In a restaurant in Stockholm last night, I happened to use the word ‘klutt’ to describe a small dollop of food. My dinner companions did a double take and asked me to repeat what I said. ‘En klutt’ I said. They looked at each other and burst into laughter. You see, a ‘klutt’ does describe a small dollop. But not food. It’s a small dollop of poo. Sometimes, speaking a foreign language just ends up going so wrong!
This led to a conversation on the different Swedish words for poo. I made a mental note of them, so I could share them with you. I also googled some other words. Here they are. Enjoy!
- Bajs – poo
- Bajskorv – poo sausage (a turd)
- Klutt – a small dollop of poo
- Skit – shit
- Blaffa – a huge mound of poo
- Lort – piece of poo, sometimes dried out
- Avföring – defecation
- Exkrement – excrement
- Mocka – big pile of poo, often from cattle
- Rövgröt – poo with the consistency of porridge
- Lös avföring – diarrhea
- Racerbajs – diarrhea that requires running to the toilet
- Sprutlack – explosive poo that covers a large surface
Any other words I’m missing that just have to be on this list?
Every year, the Swedish Language Institute announces which new words have made it into the Swedish dictionary.
Some of the words are totally new, some have been given a new meaning but all reflect the cultural and political influences of the year.
Here are 10 of the new words from 2017:
1) ‘alternativa fakta‘ – alternative facts. Coined by Trump minion Kellyanne Conway
2) ‘dabba‘ – to dab, a type of dance move
3) ‘döstäda‘ – to death clean. To clean out one’s possessions before death so that surviving family members don’t have to
4) ‘fejkade nyheter’ – fake news
5) ‘knäprotest‘ – to kneel in protest
7) ‘plogga‘ – to jog and pick up rubbish at the same time
8) ‘serieotrohet‘ – series cheating – to watch an episode of a series without your partner (when you are supposed to be watching it together)
9) ‘skogsbad‘ – a form of therapy where one emerses oneself in the forest to reduce stress. Called ‘shinrin-yoku’ in Japanese.
10) ‘veganisera‘ – to make a vegan version of food that normally contains animal products.
To see the whole list, go to http://www.sprakochfolkminnen.se
Swedish is often a very literal language. Yesterday, the 26th December, is a good example of that.
In the UK, the 26th December is known as ‘Boxing Day’. In many countries it’s St Stephen’s day – in Finland, it’s ‘Stefani Day’. In Ireland it’s ‘Wren’s Day’. In South Africa, it’s the ‘Day of Goodwill’.
And in Sweden? Well, here comes the literalness.
It’s called ‘Second Christmas Day’.
As recently as today, I heard the Swedish expression ‘sedan Dackefejden’ (since the Dacke feud). It is used, often ironically, to describe something very old. ‘I haven’t heard this song since ‘dackefejden’, for example. Or ‘that car looks like something from dackefejden’.
I became curious to learn about this Dacke feud that everybody’s referring to. So I checked it out.
It happened 1542-1543, and was the biggest peasant uprising in Nordic history. It happened in the rural county of Småland in southern Sweden and was against King Gustav Vasa. The leader of the uprising was peasant Nils Dacke, and he was angry that the king had raised taxes and forbidden the sale of cattle and butter to the neighboring county of Blekinge, which at the time belonged to Denmark. Additionally, the king had plundered all the silver from their churches and wanted them to renounce their catholic faith.
So they rebelled, and took control of large parts of Småland and Östergötland. Such was their control, that Nils Dacke celebrated Christmas in Kronberg Castle outside of the town of Växjö.
Of course king Gustav Vasa wasn’t too happy about this feud and made various attempts to undermine the leaders. He offered sanctuary for those who surrendered, he slandered Nils Dacke as a false and unreliable person. And in 1543, he attacked – totally defeating and quashing the rebellion.
Nils Dacke was killed by the king’s soldiers. The people of Småland were punished with high taxes, the insurgents were banished to Finland, the leaders were executed and the whole of Dacke’s family was completely eradicated. So it really seemed to be a bad idea to argue with King Gustav Vasa.
