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LEARNING SWEDISH

Eight Swedish words I now use in English

One of the consequences of learning a foreign language is that some words end up slipping into your everyday English. Becky Waterton explains why she uses these Swedish words more often than their English equivalents.

Eight Swedish words I now use in English
"Do you want macka or porridge for breakfast?" Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

People often say that the moment you know you speak a language fluently is when you begin dreaming in it.

What they don’t tell you is that the next marker of your fluency comes when you start substituting words in your native language with words from the foreign language. Here are a few Swedish words I’ve started using more and more when I speak English.

Mys

Equivalent to the English word “cosy” or the Danish “hygge”, I find myself using the Swedish word mys (noun) or mysigt (adjective) often in English, even making up my own compound Swedish-English words using mys.

One example is mysväder, literally “cosy weather”, which can roughly translate as the kind of weather where it’s socially acceptable to lie on your sofa with a hot chocolate under a blanket and watch TV (so perfect autumn weather, essentially). The perfect clothing for mys-weather is mys-clothes, like tracksuit bottoms or pyjamas, a soft wooly jumper and a pair of warm socks.

I’ve found myself on more than one occasion saying “oh the weather today is really mys-weather, isn’t it?”, indicating to whoever I’m talking to that I plan on going into hibernation as soon as I get home. If a friend asked me to join them for a day trip somewhere or a fika at a nice cafe, I might say “oh, that sounds mysigt!”, roughly in the same way an English speaker could say “yes, that sounds nice!”. Mys just feels less generic than “nice”, when used in this way.

Swish

Maybe a bit of a cheat in this list of supposedly Swedish words, I regularly use the verb swisha in English if I pick up the bill in a restaurant for a friend. “Oh, it’s okay, you can just swish me,” I say, telling the friend to use payment service Swish to pay me back.

In the same vein, I might tell my husband “I’ve sent you a swishförfrågan (Swish request) for the dagisavgift (preschool fee) this month”, as a not-so-subtle hint for him to log in to the app and send over his half of the payment.

Typ

Typ is a bit of a filler word in Swedish, used in the same way as “like” in English. Not in the sense of liking something, but in the sense of filling a gap in speech or indicating you’re not sure of something. So instead of saying “it costs, like, 30 kronor,” you might say “det kostar typ 30 kronor”.

I use typ so unconsciously in Swedish that it’s started creeping into my English when I fill a gap in speech while I think, in sentences like “I think that was… typ… four days ago?”, or if I’m not sure of the exact amount of something, like if someone asks me how I baked a cake, I might say “and then I added 200g of flour… typ.” 

Macka

This maybe says more about my lifestyle than anything else, but I use the Swedish word macka (bread with topping) every single day, usually when I ask my daughter what she wants for breakfast.

Swedes love to eat bread with toppings for breakfast, referred to as a macka, occasionally a rostmacka if toasted. Unlike toast, which is usually only eaten with butter, a macka can be hot or cold, and topped with anything from ham to salami, hummus or cheese. The words “do you want macka or porridge?” and “what do you want on your macka?” are uttered every morning, without fail, in our household.

Snippa

Another Swedish word linked to child-rearing, the word snippa is an informal, not-rude Swedish word for female genitalia. The male variant would be snopp, similar to the English word “willy”.

I haven’t been able to find an informal English version of snippa which is child-friendly and easy for my daughter to pronounce, so I usually use the Swedish word if I’m telling my toddler daughter to wait after a visit to the toilet and wipe her snippa.

Sugen

Sugen is a great Swedish word similar to “hungry”, but more in the sense of “snacky” – you’re not really hungry, but you fancy eating something small and most likely unhealthy, like a biscuit or some crisps.

It’s the kind of word you would say if your partner caught you gazing into the kitchen cupboards a few hours after lunch looking despondent. “Are you hungry?”, they might ask, only for you to respond “nah, not really, I’m just a bit sugen.”

Mellis

It’s similar to the word mellis, another Swedish word which has crept into my English. Mellis is short for mellanmål, literally “between-meal”, but more often used as a small snack to tide you over to the next meal, like an apple or a macka.

VAB

Finally, an essential word for all parents in Sweden, VAB. VAB stands for vård av barn, and is the term for taking time off work to look after a sick child. Usually used in talking to your boss, you might say “my child has a fever so I’m going to have to vab today”, or negotiate with your partner “if I vab this time, can you vab next time?”

It’s just so much easier than saying “I’m going to have to take paid time off work to look after my sick child”.

