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Inside Sweden: The secret languages that still exist in modern Swedish

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
Inside Sweden: The secret languages that still exist in modern Swedish
A Swedish word for money comes from this secret language. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Did you know that several words that are still in use in Swedish today originally come from a secret language made up by travelling salespeople?


The best thing about being a journalist is all the new things you learn.

This week, reading one of Becky’s articles in our Swedish Word of the Day series, I learned that the word stålar (slang for “money”) originally comes from a secret language called Månsing.

Månsing was invented by travelling salespeople known as knallar in western Sweden. They started travelling from village to village in the mid-16th century to sell their wares, although the practice peaked around the year 1800 and died out at the start of the 20th century.

During this time they developed their own language so that they could discuss matters of business they didn’t want to reveal to other people present. This consisted, essentially, of swapping certain words with words from other languages (often Romani) or tweaking a Swedish word.

A lot of these words were related to money, as they were traders.


Stålar comes from stål, meaning steel, which according to the Swedish Academy’s dictionary is probably due to the travelling salespeople often paying for things with small items made of steel.

Månsing often also used something known as back slang, swapping around the syllables in a word to form a new word. Fika, the Swedish word for enjoying coffee and cake, is one such example. It was created by swapping around the syllables in the Swedish word for coffee, kaffe.

Other Månsing words that are still in use in modern Swedish are sno (steal), lack på (to be cranky at something/someone), or lattjo (fun).


My first thought was “western Swedish traders, but these words sound like typical Stockholm slang to me” and it turns out I wasn’t completely wrong to make that link. A lot of words got picked up in local slang as the salespeople travelled across Sweden.

They were particularly adopted by people from the capital’s less law-abiding underbelly who developed them into their own language (to the degree that some differentiate between Older and Younger Månsing), and then they’ve lived on.

And Månsing isn’t the only secret language that’s spread to general Swedish.

Chimney sweeps used to speak something called Knoparmoj, which borrowed a lot of words from German because they often trained in Germany or were taught the trade by German experts.

Some of the Knoparmoj words that have survived until today include brallor (trousers), dojor (shoes), kola (to die – not to be confused with kola as in toffee) and kåk (an old house).

Does your native language have similar secret colloquialisms?

In other news

The ongoing recent gang conflict is still making headlines in Sweden. In the latest episode of Sweden in Focus, a crime reporter from Expressen tells us who’s who and what’s happening.

Other than that, there’s been a lot of money news in the past week, from the Riksbank’s raising of the interest rate (and warning that there are more rate hikes on the cards) to the government’s budget bill. It’s a surprisingly controversial bill, with the government’s tax decisions causing friction even among its right-wing voters and its relaxed green targets causing emissions to rise.

Foreigners in Sweden are affected by the budget to the same extent as many Swedes, but we of course also looked specifically at the measures that might be particularly relevant for immigrants.

Slightly scary to read this week that one Swedish gaming company is letting almost half of its staff go, replacing them with AI. For now, this newsletter at least was brought to you by a real person.

Take care,

Emma Löfgren

Editor, The Local Sweden

Inside Sweden is our weekly newsletter for members that gives you news, analysis and, sometimes, takes you behind the scenes at The Local. It’s published each Saturday and members can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences.


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