the country. The götar, on the other hand, gave their name to Götaland – the southern region of Sweden – and the city of Gothenburg.

Example sentences:

Men snälla, mamma, kan jag få lite godis? Nej, sluta gnälla!

Please mum, can I have some sweets? No, stop whining!

Dialekten från gnällbältet är nog Sveriges mest irriterande dialekt.

The dialect from the “whine belt” must be Sweden’s most irritating dialect.

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: skärgård

You don't have to spend long in Sweden to hear the word skärgård, especially if you live in cities like Stockholm or Gothenburg where the population relocate to the nearby skärgård every summer. Where does the word come from?

Swedish word of the day: skärgård

Skärgård is, like many Swedish words, a compound word made up of the word skär, describing a small rocky outcrop and gård, which has a number of meanings such as “courtyard”, “farm” or “garden”.

Although skärgård is often translated to English as “archipelago” – a group of islands – the word officially refers to an archipelago made up primarily of small islands, close to the coast of a larger island or landmass, such as the rocky archipelagos near Stockholm and Gothenburg.

Other kinds of archipelago – such as those which are not close to other landmasses, or those made up of larger islands – can be referred to as an arkipelag or ögrupp. However, many Swedes will just use skärgård for any kind of archipelago.

Although the word skärgård doesn’t exist in English, a variant of skär has made its way into the language. The English term for this type of small rocky outcrop is “skerry”.

Skerry has an interesting etymology in English – it comes from the Old Norse term sker, which refers to a rock in the sea. This is related to the Swedish word skära, meaning “cut” – a skerry is a rock cut off from land.

Sker came into English via Scots, where it is spelled skerry or skerrie. Other languages also have this word, such as Norwegian skjær/skjer, Estonian skäär, Finnish kari and Russian шхеры (shkhery). It can also be found in Scottish Gaelic sgeir, Irish sceir and Welsh sgeri.

This also reflects the geographic area where skerries are found – there are skerries or skärgårdar along the northernmost part of the Swedish west coast near Bohuslän and Gothenburg, as well as on the east coast near Stockholm. The Norwegian coast also has a large number of skerries, and Skärgårdshavet or “the Archipelago Sea” lies off the southwestern coast of Finland.

In Russia, the Minina Skerries (Shkhery Minina) are one example of a skärgård, and in Scotland, Skerryvore and Dubh Artach in the Hebrides are also made up of skerries. Northern Ireland is home to The Skerries, off the Antrim coast, and Skerries is also the name of a coastal area of Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.

You may be wondering if the surname of the famous Swedish Skarsgård family of actors – Stellan, Gustaf, Bill, Valter and Alexander Skarsgård, among others – comes from the word skärgård. Although the spelling is similar, this name actually comes from the town of Skärlöv on the island of Öland, and means “Skar’s farm” (Skares gård, in Swedish).

Example sentences

Jag ser redan fram emot sommarsemestern – vi har hyrt en stuga ute i Stockholms skärgård.

I’m already looking forwards to summer – we’ve rented a cottage out in the Stockholm archipelago.

Sverige har många skärgårdar, fast Skärgårdshavet vid Finlands västkust är störst i världen med över 50 000 öar och skär.

Sweden has a lot of archipelagos, but the Archipelago Sea off Finland’s west coast is the biggest in the world has over 50,000 islands and skerries.

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.