Where??! Ten hard-to-pronounce place names in Sweden

Learning Swedish is tough for many because of the tricky pronunciation. Some words are very long, making them real tongue twisters. The same can be said for some place names – not necessarily long, but hard to say. Here are ten difficult-to-pronounce place names in Sweden:

1) Hjo. This small town positioned on the West Bank of Lake Vättern is actually pronounced something like ‘you’.

2) Ystad. This south coast town is a tricky one. It’s the ‘y’ sound that makes this one hard as it’s a vowel sound that we don’t have in English, and many other languages. It’s pronounced ‘ee’ but with the lips rounded.

3) Kristianstad. It might look straightforward to pronounce this town in county Skåne, but it’s not. It is pronounced something like ‘Krischansta’.

4) Jönköping. You have to know something about Swedish pronunciation to say the name of this town in county Småland. ’J’ is pronounced ‘Y’. ‘K’ is often pronounced as ‘Sh’ and ‘ö’ is pronounced like ‘er’ (as in her but without the ‘r’ sound). That makes this place name ‘Yernsherping’.

5) Örnsköldsvik. This is a town in the north of Sweden and is a tongue twister. Swedes often refer to it as ‘Övik’, just to avoid saying the full name. It is pronounced something like ‘ern-sherld-sveek’

6) Växjö. This is a town deep in the forests of county Småland. Pronounced ‘Veck-sher’ (kind of) it’s quite a tricky one.

7) Göteborg. The large west coast city of Gothenburg is a hard one to say in Swedish, which is probably why the name was changed to a more easily-pronounced English name. It is pronounced something like ‘yer-te-borry’.

8) Åmål. Once you grasp the ‘å’ sound, this one becomes easier. ‘Å’ is pronounced like the English ‘or’ but without the ‘r’ sound. So this town on the banks of Lake Vänern is pronounced ‘ormorl’

9) Skellefteå. This town in the northern county of Västerbotten is pronounced ‘Shell-efte-or’ (without the ‘r’ sound on the end).

10) Hamrångefjärden. This small village is outside the town of Gävle (also difficult to say). It is amongst the longest place names in Sweden, together with Skummeslövsstrand, Skinnskatteberg, Guldsmedshyttan, and Hälleviksstrand. (Try saying those!). Hamrångefjärden is pronounced something like ‘Ham-wrong-e-fyare-den’.

Sweden: the spiritual magic of ‘joiking’

We have all experienced moments of beauty in our lives. One of mine is something I experienced on a trip to the North of Sweden in an town called Hemavan.

The resort we stayed at had a restaurant at the bottom of a ski slope. One day when we were in there, a Sami man climbed up onto the small stage and began to sing an enchanting song. He was dressed in traditional blue and red Sami dress, and through the large windows behind him we could see reindeer high up in the snowy landscape.

It is a beautiful, serene image that is forever etched in my mind.

A contributing factor to the impact this had on me is how the man was singing. In fact, he wasn’t singing, he was ‘joiking ’. What, you might wonder, is joiking ?

Joiking is not a song as such, but a melodic sound that is integral to Sami culture. It is used to express relationships to people and nature. Traditionally, joiks have no lyrics, consisting of chanting, not unlike that found in some Northern American Indigenous cultures. They can also include mimicry of animal sounds.

Like in the restaurant, joiks are often performed for entertainment. However, they can also have a spiritual function. In past times, a noaidi (Sami shaman) could perform joik whilst beating on a Sami drum with bones to contact the spiritual world.

In Sami culture, most people are given their own melody, like a signature tune. This leads to the Sami saying that they are “joiking someone” rather than “joiking about someone”. Most joik melodies are about people, but also animals and places can have their own joiks. Animal joiks are often about wolves, reindeer, or birds such as ducks.

During the Christianization of the Sami from the 1700s onwards, joiking was considered sinful and was banned. But it survived and today is included as a frequent part of Swedish cultural events. Most recently, a Sami artist was televised joiking in a celebration of Crown Princess Victoria’s birthday in July.

If you’d like to experience some traditional and modern joiking, check out the links below. You will be captured by its melancholy and immediately transported to the mountains and plains of northern Sweden.

Swedish expression: Lazy Dog

I was listening to a presentation the other day and the presenter kept saying that he would provide users with a ‘lazy dog’. In Swedish, the expression makes sense, but in English it makes no sense – it means literally a dog that is lazy.

The Swedish word ‘lathund’ or ‘lazy dog’, is the word for a quick reference guide, or a cheat sheet. If you need support to follow a process, for example, you can follow a ‘lazy dog’. It is designed to make life easier and for things to go faster.

The word ‘lazy dog’ has been around in the Swedish language since the 1600’s. However, at that time it was used as an insult to a lazy person – ‘you lazy dog’. In the 1800’s, it changed to its current meaning – but its implication is the same. A person who uses a ‘lathund’ is a person looking for quick fixes and short cuts – in other words ‘lazy’.

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 immigrant as burden. A Swedish masterclass in scapegoating.

