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Swedish word of the day: lathund

This Swedish word is a lazy dog that will help you do something.

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

Lathund, which literally means ‘lazy dog’, is listed on the website of the Swedish Academy – an independent institution responsible for regulating and promoting the Swedish language – as having two meanings. The first is ‘a lazy person’, and the second is a mnemonic device or easy guide for doing something. 

The first use is rather unusual, and perhaps verging on archaic. The second, however, is widely used, and is perhaps yet another sign of Swedish pragmatism.

So, what does a lazy dog have to do with mnemonic devices or how-to guides? Perhaps the meaning can be found in the history of the word.

The original meaning of lathund was ‘a lazy person’, attested as far back as 1623. There was even a feminine version of the word: lathynda.

Lathynda today has a more offensive ring to it which it most likely lacked in the 1600s, since hynda today carries the same meanings as its English homologue, bitch, although it might even be harsher still in Swedish.

Good advice is to stay clear of hynda altogether, except perhaps if you work in a kennel and are referring to a female dog, and even then most people would probably use hona, which is used to mean ‘female of a certain animal’. But enough of that.

The second meaning, as a tool or how-to guide to explain how to do something, appeared in the mid-1800s, which could also provide some information on why an insult used to accuse someone of being lazy took on this new meaning.

An example of a lathund in this context could be a piece of paper with clear lines for putting under unlined paper when writing to aid with neat handwriting, a counting table for calculations, or a tool for helping with translations at school.

If one is slightly familiar with the disciplinarian approaches to pedagogy that preceded the 20th century’s realisation that hitting kids doesn’t make them learn better, it will come as no surprise that some people in the 1800s could initially have considered these new learning aids tools for the lazy. 

Today the word has a more positive ring to it, and is well-established as an easy guide for doing a certain thing. Lots of workplaces have several lathundar (the plural of lathund) for doing different things that might require a bit of instruction – similar to a “roadmap” in English. It is an easy way to train new workers in the basics of a particular task. One example is the procedure for turning on the alarm system when you are the last person to leave. 

Are you good at explaining how something works? Are you good at doing a certain thing at school or at work? Why not make a lathund for it? Post it on Instagram or Twitter and tag us @thelocalsweden.

Example sentences:

Har ni en lathund för hur man gör det där?

Do you have an easy guide for how to do that?

Lena, kan du visa hur man larmar på? Kolla lathunden, den ligger vid entrén.

Lena, can you show me how to activate the alarm? Check the easy guide by the entrance.

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.

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Swedish word of the day: soppatorsk

In Sweden, if you run out of petrol on the road you have 'soup-cod'.

Swedish word of the day: soppatorsk

Soppatorsk is a slang word which literally means soup-cod, soppa is ‘soup’, and torsk is ‘cod’, but is not to be understood as ‘cod soup’, that would be torsksoppa. Instead the two words that make up soppatorsk have additional meanings in slang. One of the additional meanings of torsk is ‘failure’, which is the intended meaning here. The verb att torska, ‘to cod’, is to fail, or to lose, to get caught. The meaning of the noun torsk here is ‘failure’. And soppa is simply a slang term for ‘petrol’. 

The proper term for what soppatorsk means is bensinstopp, which means ‘engine failure due to running out of petrol’. It is used in the exact same way.

An additional meaning of torsk that you should be mindful of is ‘a john’, as in someone who frequents prostitutes. So you cannot call someone ‘a failure’ by calling them a torsk, that would mean calling them a sex-buyer.  

Soppatorsk is quite common in use and has been around since about 1987. The use of its two parts is also quite common. And torska, as in ‘getting caught’ or ‘losing’ is even a bit older, dating back to at least 1954. We haven’t been able to find out how long soppa has been used to mean ‘petrol’.

A few examples of the use of soppa and torska in the senses that they carry in soppatorsk are : ‘Vi har ingen soppa i tanken,’ means ‘We have no petrol in the tank’. ‘Vi torskade is a common way of saying ‘We lost’. 

Practice makes perfect, so try to use the word of the day, here are a few example sentences. 

Example sentences:

Nä, det är inte sant, soppatorsk.

No, I can’t believe it, we’re out of petrol.

Full tank tack, man vill ju inte få soppatorsk ute i vildmarken.

Fill her up please, don’t wanna run out of petrol out in the wilderness.

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 US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.