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SWEDISH LANGUAGE

Six times Swedish words unexpectedly appeared in foreign branding

Marketing isn't easy, especially in today's international society. Here are a few examples where out-of-place Swedish words ended up in foreign branding.

Six times Swedish words unexpectedly appeared in foreign branding
Archive photo from a Marvel presentation in 2016. As you can imagine, it wasn't easy to find a suitable photo to illustrate "knull". (Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/TT)

Knull

Marvel’s new character launch in 2020 was teased on Twitter alongside the slogan “Knull is coming” – Knull being the name of the new villain.

There clearly weren’t any Swedes working on Marvel’s social media team, otherwise they might have realised that knull is the Swedish word for an act of sexual intercourse – specifically a crude word, probably most accurately translated into English as “fuck”.

As you can expect, Swedes on Twitter found this hilarious, with the hashtag #knulliscoming quickly going viral.

Interested in the etymology of the word knull? Here’s our word of the day from back then explaining it all.

Kosås

Kosås is an American makeup brand started in 2015. According to the design studio behind the name, they chose the name Kosås: “for its international sound that universally reflected the client’s desire to incorporate both art and science in a unique name that didn’t hold a meaning in any language before its creation”.

Clearly, nobody had told them that kosås does mean something in Swedish, as Twitter user JoeDNoonan pointed out: “cow sauce”. Not the most appealing name for something you apply to your face.

The brand seem to have quietly rebranded, with the Swedish letter “å” replaced by “a” in marketing materials and on their packaging. There’s no way of knowing whether this is due to Kosås’ alternate Swedish meaning, but either way it was probably a good idea if they’re ever considering expanding to Sweden.

A 2020 Honda Jazz hybrid. This car might have been called a Honda Fitta, if the car company hadn’t noticed their mistake in time.
Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Honda Fitta

Those who were in Sweden back in 2001 may remember the story of the Honda Fitta – Honda’s compact car which was highly publicised before its planned launch across Europe.

Unfortunately for Honda, fitta is a rather rude word for female private parts in Swedish. If that wasn’t bad enough, the car’s slogan was “small on the outside, big on the inside”.

Luckily for Honda, they rectified this mistake before the car was actually launched. The car was quickly renamed and launched as the Honda Fit in the US and China, and the Honda Jazz in Europe, the rest of Asia, and Australia instead.

Maybe don’t tell your Swedish friends that you’re part of a “running runk club”. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Runk

British company Runk offers natural body care for runners, including lip balms, bath salts, massage bars and foot creams. Their slogan is “run kind, be kind”, which may also explain the origins of the company name.

They also offer clothing, such as sweatshirts and T-shirts printed with the words “running runk club”.

It might be a good idea to hold off on buying one of their T-shirts if you live in Sweden, though, as runk is a rather rude Swedish term for male masturbation. You’d most likely get some odd looks on your local running route announcing your membership of a “runk club” on your T-shirt.

What hilarious office supplies… Photo: Hajime Nakano/Flickr

Askul

Askul is the name of a Japanese company selling office supplies such as paper, pens, batteries and office furniture.

The company was established in 1963, according to their website, although it is unclear why they chose the name askul, or indeed what it means in Japanese. Luckily for Askul, their name doesn’t have any rude connotations in Swedish.

The Swedish word askul is often translated as “great” or “hilarious” – so the only downside of the name could be some disappointed Swedish office managers in Japan who expected Askul to offer something more entertaining than office supplies. The word is bizarrely made up of as (“corpse”) and kul (“funny”, “nice”).

Askul went through a rebrand in 2005 in collaboration with Stockholm Design Lab so are perhaps embracing their new Swedish identity – although it’s unclear whether they knew about the alternate meaning of the name before this.

Expecting a hotel for monkeys? You may be disappointed… Photo: othree/Flickr

APA

Another example from Japan is hotel chain APA, who have more than 500 hotels all over Japan. Their boss, Toshio Motoya, was estimated by Forbes in 2020 to be the 27th richest person in Japan with a net worth of about US$1.45 billion.

If you’re wondering why APA are included in this list, it’s because apa means “monkey” in Swedish.

Any Swedes already planning a trip to one of Japan’s monkey hotels will be disappointed. The name has nothing to do with monkeys, and is instead an acronym, based on the phrase “Always Pleasant Amenities”.

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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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