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​​Swedish word of the day: tandfe

How the fee for a warrior's good luck charm became a fairy.

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

Tandfe means ‘tooth fairy’ in modern Swedish. Why mention the ‘modern’ bit? Well, because it didn’t always mean this. 

In the folklore of various countries, the tooth fairy is a winged creature that replaces a lost milk tooth (usually placed under a pillow or in a glass of water) for a gift, most often a coin or a bill. 

But this fairy is not even a fake fairy, it is a double fake, nothing but a mistranslation. Going back to pre-Christian times in Scandinavia, among the Norse peoples, a tannfé was a gift given to children when they lost their first tooth.

The Old Norse word tannfé, is made up of the two words tann, meaning ‘tooth’, and , which has the same root as the modern day Swedish , meaning animals that are kept for financial return, such as cattle. comes from the older or , meaning ‘property; wealth’. Often used to denote what was given to pay for something. In other words a ‘fee’.

So tandfe really means “tooth money” or a “tooth fee”. The confusion is of course with the French word fée or English ‘fay’.

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This tradition of giving gifts for teeth is so old it even appears in Norse mythology, more specifically in the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse narrative poems. There it is written that Álfheimr, home of the light elves and the god Frey (whose sister Freyja might be the reason why the fifth day of the week is called Friday), was gifted to the infant Frey as a tooth gift. 

Alfhęim Fręy

gǫ́fu í árdaga

tívar at tannféi.


Alvheim fick Frej

av de andra gudarna

i tandgåva arla i tiden.

As translated by Björn Collinder. Notice, arla, in Collinder’s translation, like the milk company, means ‘early’ or ‘ere’ and has the same root. This is also where ‘yearly’ comes from, but the word in Old Norse is árdaga, meaning ‘in days of yore’. Let us attempt a translation in English:

Alfheimr, Frey

was gifted in old days

by the Gods as a tooth fee.

This tradition itself is said to have come from the belief that children’s teeth offered protection or luck in battle, and that many Norse warriors wore them on necklaces.

Perhaps when your kids are old enough to not believe in the tooth fairy anymore, you can finally tell them the truth about this double fake fairy, and give them a piece of real mythology and history to replace it with.

Example sentences:

Mamma, tror du tandfen kommer om jag lägger min tand under kudden?

Mommy, do you think the tooth fairy will come if I put my tooth under the pillow?

Det finns ingen tandfe!

There is no tooth fairy!

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: sommartid

The clocks are springing ahead this weekend, marking the beginning of daylight saving time and the end of Sweden's dark winter period. Aptly described in Swedish as 'sommartid', here is the history of how the practice came about.

Swedish word of the day: sommartid

The phrase will come in handy this weekend if you want to lament a lost hour of sleep in the morning or celebrate the extra hour of daylight in the evening. 

Sommartid translates literally to “summertime” and refers to daylight saving time, which begins this weekend in many European countries, including Sweden. At 2:00 am on Sunday, the clocks will spring one hour ahead.

In the UK, this period is known as “British Summer Time” – one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time – while in North America, daylight saving time is used more commonly.

The first time sommartid was officially trialled on a national basis was in 1916, when the German Empire along with other countries such as Austria-Hungary, the UK and Sweden introduced the practice in order to conserve fuel during World War I, with the idea being that the extra daylight would reduce the use of artificial lighting, allowing the surplus fuel to be put towards the war efforts.

In the following years, the practice spread to Australia, Russia, and the US, too.

After the war, daylight saving grew unpopular in Europe, especially among farmers, whose schedules were – and still are – dictated by nature and sunlight rather than the clock.

It wasn’t used on a large scale again until World War II, when Germany again popularised the practice. But a few years after the war ended, it fell out of favour for the second time. It only picked up again when France reintroduced it in 1976, in response to an energy crisis sparked by the oil embargo in 1973.

By 1996, the EU standardised daylight savings, which now runs from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October. 

But the future of daylight saving time looks uncertain once again. In 2019, the European Parliament voted to abolish the practice, however efforts to actually implement this measure have stalled. So at least for this year, sommartid will continue.  

Example sentences: 

När börjar sommartid? 

When does daylight saving time start?

Kom ihåg att sommartid börjar på söndag, så man behöver stå upp en timme tidigare.

Remember that summer time starts on Sunday, so you need to get up an hour earlier.

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