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Swedish word of the day: pyssel

If you have children in Sweden, you've probably heard this word, especially around holidays. But what does it mean?

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

Today’s word of the day is pyssel.

Pyssel‘s first meaning is similar to “handicrafts” – a small crafting activity, usually aimed at children, which is often carried out around holidays. Swedish children may bring home påskpyssel (“Easter crafts”) from school around Easter and julpyssel is a popular activity for families in the quiet period in the run-up to Christmas.

Larger creative activities or projects, particularly those carried out by adults, are usually referred to with more specific terms. If you were building a piece of furniture, for example, you would be doing slöjd (“woodwork”) rather than pyssel.

The verb form of pyssel is pyssla. Pyssla is often used when talking about doing small arts and crafts, but can also describe the act of carrying out minor chores or activities around the house. A good English translation here could be “tinkering” or “fiddling” with something.

The question vad pysslar du med? reflects this second meaning, and is an informal way to ask someone what they are doing: roughly translated as “what are you up to?”.

Påskpyssel done by The Local Editor Richard Orange’s kids this weekend – featuring corn and bean seeds planted in hollow eggshells. Photo: Richard Orange/The Local

A similar word to pyssla is syssla. Both words can be used to describe engaging in some sort of creative hobby which usually requires fine motor skills, although syssla implies that it is a more serious activity, maybe even something the person in question does for work.

For example, att pyssla med modelltåg would be used to describe someone who works on model trains in their free time (a good English translation here could be “tinkers with model trains”), whereas att syssla med modelltåg could mean that the person in question restores model trains professionally.

The question vad sysslar du med? can also mean “what are you up to?”, but can also be a way of asking about someone’s profession, similar to asking “what do you do for a living?”.

The word sysselsättning also reflects this: it is used to describe the degree of employment in labour market statistics, for example. Att vara sysselsatt doesn’t always mean that someone is employed, but can also be used to describe that someone is busy, such as in the phrase det håller barnen sysselsatta (“it keeps the kids occupied”).

You can also pyssla om someone: look after them when they are sick.

Although pyssel looks similar to the English word “puzzle”, you should make sure to use the word pussel instead when talking about a puzzle or jigsaw. The Swedish term for putting together a jigsaw, for example, is att lägga pussel, and a word puzzle such as a crossword or a riddle would be en ordpussel.

Example sentences:

Vad pysslar du med? Jag pysslar med min pussel.

What are you doing? I’m fiddling with my jigsaw.

Har du några bra tips på påskpyssel jag kan göra med barnen?

Do you have any good tips for Easter crafts I can do with the kids?

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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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.