My Essential Guide to Sweden

In 2020, I was approached by the publishers behind the respected Culture Smart series to see if I would write a book about Swedish culture. I accepted and, finally, it is here! I am proud to join their staff of authors! Available soon to buy on Amazon, or via me. Just pm me if you’d like a copy. Today’s a good day!!!

The Nordic invasion of English

Hooked on the drama series Vikings, I am ploughing through all six seasons. The story follows the saga of legendary Vikings, who invaded the UK and continental Europe around 850 AD. The Vikings are portrayed as blood-thirsty, fame-thirsty, plunder-thirsty warriors coming from what today is Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

The Vikings first point of landing in the UK was on the island of Lindisfarne, close to where I am originally from in north east England. The visit resulted in devastation for the undefended locals. For me, this story has led to a lifelong fascination.

The many Viking raids on the UK spanned over 300 years, which meant that they left more behind them than just destruction and conquest. They also left language.

A lot of the words used in mainstream English today stem from old Norse. Even more exist in local colloquial language in Yorkshire and along the east coast. Some of these words are recognizable in the modern day Nordic languages. Here are 15 examples:

Berserk – from berserkr – meaning ‘bear shirt’ and depicting a jacked-up warrior who went into battle wearing nothing but an animal skin.

Cake – from kaka – meaning cake, biscuit

Happy – from happ – meaning good luck

Hell – from Hel, Loki’s daughter and ruler of the underworld

Husband – from hus bondi – meaning house occupier

Lad – from ladd – meaning young man

Loan – from lán – meaning to lend

Plough – from plogr – meaning to till the earth

Ransack – from ransaka – meaning to search a house

Run – from renna – to run

Skin – from skinn – meaning animal hide

Slaughter – from slatra – meaning to butcher

Thursday – from torsdagr – meaning Thor’s day

Ugly – from uggligr – meaning dreadful

Window – from vindauga – meaning ‘wind eye’

Words like knife, egg, scales, call, get, give, race, take, seem are all originally from Old Norse. The Vikings certainly had a massive influence on the English language.

What other words do you know that stem from Old Norse?

The longest Swedish word

A Swedish word you often hear this time of year is ‘högsommartemperaturer’. You hear it on the tv, radio, and read it in the newspapers. Literally translated, it means ‘high summer temperatures’. It is used in weather forecasts to describe the hot sunny days and evenings that we experience this time of year.

This is also a great example of Swedish language structure. Putting separate words together, in this case ‘hög’, ‘sommar’ and ‘temperaturer’ to form a longer word. This is one of the reasons why Swedish words often seem inscrutable to the foreign eye. It also means that Swedish words can sometimes get very long.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest Swedish word is:

‘Nordösterssjökustartilleriflygspaningssimulatoranläggningsmaterielunderhållsuppföljningssystemdiskussionsinläggningsförberedelsearbetensplanering‘.

Scary to read, huh? Well, try saying it. It translates as something like “Coast artillery flight searching simulator area material maintaining follow-up system discussion preparation tasks planning of the Northern Baltic Sea”. Still doesn’t really make sense even when separated into individual words!

By the way, did you know that the fear of long words is called ‘hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia’? Now that’s ironic isn’t it?

Swedish expression: Between the bird cherry and the lilac.

Right now in Stockholm we are between the bird cherry and the lilac. This Swedish expression ‘Mellan hägg och syren’ is used to describe this short period between when these two bushes blossom. At the moment the bird cherry is blossoming, but not yet the lilac. The period reflects the early days of summer and for many Swedes it is the most delightful time of the year. A friend of mine nostalgically said yesterday that ‘it smells like end of school’.

So where does this expression come from? Well, the common theory is that it was first used by a cobbler who put a sign up in the window of his shop. He had decided to take a brief holiday, and the sign read ‘closed between the bird cherry and the lilac’.

Stupid Swedes

Sitting with some friends yesterday, we discussed why the Swedish word ’korkad’ (corked) means stupid. After much research, we couldn’t find an answer but we guessed it had something to do with the fact that cork is empty, light and flighty. Another thought was once you have uncorked a bottle and drunk it, it is an empty vessel.

We might not have found the origin of the word ‘korkad’ but we did find lots of expressions in Swedish to call somebody stupid. Here are 15 of them!

1) Bakom flötet – behind the float (fishing)

2) Tjockskallig – thick skulled

3) Tappad bakom en vagn – dropped behind a carriage

4) Tappad i backen – dropped on the ground

5) Ut och cyklar – out cycling

6) Dum i huvudet – stupid in the head

7) Fårskalle – sheep skull

8) Obegåvad – ungifted

9) Har inte alla hästar i stallet/hemma – doesn’t have all his/her horses in the stable / at home

10) Inte den vassaste kniven i lådan – not the sharpest knife in the drawer

11) Hjulet snurrar men hamstern är död – the wheel is turning but the hamster is dead

12) Född i farstun – born in the porch

13) Har inte alla kottar i granen – doesn’t have all the cones on his/her fir tree

14) Jubelidiot – celebrated idiot

15) Hissen går inte hela vägen upp – the lift doesn’t go all the way to the top floor

Then there are lots of words like ‘korkad’ that are fun to say and all mean stupid. For example, ’trög, bombad, knasig, knäpp, puckad, pantad, pundig, beng, bläng, boll, ding, fläng, prillig, stollig, svagsint, rubbad, koko, blåst’.

