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.
I have written a lot about funny Swedish words, such as prick, fart and slut.
I was wondering the other day about how many funny English words there are….words that Swedes find funny? To be honest, I could only actually think of a few.
Please help me to add to this list!
English words that Swedes find funny
- Pink – a delightful color in English – means pee in Swedish
- Kiss – a gesture of love in English – means pee in Swedish
- Goodbyes – as in ‘saying your goodbyes’ – means good poo in Swedish
- Pippa – the posh girl’s name as in Pippa Middleton – means to shag in Swedish
- Bra – as in supportive underwear – means good in Swedish
- Fan – a tool for cooling us down – means fuck (as in damn) in Swedish
- Rap – the music form – ironically means burp in Swedish
- Skit – as in a satirical sketch – means shit in Swedish
After my last blog about Swedish geography, somebody commented that it is hysterical that there is a place in Sweden called Norrbotten.
This got me thinking.
When first moving to Sweden and learning the language, I saw all sorts of funny words which made me giggle. Now, some two decades later, I don’t even see those funny words any more – I have been Swedified.
- ‘Plopp’ to me is a chocolate bar, and nothing else
- ‘Puss’ is a kiss and not a little kitty or a body part
- ‘Kiss’ isn’t a romantic exchange between consenting people. Kiss is urine
- ‘Slut’ is simply the end of something
- ‘Avfart’ on a motorway is just the exit
- ‘Rea’ is a sale and not an old British singer
- ‘Kök’ and ‘kock’ are the kitchen and the chef, not a body part
- I don’t even see the squidginess of the ‘slutspurt’ any more. All I see is that it’s the end of the sale.
- I don’t titter any more when someone says ‘shit’ to describe the putty around the window or the number six is the same as ‘sex’.
- ‘Prick’ is a dot and not an insult
It is with a smidgen of regret that I guess I have been integrated – at least linguistically!
One of the fun things about learning a foreign language are the words that are rude, or funny in your own language. Swedish has a few of them: slut, kräpp, plopp, kock. But the funniest one is probably the most purile; it is the ever prevailing ‘fart’, especially when you see it on street signs. This is the word that has most visitors to Sweden holding their sides with laughter.
Even after all these years, I can still have a little giggle when I think about the word ‘fart’ and its various usages in Swedish. In Swedish, ‘fart’ can mean a lot of things such as speed, drive, route, pace, spirit, vivacity, rate. But it is when it is put together with another word that it becomes amusing. Childish, I know…but here we go…
- utfart – ‘out fart’ – exit from a building
- uppfart – ‘up fart’ – driveway
- infart – ‘in fart’ (sounds painful) – entrance
- avfart – ‘of fart’ – exit from a motorway
- framfart – ‘forward fart’ (quite an accomplishment) – progress
- fartkamera – ‘fart camera’ (didn’t know these existed) – speed camera
- kringfart – ‘circular fart’ (also sounds painful) – causeway
- fartfylld -‘full of fart’ (know a few people like that) – speedy
- krypfart – ‘crawl fart’ – crawl
- luftfart – ‘air fart’ (the worst) – air travel
- fartrand – ‘fart stripe’ – go faster stripe on a car
- maxfart -‘maximum fart’ – top speed
- farthållare – ‘fart holder’ (dangerous) – cruise control
- blixtfart – ‘flash fart’ – flash speed
- fjärrfart -‘distant fart’ – transocean traffic
- halvfart – ‘half fart’ – half speed
- snigelfart – ‘snail fart’ – snail speed
And the one that they are currently building in Stockholm and which is written about in the media.
It’s the worst one of them all – the förbifart – the ‘passing fart’.
Or the ring road, if you prefer.
As we all know, language is organic and we constantly borrow and interchange words between languages. The word kiosk is for example originally Turkish, restaurant is French, gnu is African Knoisan and alcohol is Arabic.
But what words has Sweden contributed with that have been adpoted into English, and even into other languages?
Well, there are a few…
- Moped – comes from ‘trampcykel med motor och pedaler’
- Smorgasbord – from the Swedish ‘smörgåsbord’ meaning buffet
- Gravlax – from the Swedish ‘gravad lax’ meaning cured salmon
- Ombudsman – a Swedish word meaning representative
- Orienteering – from Sweden’s ‘orientering’
- Tungsten – Heavy stone in Swedish
- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday – ok, technically Norse but partially Sweden!
- To glean – from the Swedish dialectal verb ‘att glena’
- Gauntlet – from Sweden’s ‘gatlopp’
- Canoodle – debated, but likely to be from Sweden’s word for fornicate – ‘knulla’
This list is probably incomplete. Any other words you would like to add?