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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: bamba

Not a dance, but a place where kids eat.

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

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 lysforlag.com/vvv 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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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

​​Swedish word of the day: riksdag

When you meet for a diet in the realm.

​​Swedish word of the day: riksdag

Riksdagen is the Swedish parliament, you will find its cognates in the old Danish term for their parliament, rigsdagen, although they now use the term folketing, and in German, the Reichstag

Riks– is from rike, which means ‘realm’ or in other words ‘kingdom’ as in kungarike. Svensk ordbok, the Swedish dictionary published by the Swedish Academy, tells us that rike is attested as far back as the 11th century on rune stones, that it is of Celtic origin, and that it is related to rik, the Swedish word for ‘rich’. It is believed to be of the same origin as rex in Latin, meaning king. Which should make kungarike a pleonasm, a redundancy, though hardly anyone will know that rike has this origin.

For comparison, ‘realm’ in English is from the Old French reaume, which in modern French is royaume, meaning ‘kingdom’. This is also from roy meaning ‘king’ which ultimately derives from the Latin rex, also meaning ‘king’. The kicker here is that Old Celtic languages and Latin were fairly closely related, some argue this is the reason they were easily replaced by Latin when the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic-speaking peoples. 

The -dag part of riksdag means ‘day’, but there is more to this word in this context, meaning an ‘appointed day’ or ‘gathering’. In English you can find a similar word in ’diet’. Howso, you ask? 

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Well, ‘diet’ goes back through Old French to the Latin diaeta, which could mean ‘a public assembly’, ‘a set day of trial’ or ‘a day’s journey’. That in turn derived from the Ancient Greek δῐ́αιτα meaning ‘way of living’ or ‘living space’ or ‘decision/judgement’. Which somehow was influenced by the Latin diēs, meaning ‘day’ – things get complicated at times in etymology it seems. Going to the riksdag then is going to the ‘diet of the realm’.

The word riksdag is borrowed from the German Reichstag, though the traditional Germanic term for these meetings or governing assemblies was a ting (as in the Danish folketing, mentioned above). We also touched on this in our möte word of the day article.

Sveriges riksdag, as you may well know, is the legislature and supreme decision-making body of the Kingdom of Sweden. You can visit the riksdag at Riksdagshuset on Helgeandsholmen in Stockholm, where you can watch debates or attend a guided tour. 

So, next time your friend tells you about their new diet, you can tell them all about the etymology of the name of the Swedish parliament. Have a good weekend!

Example sentences:

Vet du varför man har ordet ‘dag’ i riksdag?

Do you know why they use the word ‘dag’ in ‘riksdag’?

Vill du följa med mig till riksdagen?

Do you wanna tag along to the Swedish parliament? 

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 US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.

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