12 ways to describe Swedish money

I’ll never forget how I learned the Swedish word for money. New in Sweden, I went to see a performance of Cabaret at the National Theatre. The musical was in Swedish but I figured it would be ok as I knew the story line. It was fairly entertaining but, to be honest, a bit boring. Until the song ‘Money makes the world go round’ came on. In this song, there’s a line that goes ‘money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money’. The singers pranced around the stage and sang ‘pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar’. It was repeated so often that I never forgot the word ‘pengar’ ever again.

However ‘pengar’ is just the formal word for money in Swedish. Like the US has its ‘buck’ and the UK has its ‘quid’, Swedish also has a lot of colloquial words for the Swedish krona (crown). Here are some examples:

Deg – dough – possibly related to putting food on the table in olden days

Lax – literally a salmon – meaning a thousand crowns. In the early 1900’s, the 1000 crown bill was pink.

Röding – literally a char – meaning 500 crowns

Selma – an old word for 20 crowns. The name is taken from the portrait of author Selma Lagerlöf on the 20 crown note.

Pix – meaning crowns

Kosing – cash

Stålar – cash – refers to steel/metal that coins are made of

Kova – cash. The expression ‘kova raha’ was on 1700’s money. This is Finnish for ‘hard money’.

Pluring – cash. Possibly related to the Latin ‘plures’ meaning many. The word ‘pluring’ was originally used to refer to large amounts of money.

Bagis – a crown. From an older word ‘bagare’ which means baker. Referring probably to the original silver coins that were as white as flour.

Spänn – a crown. Probably borrowed from German ‘späne’ which is slang for money, or English ‘spend’.

Flis – money. Flis also means small wood chips, so it may have originated in Swedish to mean small values of money.

I’m sure there are a lot more words! Please feel free to add them here!

Sweden! Knull is coming!

Marvel Comics recently released an advert for an upcoming event with the slogan ‘Knull is coming!’ The headline has caused raised eyebrows, and curiosity, in Sweden.

Knull is apparently a super villain in the Marvel universe. Knull is an all-powerful creature that kills other gods. He is immortal and self-healing. His name should imbue fear and dread. The problem is in Sweden, it is more likely to inspire ridicule.

The thing is that the word ‘Knull’ in Swedish means ‘fuck’.

So, ‘Knull is coming’ has a whole different meaning to the Swedes than the rest of the world.

I wonder who’s going to tell Marvel? Or maybe they already know – and don’t give a knull.

Swedish Summer Talks

Every summer in Sweden, there is a wonderful tradition. This tradition began in 1959.

Every day for 6 weeks or so, at 1pm, there is a summer talk on Swedish radio channel 1. This might sound mundane, but it is, in fact, an integral part of the Swedish summer.

Each day, a different person is responsible for the talk. This person shares their life stories, perspectives, life lessons, experiences and sometimes their tragedies. They play music of their choice. It is 90 minutes of pure relaxation, with a big dash of voyeurism. Some of the talkers are celebrities, some are politicians, or authors or activists, or influencers, or actors or philosophers or soldiers or priests or even ordinary people.

The talks are in Swedish, although the speakers can originate from outside of Sweden. It is considered an honour to be asked to hold a talk. I would love to do one. I’d share by life story and my perspectives on Swedish culture from my outside perspective. Oh and I’d play music by Kate Bush and The Smiths! What a self indulgent treat!

This year so far we have heard State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell share his story. We also heard climate activist Greta Thunberg. She actually did her talk twice – both in Swedish and English. It is a really inspiring, and somewhat frightening talk about the climate crisis we are in. If you’d like to listen to it, and I urge you to do so, here is the link:

So listen and enjoy a piece of Swedish summer tradition.

10 hot Swedish words

As we are currently enjoying a heatwave in Sweden, it made me think of the different words for, or related to, being hot. As in temperature hot. Not sexy hot. This is what I came up with:

Het – hot

Varmt – warm and also hot

Stekhet – ‘frying hot’

Tropisk – tropical hot

Brännande – burning hot

Glödande – glowing hot like embers in a fire

Rykande – smoking hot

Svettig – sweaty

Febrig – to have a temperature. Can also mean horny apparently, a bit like the American ‘hot and bothered’.

Fuktig – humid (not what you were thinking it meant). Also means damp.

Can you think of any others to add to the list?

The ‘worst’ Swedish names

It’s funny how some names just don’t translate well. Years ago when I was living in London, I had a Swedish friend called Lasse visiting. At a party I introduced him to another person. ‘Oh’ she said ‘Lasse! That’s a really funny name! It’s the name of a film star dog!’ My friend Lasse looked unamused. He responded by saying ‘Well, what about your name Pippa? In Swedish that means fuck’!