Who knew there were so many ways to call somebody stupid in Swedish? I tend to just say ‘dum’ but I’m now going to practice a few more of these words and expressions.

Swedish expression: Cake on cake

The Swedish expression ‘kaka på kaka’ or ’tårta på tårta’ is translated as ‘cake on cake’. It is quite a commonly-used expression – but what does it mean?

Swedes use ‘kaka på kaka’ to describe something that is an unnecessary addition that becomes a bit too much, or even over the top. For example, ‘buying another television when we already have two is a bit cake on cake.

It can also mean an unnecessary repetition. In English – superfluous – ‘when you gave that example in your presentation, it was a cake on cake’.

The saying itself is an example of tautology – a concept in language where we unnecessarily repeat a word and it adds no meaning, eg chai tea (chai means tea), or salsa sauce (salsa means sauce) or naan bread (naan is bread). So the expression ‘cake on cake’ feeds into this concept by emphasising that one of the cakes is unnecessary.

The original meaning of the saying was related to overindulgence. So cake on cake meant basically you can’t get too much of a good thing – bring on the cake!! Over the years, and with the influence of Swedish moderation, it changed to mean too much that is not necessary.

Stockholm Syndrome – what is it?

The names Birgitta Lundblad, Elisabeth Oldgren, Sven Säfström and Kristin Ehnmark are not known to many people. However, they played an important role in the concept called Stockholm Syndrome.

On 23 August 1973, the four were taken hostage in Kreditbanken in Stockholm, by Jan-Erik Olsson – who was later joined by a former prison mate. Six days later when the siege ended, it became evident that the hostages had developed a positive relationship with their captors. They defended them, saying they were, for example, kind, generous and thoughtful. One of them even appealed on their behalf to Prime Minister Olof Palme. They refused to testify, and started a campaign to raise money for their kidnappers’ defense.

The syndrome was identified by criminologist Nils Bejerot. Psychiatrist Dr Frank Ochberg went on to define the syndrome as a situation where victims form positive attachment to their oppressors. He developed the process that people suffering from Stockholm Syndrome go through.

Firstly, there is an initial experience that is surprising and terrifying. The victims are certain they are going to die. Then they experience a type of infantilisation – where, like a child, they are unable to eat, speak or go to the toilet without permission. Small acts of kindness – such as being given food – prompts a primitive gratitude for the gift of life. The hostages experience a powerful, primitive positive feeling towards their captor. They are in denial that this is the person who put them in that situation. In their mind, they think this is the person who is going to let them live.

One of the Swedish hostages, Elisabeth Oldgren was allowed to leave the vault that had become their prison but only with a rope fixed around her neck. She said that at the time she thought it was “very kind” of Olsson to allow her to move around the floor of the bank.

One famous case of Stockholm Syndrome is Patty Hearst who was kidnapped by revolutionary militants in 1974. She appeared to develop sympathy with her captors and even became their partner in crime.

Natascha Kampusch was another case. Kidnapped and molested as a 10-year-old by Wolfgang Priklopil, she was incarcerated in a basement for eight years, but yet she mourned his death and lit a candle for him. Years after her escape in 2006 she still carried a photo of him in her wallet.

Today, psychologists see Stockholm Syndrome arising in other situations than kidnapping: abusive marriages, trafficking and sports coaching, for example. In popular culture, the excellent Netflix series ‘Le Casa De Papa’ depicts a robbery in the National Treasury and the ‘Síndrome de Estocolmo’ that several hostages experience.

In 2019, a film called Stockholm was released. Starring Ethan Hawke and Noomi Rapace it loosely tells the story of those fateful 6 days in 1973.

Stockholm Syndrome – what is it?

The names Birgitta Lundblad, Elisabeth Oldgren, Sven Säfström and Kristin Ehnmark are not known to many people. However, they played an important role in the concept called Stockholm Syndrome.

On 23 August 1973, the four were taken hostage in Kreditbanken in Stockholm, by Jan-Erik Olsson – who was later joined by a former prison mate. Six days later when the siege ended, it became evident that the hostages had developed a positive relationship with their captors. They defended them, saying they were, for example, kind, generous and thoughtful. One of them even appealed on their behalf to Prime Minister Olof Palme. They refused to testify, and started a campaign to raise money for their kidnappers’ defense.

The syndrome was identified by criminologist Nils Bejerot. Psychiatrist Dr Frank Ochberg went on to define the syndrome as a situation where victims form positive attachment to their oppressors. He developed the process that people suffering from Stockholm Syndrome go through.

Firstly, there is an initial experience that is surprising and terrifying. The victims are certain they are going to die. Then they experience a type of infantilisation – where, like a child, they are unable to eat, speak or go to the toilet without permission. Small acts of kindness – such as being given food – prompts a primitive gratitude for the gift of life. The hostages experience a powerful, primitive positive feeling towards their captor. They are in denial that this is the person who put them in that situation. In their mind, they think this is the person who is going to let them live.