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For members

LEARNING SWEDISH

The Swedish words you need to understand Sweden’s cost of living crisis

Households in Sweden, as elsewhere around the world, are feeling the economic squeeze right now as prices rise, but wages don’t. Here's a vocabulary list from Anneli Beronius Haake to help you understand the cost of living crisis.

The Swedish words you need to understand Sweden's cost of living crisis

The Local reached out to Anneli Beronius Haake (Swedish Made Easy), Swedish teacher and author of Teach Yourself Complete Swedish, to put together a list of words you might hear and read in the upcoming weeks as prices continue to soar.

(ett) elprisstöd – literally, electricity price support. The government may choose to provide support to both individuals and businesses, to help cope with high electric costs.

(ett) högkostnadsskydd – high cost protection. There have previously been discussions about high cost protections to cap electricity prices or agreements for the government to cover everything over a certain amount, but following the recent elections, the status of this proposal is unclear.

(en) amortering vs (en) ränta – if you own your own house or apartment, then you already know that these words refer to payments on your mortgage (noun: amortering, verb: att amortera) and payments against the interest on your mortgage. If you’re thinking about buying, keep an eye on these two – and on interest rates (ränta)!

(en) varmhyra vs (en) kallhyra – if you’re on the market for a new rental apartment, you might see these two words pop up. Varmhyra (literally: “warm rent”) means heating is included in the rental price. Kallhyra (literally, “cold rent”) means that the rental price does not include heating costs.

(en) uppvärmning – heating, or heating costs. If your heating costs are included in your rent, you don’t have to worry about this. Instead, you only need to keep an eye on:

(en) hushållsel – or household electricity. This covers the electricity you use for everything in your home, from charging your mobile phone to using your oven.

Energisnål – energy efficient. You might see this word stuck on a dishwasher or fridge if you’re shopping for new household appliances, signalling that it will help cut down on your electric costs. Similarly, you may see the word att snåla (to scrimp or save) used in the phrases att snåla med energi (to save on energy) or att snåla med pengar (to save money).

(en) energikris – an energy crisis. 

privatekonomi – personal finances. You may see this not only referring to individuals, but also to households, where it will be written as hushållens privatekonomi.

hushållskostnader – household costs, again, linked to hushållens privatekonomi, this usually refers to gemensamma kostnader (shared costs), such as water and electricity bills, insurance and internet, but can also cover other costs such as food, hygiene products such as toilet paper, and even mobile phone contracts.

(ett) energibolag, (en) elproducent – an energy company, an energy producer.

(en) elområde – an energy zone. Sweden is split into four energy zones, with the most expensive energy prices in the south of the country, covering the three largest cities: Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö (zones 3 and 4), and the cheapest prices in the north (zones 1 and 2).

Att spara – to save. This can be in the sense of att spara pengar (to save money), or att spara på kostnader/el (to save on costs/electricity).

Att stiga/öka/höja – these three verbs all relate to increases, but with their own nuances.

Att stiga, or stiger in the present tense means ‘rises’, and can be used to describe rising petrol prices.

Att öka, or ökar in the present tense means ‘increases’, and can be used to describe how the price of groceries are increasing.

Finally, att höja, or höjer in the present tense means ‘raises’ – when you can point out that something or someone has raised the price of something, for example, when describing how banks are raising interest rates.

Att sjunka/minska – these two verbs both relate to decreases, again with their own nuances.

Att sjunka, or sjunker in the present tense (literally sinking) means fall/slump/drop, and can be used to refer to price falls.

Att minska, or minskar, on the other hand, is like ökar, because it is used when describing how something has decreased, like your electricity usage might decrease this winter in light of rising prices.

Similarly to sjunka, you may see the verb att sänka (to lower), in the sense of lowering the heating (att sänka värmen) or lowering household costs (att sänka hushållskostnader).

(en) utgift – an expense, plural utgifter – expenses.

(en) inkomst – income. A source of income would be (en) inkomstskälla.

(en) plånbok – literally, this means wallet. Figuratively, it also means your bank account and its contents. Headlines about money leaving your plånbok don’t mean money is vanishing from your wallet, but from your bank account. During the recent Swedish election, for example, politicians spoke about plånboksfrågor (literally “wallet issues”), issues affecting people’s income and spending power.

Att dra ner på utgifterna – to cut down on your expenses. This is related to the phrase att se över utgifterna: to take a look at your expenses, for example to see if there are any areas you can cut down.

Att dra åt svångremmen – to tighten one’s belt.

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