In Swedish, there are some unusable names – because they simply don’t work in an international environment. Many names that are fine in Swedish, are just not in English. Let’s take a look at ten of the ‘worst’ Swedish names.

Titti – there are 1028 women called Titti in Sweden. They have an average age of 53. The most well-known one is a radio host called Titti Schultz. The last Titti to be registered in Sweden was born in 2014.

Jerker – this name works fine in Swedish. Not so much in English. Its masturbatory connotation makes it somewhat tasteless. In Sweden, there are 2705 men called Jerker in Sweden, with an average age of 49. Since 2010 nobody has been registered with this name.

Fanny – this name also exists in English and is considered by many to be inappropriate. Meaning vagina in British English and backside in American English, it’s probably best to avoid it as a name. In Sweden there are 10703 women called Fanny. The Bergman film Fanny and Alexander made the name popular again in the 80’s, so the average age of the name Fanny is actually 25.

Pekka – about 8% of Sweden’s population are Finnish, and of course they give their children names of Finnish origin. Pekka is such a name. Currently there are 2308 Pekkas in Sweden. The name is unfortunate because, to the English-speaking ear, it is suspiciously close to ‘pecker’ which is a slang word for penis.

Lo – a lovely name in Swedish sounds like ‘loo’ in English. To Brits, this means toilet. 2717 females are called Lo, and 1207 males. They average an age of 8, which means their name-related problems are ahead of them.

Sigge – a popular name for boys today. 2161 males have the name, averaging the age of 8. In Swedish, it’s quite a cute name but internationally it sounds like ‘ciggie’ – which means cigarette.

Birger – the name works in Swedish as it has the pronunciation of ‘biryer’. But in English it’s unfortunately pronounced Burger. There are 30,000 men with this name in Sweden, averaging the age of 66. In 2019, 11 new baby Birgers were however registered.

Simon – while we are on the subject of pronunciation, the name Simon becomes relevant. No problem pronounced the English way, but in Swedish the ‘i’ sounds like a ‘ea’. So the name is pronounced seamon, which is rather regrettable.

Odd – an old Nordic name which is beautiful in Swedish. But in English it means strange and weird. Maybe not what we want our newborn to be associated with. That said, there are 1373 of them in Sweden.

Birk – pronounced ‘birrck’ in Swedish, it’s probably also easy for Scots to say. However, English people would say ‘berk’. This is unfortunately a slang word for idiot or dickhead. There are 562 males called Birk averaging an age of 11, and it’s growing in popularity. It is an old Nordic name meaning ‘trading place’.

The great Swedish moose migration

Sweden isn’t only an urban country of towns and cities, it also has an amazing countryside and wildlife. Wild animals that roam the Swedish countryside include wolves, brown bears, lynx, deer, wolverines, reindeer and moose.

Every year, a wonderful wildlife event happens. Called ‘the great moose migration’, the Swedish moose walk the same path to get to their summer grazing pastures.

If you are interested, you can watch this event unfold as it happens. Part of the concept known as slow TV, the Swedish National TV is currently broadcasting the migration around the clock. It is slow, it is snowy and it is spectacular at times.

To see the broadcast go to: https://www.svtplay.se/den-stora-algvandringen

Please note: the moose is the national animal of Sweden. Called ‘älg’ in Swedish, there is frequent debate about whether it is translated as moose or elk. The answer is that it is both! It is called ‘moose’ in American English and ‘elk’ in British English. In North America, there is an animal called an elk, but it is a different animal, known also as a wapiti. The North American elk looks like this, and is a kind of deer:

The North American moose/ European elk/ Swedish ‘älg’ looks like this:

The ‘älg’ has the same Latin name as the British elk, and the North American moose (alces).

Whether moose or elk, it surely is impressive.

Swedish expression: Life on a stick

The expression ‘life on a stick’ – (livet på en pinne)- is used in Swedish to describe a care-free, wonderful life. In the mind of the modern Swede, it conjures up images of, for example, lying on the beach, or floating in the lake, or partying and eating favourite food, or chilling with a beer in the sunset.

The expression is epitomised in a song released by a TV personality called Edward Blom with the name ‘Livet på en pinne’. It includes lyrics such as:

Livet på en pinne
Göra var dag till en fest
Ta varje liten chans du får och njut
Minut för minut, livet på en pinne
Nåt för varje sinne
Ja, låt ditt välbehag få blomma ut’

This translates roughly as:

Life on a stick, make every day a party, take every little opportunity you have to enjoy, minute for minute, life on a stick, something for every sense, yes let your contentment blossom.

So, where does this expression ‘life on a stick’ come from?

There are a few different theories, including a traveling hobo with his possessions in a cloth hung on a stick, and a hygrometer measuring humidity and expansion of a stick. The expression dates from the 1800’s and probably has a more rural origin.

