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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

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
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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 lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: hyfsat

Today’s word will help you say that things are going alright or that Peter is okay at karaoke.

Swedish word of the day: hyfsat

It is a decent word, and okay one, rather good, and it has a well-polished past.

Hyfsat or hyfsad most often means that something is ‘okay’, ‘decent’, ‘alright’ or even ‘rather good’, which can apply to a great number of things. And its etymological cousin hyfs, is a quality of character. 

Behind both of these words and their uses lies a lesser known verb, to hyfsa. A word which is perhaps slowly becoming out of date. 

But hyfsa, in spite of its slow descent into the archaic, is a very useful word, as it has the general meaning of ‘to tidy up’. That is to say it can be used for a number of situations that imply a bit of tidying up: whether it be your own appearance, like trimming a bit of your hair, evening out your fringe; or fixing a bit in your garden, like trimming the hedge. 

You could even use it to describe a quick tidy up at home ahead of a visit, like giving a vase or some other ornament a bit of a polish, or just putting some things in their right place. 

From hyfsa we get both hyfs and hyfsat

Hyfs, as previously mentioned, has to do with character, more precisely with behaviour. Hyfs is simply to have a well-polished or presentable manner (especially toward your elders): att ha hyfs, ‘to be polite’, or att vara ohyfsad, ‘to be rude’ or un-hyfsed.

Young people might not use it as much anymore, but all Swedes know the word.

Hyfsat or hyfsad on the other hand describes the quality of something or how someone is at something. Something that is hyfsat will do, it is okay and acceptable, implying that it would be so even to the person you are addressing.

Beyond that it can also be used to describe your own or someone else’s performance at karaoke, or any other thing, if you ever get the question. It is also an appreciation of things, and can also describe something as being ‘moderately so’, ‘not too’ or ‘fairly so’, as in en hyfsat snar framtid, meaning ‘a not too distant future’. In some sense it brings to mind that ever elusive word: lagom.

Generally, one can say that it implies that something is acceptable, and by linguistic extension, its root in hyfsa, that some work has been done to achieve that. Or in other words, that whatever it is it is not entirely uncared for, lacking in effort or preparation. It has done enough to be deserving of basic approval. It is hyfsat. 

Example sentences

Hur gick det på karaoken? Det gick hyfsat bra – “How did it go at karaoke? It went fairly well.”

Är Peter bra på karaoke? Han är hyfsad. – “Is Peter any good at karaoke? He’s alright.”

Hörru, hur går det med den där rapporten? Hyfsat – “Hey, how’s that report coming along? Not too bad.”

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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