Swedish word of the day: milda makter

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Swedish word of the day: milda makter
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

There are few easier ways of making a Swede laugh than to invoke the heavenly powers, with the phrase milda makter!


Milda is similar to the English word mild, and can be translated here as "gentle", while makter is the plural of makt, which means "power".

The phrase can therefore literally be translated as "gentle powers!", and seems to be praising or calling for aid from deities other than, and perhaps subordinate to, the Christian one. 

It's roughly equivalent to saying "goodness gracious", "holy moly", or "good heavens" in English, in that it's a little archaic and also slightly coy, as the user is holding back from the more hard-hitting herregud (for God's sake!). 

It always has mild amusement value, but I feel it's funnier coming from someone who barely speaks Swedish. 

Other less common variants of the phrase include milda Matilda (mild Matilda) and milda tider (mild times).

When I spoke to the Swedish Language Council a couple of years ago to ask about the history behind milda makter, they told me it was difficult to be certain of the origin of the phrase, or what it refers to, before pointing to an entry in the Swedish Academy's dictionary.  

This entry groups milda makter together with himmelska makter (heavenly powers), and alla makter (all the powers), as examples of "playful exclamations expressing great surprise". 

If it's your birthday party and your friends have arranged a giant oversized cake, the phrase milda makter might be in order. 

Or you might use it if you're watching Melodifestivalen on TV and a singer who won Eurovision with a brilliant, rousing anthem stages a weird, self-involved interpretive dance piece, instead of giving the audience what it really wants. 


You can see an example of the phrase being put to good use in this sentence by Dagens Nyheter's late great etiquette columnist Magdalena Ribbing, in which she expresses her annoyance at both people who thank others too much, and those who don't thank others at all.  

Milda makter, suckar jag, så sorgligt korkade båda dessa ytterlighetsgrupper är, she writes. "Goodness gracious, I sigh, how depressingly wrong-headed both of these fringe groups are!" 

It's also a phrase beloved of Sweden's tabloid newspapers, as in this story about a giant strawberry: Milda makter, vilken gubbe! (Holy moly! What a strawb!)

Whatever its origin, I feel it's a phrase that all newcomers to Sweden, and in fact any speaker of Swedish at all, should use at every opportunity. 

Example sentences:

Milda makter! Det var en stor fisk du fångade.

Holy moly, what a big fish you've caught!

Milda makter, titta på klockan!

Good heavens, look at the time!

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