One theory is that the expression relates to birds sitting on a branch in a tree, living a seemingly unfettered life. Another theory is to do with hens.

In the 1800’s in the countryside, many people kept hens and each farm had a hen house. The hen house was stuffed full with hay and sticks and the birds sat there and had a comfortable and carefree existence. While the farmers and their other animals toiled hard, the hens simply enjoyed their life on a stick.

Swedish expression: to make soup from a nail

In Swedish there is an expression ‘att koka soppa på en spik’ (to make soup from a nail). This is used to mean that somebody has the ability to accomplish or produce something through minimal means; to produce something with no or very little available material. It can be used to describe inventiveness and perseverance.

Where does the expression come from?

It originates in a traditional Swedish fairy tale about a tramp who tricks a miserly old woman into giving him soup. The tramp has only a saucepan and a nail which he begins to boil to make soup. He then asks the old woman for some herbs to add flavour. By gradually asking for more and more ingredients, he succeeds in the end to make an edible soup from the nail.

The fairy tale exists in many European countries and has actually been dramatized in film and theatre. If you’re interested in reading the Swedish version, here it is: http://www.berattarverkstan.se/net/soup.htm

When the name fits…

Sometimes in the sporting world, the name of the sportsperson really suits the sport. I think this is kinda funny. Here’s a list of some sportspeople, Swedish and other, and their highly relevant names:

Johanna Skottheim – Swedish Biathlon skier (with skis and a gun). Skott means shot in Swedish.

Sara Sjöström – Swedish swimmer. Sjöström means lake stream

Timo Boll – German table tennis player. Boll means ball in Swedish.

Josh Beaver – Australian swimmer

Zhu Ting – A Chinese football player – pronounced ‘shoo-ting’

Nathan Leeper – an American high jumper

Jeffrey Float – an American swimmer

Anna Smashnova – a Russian tennis player

Tiger Woods – an American golfer – wood is a type of golf club

Usain Bolt – fastest man in the world, a bolt of lightning from Jamaica.

Pernilla Wiberg- Swedish Alpine skier. ’Berg’ means mountain in Swedish.

Can you think of any more to add to the list?

12 Swedish films – a must see list

I remember the first Swedish film I ever saw. I was living in London, and there was a film festival in a cinema on the South Bank. I’d never heard of the film, but had heard of the author who’s book it was based on – Astrid Lindgren. The film was called ‘Ronja, the robber’s daughter’, and it was a dramatic romp set in the Viking era. I loved it.

Since then, I’ve seen many Swedish films, of varying quality, from Christmas romcoms to Bergman. The Swedish film industry is alive and kicking, and many films are released in the Swedish language every year. Sweden even has its own center of film-making lovingly nick-named Trollywood.

If you’re self-isolated at home and you’d like to watch a Swedish film, here are some that I think are good, in no particular order:

1. ‘Monica Z’ – drama about Swedish jazz legend Monica Zetterlund, played amazingly by singer Edda Magnusson.

2. ‘Border’ (Gräns) – dark drama about a border guard who can smell fear

3. ‘As it is in heaven’ (Så som i himmelen) – drama about a famous conductor who retires to a remote village and takes over the local choir. Drama ensues.

4. ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ (Män som hatar kvinnor) – a action thriller about legendary anti-hero Lisbet Salander and a twisted murder mystery plot. Starring Noomi Rapace.

5. ‘House of Angels’ (Änglagård) – a comedy drama about a modern young woman who inherits a house from her mother in a small rural village. But she is not welcomed by all.

6. ‘The Dalecarlians’ (Masjävlarna) – a comedy drama about a woman who visits her hometown to celebrate her father’s 70th birthday. An urban-rural clash takes centre stage. Starring ‘The Bridge’s Sofia Helin.

7. ‘Fanny and Alexander’ – a long Bergman film about a wealthy family in Uppsala. A classic Christmas saga and probably the only Bergman film that everybody likes.

8. ‘Let the Right One in’ (Låt den rätte kommer in) – a drama horror film about a vampire child living in a dark Stockholm suburb

9. ’My life as a dog’ (Mitt liv som hund) – a drama about a young boy and his odd way of dealing with life’s set backs.

10. ’The Hunters’ (Jägarna) – a drama thriller about a wicked group of hunters in the north of Sweden.

11. ’A man called Ove’ (en man som heter Ove) – a drama comedy based on the best-selling novel about the adventures of a grumpy, old man in a Swedish small town.

12. ‘Show me Love’ (Fucking Åmål) – a drama comedy love story between two young girls in the conservative town of Åmål.

There are of course lots more Swedish films to see. If you’d like to check out more, go to: http://www.svenskfilmdatabas.se