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Swedish word of the day: rea

You may have figured out that Today's Word of the Day is the Swedish word for 'sale', but where does it come from?

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

The Swedish word for a sale, rea, often pops up in shop windows at different times of year. You may see signs between Christmas and New Year advertising a mellandagsrea, or a sommarrea during the summer months.

At the end of February, the bokrea (‘book sale’) takes place across the country. During the bokrea, popular titles ranging from children’s books to cookbooks are offered in bookshops, supermarkets and online at highly reduced prices.

Books in Sweden can be expensive, so February is the perfect time to pick up any books you wanted for Christmas which weren’t waiting for you under the tree back in December.

Don’t be alarmed if you see signs advertising a slutrea. This is not a sale featuring people 1950s moralists would describe as having “loose morals”, rather a final sale, usually taking place at the end of the mellandagsrea.

Perhaps unsurprisingly in a bureaucratic country like Sweden, there are strict rules regulating sales. The word rea is only allowed in marketing under certain circumstances: sale items must be items the company usually sells (meaning that an item cannot be bought for the sole purpose of being put on sale), items must only be on sale for a limited time – usually interpreted as no more than two months per year – and the price must be substantially lower during the sale.

In addition to this, it is forbidden to raise the price of an item or service, lower the price again, and claim it is on sale when it costs the same as it did originally, and companies are not allowed to advertise a sale if they don’t think they have enough of the item on sale to meet customer demand.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that companies don’t break these rules. They just use other words to advertise sales which don’t fit these criteria, such as erbjudande (“offer”) or rabatt (“discount”).

But where does the word rea come from?

Rea is short for realisation, which in turn describes the act of converting an act or service into money. The English verb “realise” – as in “to realise assets” – has the same meaning. This also explains the pronounciation of the word: rea is pronounced like “RAY-ah”, as in the first two syllables of realisation.

A Swedish sale, therefore, is an event where a company can realise their products: they turn them into money.

If we’re being pedantic, the act of selling any item is technically a realisation, as the item is being exchanged for money, but for some reason this meaning of the word “realise” in Swedish has come to specifically mean selling an item or service at a reduced price.

Example sentences:

Äntligen! Jag hittade Tareq Taylors nya kokbok i bokrean, och till ett jättebra pris dessutom!

Finally! I found Tareq Taylor’s new cookbook in the book sale, and for a really good price as well!

Hur kan det stämma att de alltid har rea på barnkläder? Det har de inte, det heter ett “medlemserbjudande” istället.

How can they always have a sale on kids clothes? They don’t, they call it a “member offer” instead.

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For members


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.