And you literally won’t have met a member of the Dacke family ‘sedan dackefejden’.
I’m looking out of my window into the blackness of the Swedish afternoon. It’s not even 4pm yet, and the weak rays of light that illuminated the day have long gone. It’s like somebody literally turned off the light on their way out.
This is November in Sweden – one of the darkest times of the year in Sweden. The night blanket roles in over the country mid afternoon and keeps its grip until mid morning the next day. Far up in the north of Sweden, the sun barely peeks over the horizon.
It can be a challenging time for those of us who live here – this period before the snow and the Christmas decorations light up the streets and windows.
Since language develops to describe our environments, it makes sense that in Swedish there are many words to describe the darkness. Native Swedes can instinctively feel the difference between these words, but those of us who have Swedish as a second language have to resort to a dictionary to understand the nuances.
The word ‘svart’ is ‘black’ in Swedish. And there are several types of black – there’s ‘becksvart’ (pitch black), ‘korpsvart’ and ‘ramsvart’ (raven black) and there’s ‘kolsvart’ (coal black). I’m sure there are more, please let me know if you have any others.
But there are also lots of other words that describe the darkness. I’ve tried my best to translate some of these below.
- Skymning – nightfall
- Dunkel – dim
- Skumrask – half dark
- Sollös – without sun
- Töcknig – misty darkness
- Molndiger – cloudy darkness
- Ljusfattig – poor light
- Dyster – gloomy darkness
- Grådaskig – dingy
With all these words in their vocabulary, some people complain about the darkness. And who can really blame them? It is a tough period to get through. The darkness can go a long way towards explaining the stereotypical Swedish melancholy.
So how to survive it? Maybe it’s about shifting perspective?
In the words of the well-used, and highly consoling Swedish expression:
‘Det är bättre att tända ett ljus än att förbanna mörkret.’
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness!
Probably ‘antiestablishmentarianism’ is one of the most notorious long English words that exist. However, in general we don’t have so many long words in the English language. This is because we use the space bar to separate words. Unlike Swedish.
In the Swedish language, grammar rules allow many words that would be separated in English to be arbitrarily conjoined, making it one veeeerrry long word. This can be mind boggling for the new language learner trying to get a grip on the linguistic acrobatics of the Swedish language.
Here are some of the longest co-joined words in Swedish. Take a breath. And speak Swedish…
1) nagellacksborttagningmedel – nail polish remover
2) diskrimineringsombudsmannen – ombudsman for discrimination
3) realisationsvinstbeskattning – capital gains tax
4) hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliofobi – fear of long words!
5) blodsockerprovtagningsmaskin- blood sampling equipment
6) användervänlighetsundersökning – enquiry into user-friendliness
7) trafikavspärrningsarbetsupgifter – traffic barrier tasks
8) eurovisionsschlagerfestivalsfinalsdeltagare – eurovision finalist
9) korttidsanställdasommarlovspraktikanter – summer job workers with short term contracts
10) mindervärdighetskomplex – inferiority complex (what one gets trying to pronounce these words!)
And finally… try this one out. According to the Guiness Book of Records the longest Swedish word is nordvästersjökustartilleriflygspaningssimulatoranläggningsmaterielunderhållsuppföljningssystemdiskussionsinläggsförberedelsearbeten.
For a while now the non-binary pronoun ‘hen’ has been used in the Swedish language. ‘Hen’ is used to refer to somebody who does not relate or feel represented by the established pronouns for he (han) and she (hon). Initially met with ridicule by some people in Sweden, the ‘hen’ pronoun is slowly starting to gain in usage amongst Swedes and in ordinary vernacular.
I have long assumed that non-binary pronouns do not exist in English apart from the neutralizing use of ‘they’. Imagine my surprise when I read an article today in the Huffington Post which proved me wrong. The article talked about the queering of language. The guide to English non-binary pronouns are presented in the table.
It’ll certainly take some getting used to to add new pronouns into the vocabulary. However, language is one of our greatest tools for celebrating diversity and increasing inclusiveness.
For that alone, I think it’s worth the effort.