One of the Swedish hostages, Elisabeth Oldgren was allowed to leave the vault that had become their prison but only with a rope fixed around her neck. She said that at the time she thought it was “very kind” of Olsson to allow her to move around the floor of the bank.

One famous case of Stockholm Syndrome is Patty Hearst who was kidnapped by revolutionary militants in 1974. She appeared to develop sympathy with her captors and even became their partner in crime.

Natascha Kampusch was another case. Kidnapped and molested as a 10-year-old by Wolfgang Priklopil, she was incarcerated in a basement for eight years, but yet she mourned his death and lit a candle for him. Years after her escape in 2006 she still carried a photo of him in her wallet.

Today, psychologists see Stockholm Syndrome arising in other situations than kidnapping: abusive marriages, trafficking and sports coaching, for example. In popular culture, the excellent Netflix series ‘Le Casa De Papa’ depicts a robbery in the National Treasury and the ‘Síndrome de Estocolmo’ that several hostages experience.

In 2019, a film called Stockholm was released. Starring Ethan Hawke and Noomi Rapace it loosely tells the story of those fateful 6 days in 1973.

Stockholm Syndrome – what is it?

The names Birgitta Lundblad, Elisabeth Oldgren, Sven Säfström and Kristin Ehnmark are not known to many people. However, they played an important role in the concept called Stockholm Syndrome.

On 23 August 1973, the four were taken hostage in Kreditbanken in Stockholm, by Jan-Erik Olsson – who was later joined by a former prison mate. Six days later when the siege ended, it became evident that the hostages had developed a positive relationship with their captors. They defended them, saying they were, for example, kind, generous and thoughtful. One of them even appealed on their behalf to Prime Minister Olof Palme. They refused to testify, and started a campaign to raise money for their kidnappers’ defense.

The syndrome was identified by criminologist Nils Bejerot. Psychiatrist Dr Frank Ochberg went on to define the syndrome as a situation where victims form positive attachment to their oppressors. He developed the process that people suffering from Stockholm Syndrome go through.

Firstly, there is an initial experience that is surprising and terrifying. The victims are certain they are going to die. Then they experience a type of infantilisation – where, like a child, they are unable to eat, speak or go to the toilet without permission. Small acts of kindness – such as being given food – prompts a primitive gratitude for the gift of life. The hostages experience a powerful, primitive positive feeling towards their captor. They are in denial that this is the person who put them in that situation. In their mind, they think this is the person who is going to let them live.

One of the Swedish hostages, Elisabeth Oldgren was allowed to leave the vault that had become their prison but only with a rope fixed around her neck. She said that at the time she thought it was “very kind” of Olsson to allow her to move around the floor of the bank.

One famous case of Stockholm Syndrome is Patty Hearst who was kidnapped by revolutionary militants in 1974. She appeared to develop sympathy with her captors and even became their partner in crime.

Natascha Kampusch was another case. Kidnapped and molested as a 10-year-old by Wolfgang Priklopil, she was incarcerated in a basement for eight years, but yet she mourned his death and lit a candle for him. Years after her escape in 2006 she still carried a photo of him in her wallet.

Today, psychologists see Stockholm Syndrome arising in other situations than kidnapping: abusive marriages, trafficking and sports coaching, for example. In popular culture, the excellent Netflix series ‘Le Casa De Papa’ depicts a robbery in the National Treasury and the ‘Síndrome de Estocolmo’ that several hostages experience.

In 2019, a film called Stockholm was released. Starring Ethan Hawke and Noomi Rapace it loosely tells the story of those fateful 6 days in 1973.

21 ways to die in Swedish

Yesterday was the sombre funeral of Prince Philip in St George’s Chapel in Windsor, UK. In the House of Nobility in Stockholm, his coat of arms was also hung as he was a member of the noble Swedish Serafimer order.

All this got me thinking about the different ways you can describe somebody dying. In English, we have expressions like ‘bite the dust’, ‘pop your clogs’, ‘join the choir’, ‘go to meet your maker’, ‘kick the bucket’ and ‘shuffle off your mortal coil’. I wondered how many words or expressions there are in Swedish – and I found 21!

Att dö – to die

Att avlida – to die

Att gå ur tiden – literally to ’go out of time’

Att gå bort – to ’go away’

Att somna in – to ’sleep in’

Att trilla av pinn – to fall off the stick

Att stupa – to fall (often in battle)

Att gå i graven – to go to the grave

Att gå hädan – to go away

Att samlas till sina förfäder – to be gathered by your ancestors

Att ta ned skylten – to ‘take down the sign’

Att kola vippen – untranslatable, meaning to die

Att bita i gräset – to bite the grass

Att duka under – to go under

Att dra sitt sista andetag – to take your final breath

Att vinkla upp tofflorna – to point up your slippers

Att dra på sig träfracken – to put on your wooden suit

Att ge upp andan – to give up breathing

Att krepera – to die

Att lämna jordelivet – to leave this earthly life

Att kila vidare – to die, to ‘run onwards’

Can you think of any more expressions or words to add to this list?