The leader of the Swedish Moderate party aims to win the next election. To do this, he is taking further steps to the right to appeal to the conservative and nationalistic trend that is currently sweeping the country. It is his only way to grab the power he so desperately craves. This little man, with big ambition. In his most recent speech, he said that ‘immigration has become a burden for Sweden’.

What he really means is that immigrants have become a burden. Human beings. He isn’t talking about immigrants like his three adopted daughters from China. Oh no, they are raised as ‘proper Swedes’.

He isn’t either talking about white, privileged European immigrants like myself. Oh no, he’s referring to dark-skinned people, many who have had to fight for their survival, and who come to this country with nothing. According to him, it is these people of colour that are dragging the country down.

That is what he means. Make no mistake.

Racism, nationalism and fear are rapidly on the rise in Sweden, fueled by the lies of politicians like this man. His facts are wrong and his rhetoric exaggerated. Immigration is actually at an all time low in Sweden. The country currently has the strictest immigration laws it has ever had. But still this man and these ideas are gaining traction.

His party, and his right-wing lackies, supported by the media, have succeeded in associating Sweden’s current ills with immigrants: economic imbalance, crime, security. ‘Immigrant as criminal’ is not a new argument, it is a successful argument that echoes from our not-so-distant European history. It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s misleading and incorrect.

We humans seem to always want a scapegoat. This concept comes from the Bible’s Leviticus, in which a goat is designated to be cast out into the desert to carry away the sins of the community. Scapegoating can be traced as far back as the 24th century BC. We think we are so advanced in Sweden but we are not. We still fall for the lies of charismatic politicians and we still look for easy scapegoats. Blaming all the immigrants is the predictable option. A casebook example.

On Facebook, there is a group called ‘Nysvenskar i Sverige’ (New Swedes in Sweden). I urge you to join it. It is a refreshing counterbalance to the veiled xenophobia in main stream media and politics. The group is full of people who have moved to Sweden and who are telling their stories. Each person demonstrates how they are an asset to this country, and far from a burden on society. They work, they pay taxes to the Swedish state and they contribute. They end their texts with ‘I am not a burden’.

There are also Swedish-born people in the group. One person called Anna writes this:

I am plus 40 and was born in Sweden to Swedish parents. I have previously been unemployed for 6 months, I have been on sick leave due to cancer, several times. I have used the health care system to its max. I have three kids, all in state subsidized school. We receive parental benefit. Need I go on? NO!

I do not have to prove that I am a burden on society. Why should I also have to prove I am an asset? No. A handful of people have the need to call people a burden. We are ALL a ‘burden’ more than once in our lives. It is the blend of everything that makes us people. Nationality has nothing to do with how you are as a human. Those who think otherwise should educate themselves and go out into the world. Sincerely, A Human. Who happened to be born in Sweden.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Please share this post. Please join the FB group. Please make your voice heard.

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.

Do you believe in Swedish sin?

Yesterday, a new book was published by author Rickard Gramfors. The book, entitled ‘Do you believe in Swedish sin?’ looks at Swedish exploitation and cult films. The book includes ‘350 outrageous, sexy, violent, fun movie posters from the Fifties to the early Eighties. Swedish films of all kinds, whacky co-productions, exported Swedish babes, and international films using the words Sweden, Schweden, Svezia, Suède as selling points; if it was “Swedish” – it was sexy!’

I have put my order in.

This international concept of Swedish sin still lingers around today, and influences some foreigners’ perception of Swedish women. Where does it come from?

Maybe unsurprisingly, it originates in the prudish conservative USA. In a speech given by US president Dwight D Eisenhower in 1960, he claimed that “sin, nudity, drunkenness and suicide” in Sweden were due to welfare policy excess. This was a rhetorical way to attack Swedish people and politics at the same time. However, the world quickly forgot the link to welfare policy – but the sin reference remains.

He was basing his opinion on the scandalous Swedish fifties art films like ”One Summer of Happiness” and ”Summer with Monika”, birth-control pills, sexual education publications and condom vending machines. Swedish nudity was prevalent in most of the films throughout the 60’s and 70’s thus cementing the idea of Swedish sin.

In 1971, the Swedish sex education film ‘Language of Love’ was released in London to massive protest. One anti-film sign read ‘Sweden – more pornography, more suicides, more alcoholism and more gonorrhoea every year’.

Place on top of these scandalous films, young women who were self-determined, educated, liberated and sexually-active, and the stereotype becomes fixed.

The interesting thing about stereotypes is that they remain for a very long time. This is why the notion still exists today even though Swedish film today is far from exploitative.

Additionally, stereotypes often have little to do with reality. The reality was of course something else in Sweden at that time. The country was not riddled with promiscuous, drunken people. For example, Sweden had the world’s most restrictive alcohol laws and was struggling with the oppressive inheritance of Lutheran thinking.

So, did Swedish ‘sin’ ever actually exist? Or was it a politically motivated attack aimed at undermining social democracy? Or was it just a marketing trick to sell films and magazines?

I’ll let you be the judge of that.