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​​Swedish word of the day: rackabajsare

A word for hitting hard down your throat or up in the net.

Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

A rackabajsare is either a shot of a spririt, or a hard shot in a sport. You might also see a type of strongly-flavoured (smoked or spicy) sausage known as a rackabajsare in some delis.

Rackabajsare according to the Swedish Academy is a word of unknown origin, despite some claiming its origin to be rachenbeisser in German, meaning ‘throat-biter’. Although that might be possible, there are also many other potential origins. 

Like so many other Swedish words, rackabajsare contains the Swedish word for ‘poo’, bajsa. A bajsare would be ‘a person who poos’, and herein lies the crux, because the word racka can have more than a few things to do with poo.

Rackare today is used much in the same way as ‘rascal’ is, but it was not always so, rackare used to be much harsher. It used to mean something more like a ‘scoundrel’, and then somewhere in the 1800s this meaning began to shift and become weaker. 

You may think that this racka is related to the racka in byracka, which means ‘mutt’ or ‘mongrel’. The origin for that racka is the Old Norse rakke, which also has an unknown origin and meaning, though some claim it is a word for ‘dog’. This would give us ‘dog pooer’, which really makes no sense, so this is most likely not the racka we are looking for. 

Another, but now archaic, meaning of rackare was ‘a person whose profession it is to remove dirt and the like [as in poo] from streets and outhouses.’ If the word order was reversed, as in bajsrackare (poo-cleaner), this could be the original meaning, but it seems unlikely.

Racka could also be another way of writing rak meaning ‘straight’, here in the sense as in ‘to the point’ or ‘straight away without thinking about it’, which could then mean something like ‘going straight to the shit’, which could work for both meanings of rackabajsare, ‘a shot of a spirit’ and ‘a hard shot in any sport’. 

There is however yet another couple of confounding meanings of racka. A now archaic meaning of ‘running about’ could give us something like ‘a disorderly hit or shot’. And then there is the perhaps most interesting one. It turns out that racka used to be another way of saying ‘arrack’, the Southeast Asian spirit. This would really explain the first meaning of rackabajsare, ‘a shot of a spirit,’ but it still leaves us with questions as to the second meaning. 

Alas, there is no clear answer to be found! That’s just the way it is sometimes. But though we are unfortunately unable to provide you with the original meaning of rackabajsare, we can leave you a few examples of how to use the word in everyday conversation. 

Example sentences:

Ska vi ta en liten rackabajsare, eller vad säger du?

Should we have a cheeky little shot, what do you say?

Åh jävlar vilken rackabajsare!

Bloody hell, what a canon of a shot! 

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.

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For members


Swedish word of the day: bamba

Not a dance, but a place where kids eat.

Swedish word of the day: bamba

Sveriges framsida, the frontside of Sweden, as many call Gothenburg, is a place known to have been voted Sweden’s best city, is one of the most sustainable cities in the world, and also the place with Sweden’s sexiest dialect.

Admittedly, I am from Gothenburg, so I may be biased, but I will tell you that sexy as the dialect may be (and I have been told that it is plenty of times), once in a while, like anyone from any region I imagine, I say a word that makes everyone stop and go, “What is he talking about?” This is one of those words. 

The word is used to designate a school dining hall, but apparently researchers have uncovered no provable origin for the word.

On Dialektbloggen, ‘The Dialect Blog’ of the Swedish Institute for Language and Folklore (Institutet för språk och folkminnen), Jenny Nilsson, a research archivist in Gothenburg, explains that the origin is not clear and that the term was probably invented by schoolchildren. People tend to assume that it is a contraction of the word barnbespisning, where barn means ‘child’ and bespisning can either mean ‘the act of feeding’ (usually on a larger scale) or ‘a dining hall’. 

The Swedish Academy also offers this explanation, where the entry for bamba reads: ‘attested since 1957; short form for barnbespisning’.

Jenny Nilsson further makes the point that Gothenburgers traditionally pronounce ‘rn’ as ‘n’, and that an ‘n’ before a ‘b’ in a word easily becomes an ‘m’ in the mouth. Which could then give us bamba.

Nilsson further writes that the date of origin of the word is also unclear, though it is attested since at least the 1950s. At the time, bamba was probably mainly used in Gothenburg, but after that it spread throughout the region, though the latest investigation into the matter seems to indicate that it is now receding back to Gothenburg. 

In an odd twist, news site Nyheter24 interviews the linguist Rune Westerlund who lives in Luleå on the topic of bamba. He explains that the word is also used in northern Kiruna, a town in the very very far north of Sweden. According to Westerblad it was also at one point used in his hometown of Luleå, which is about 270km southeast of Kiruna, though still in the far north of Sweden (it is a big place). The most logical explanation for this is influential immigrants from Gothenburg, according to Westerlund. 

Nyheter24 also includes another theory on the origin of the word, that bamba has a military connection. The ladies serving the food in the dining halls of the time were well known to have “a predilection for straight queue lines, strict controls on food intake, no running and fussing, and letting the food silence the mouth.”

Combining this ‘military atmosphere’ with Gothenburg’s well known penchant for puns, and BArnMatsBespisningsAnläggning, roughly ‘Children’s Food Feeding Facility’, could easily become bamba. That penchant for puns even has a name, it is called göteborgshumor, ‘Gothenburg humour.’

But alas, the mystery remains. 

The one lesson one can draw from this, if any, is to not go asking where you can find the bamba in any city but Gothenburg, or I suppose northern Kiruna, or you might find yourself dancing the night away to latin rock. 

Do you have any friends from Gothenburg? Ask them their favourite food they ate in bamba and if they can think of any other dialectal words from Gothenburg.

Ha det gött! 

Example sentences:

Vad serverar dom i bamban idag?

What are they serving in the dining hall today?

Man dansar inte här grabben! Vadå, är inte det här la bamba?

You don’t dance here, kiddo! What do you mean, is this not la bamba? 

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.