What are your favourite words in Swedish? (Part 2)

In the second part of a series on the best words in Swedish, The Local's regular panelists dissect everything from bacon rind to the common breast wart.

What are your favourite words in Swedish? (Part 2)
Photo: Tambako the Jaguar

Claudia Tenenblat

Claudia Tenenblat

I will have to say my favorite word is hmmmm. The first time I was here I heard a phone conversation between my husband and his mother that lasted for five minutes in which he said only that. But in so many variations!

After so many years, this still surprises me; the apparently infinite possibilities of the “word” hmm. Such as “Are you ready?” “Hmm” (yes). “Are you sure?” “Hmm” (maybe). “Do you like it? “Hmm” (no). “Hmm” (listen!). “Hmm” (really?).

To tell you the truth, I am not so sure I like it but it is so peculiar… so Swedish! The worst thing is, I am beginning to use it myself! Hmmmm…

Then there are the family relations names: mormor, morfar, farbror, moster, barnbarn, etc. They all seem so primitive, more like descriptions than people. And when you widen the generations, it gets even worse: mormorsmor or farfarsfar!

On the other hand, there are some beautiful words and expressions in Swedish. I particularly like annorlunda (different) and att vara kär (to be in love).

[TL notes: Mormor, for example, means maternal grandmother, but translates literally as mother mother.

The others mentioned above:

Morfar, maternal grandfather, lit. mother father

Farbror, uncle, lit. father brother

Moster, aunt, lit. mother sister

Barnbarn, grandchild, lit. child child

Mormorsmor, maternal great grandmother, lit.mother mother’s mother

Farfarsfar, paternal great grandfather, lit. father father’s father]

Nabeel Shehzad

Nabeel Shehzad

There are quite a few Swedish words that make me confused. I know their meaning now, but still find them hard whenever I see them.

One of them is utbildning, it simply means education but I always get the impression that it is some kind of a building (or rather: the exit to the building).

Another word that I find very hard to say is sjuttiosju, the Swedish translation for seventy-seven. I still don’t know how to pronounce it correctly (either shuti-shooo or khuti-khooo). Whatever it is, I still find it very funny to say.

Another Swedish word that I really like is fika. I think it cannot be really translated but it means something like having coffee with your friends but can be used for any social gathering.

One word in Swedish that I don’t like at all is skatt. I think everyone is Sweden knows its meaning. (For those who don’t know, it means ‘tax).

Sanna Holmqvist

Sanna Holmqvist

Sommarmorgon (summer morning). For the sound of it. All those m’s and o’s have a nice, relaxing sound to them, which describe very well a proper Swedish summer morning: beautiful, warm, early, sunny; you take your breakfast coffee outdoors and sit in the sun, knowing you have a long, lovely day ahead. A Swedish summer day is very long, because of the sun being up for so many hours.

If I like sommarmorgon because it sounds beautiful, the word I like least in the Swedish language must be fläsksvål. Not because of what it means (it simply means bacon rind), but the sound of it reminds me of finger nails being scratched against a black board.

Typical for Swedish are a number of words that are very literal, and I like them because they are so direct and practical. Husdjur (lit. house animals) means pets, i.e, animals you have in the house (cats, dogs, guinea pigs…), as opposed to the ones in the stables (!).

Noshörning (lit. nose horn) means rhinoceros. Well, you have an animal, he has a horn on his nose, what could be a better name for him than nose horn? No latin, no confusion. Very practical. Very Swedish.

Långsint (lit. long-minded) is another favourite word. Not because being långsint is a good thing, but because it is such a good word and lacks an equivalent in English. According to my dictionary, it means someone who “doesn’t forget things (forgive) easily, he is always bringing up the past”. As opposed to kortsint (lit. short-minded) which means someone who forgives, forgets and moves on.

It is interesting, I think, that we obviously find långsinthet (lit. long-mindedness) so offensive that we needed a particular word for it!

Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström

I have way too much fun with the Swedish language. I am pretty fluent, but English is still my dominant language. Because of this, I like to play with Swedish. I like direct translations. Literal translations. Word for word.

The beauty of Swedish is that it can be an incredibly descriptive language despite, or maybe because of, its simplicity. The Swedish vocabulary is full of words that are straightforward and to the point.

Of course, there are a few that stand out. Some because of that simplicity. Others because they make me laugh. Which probably doesn’t speak highly of my maturity level. Either way, these words always bring a smile to my face.

Tandkött – in Swedish it means gums. A literal translation, which is

descriptive in a glorious and somewhat disgusting way, means tooth

meat. It has a nice ring to it I think.

Bröstvårta – in Swedish it means nipple. Literally though? Breast wart. Not exactly a pretty picture.

Grönsaker – in Swedish it means vegetables. Literally, it ends up meaning green things. Simple, yet descriptive. I think it really gets the point across.

I know that translating anything word for word can result in plenty of entertainment. But for some reason, the straightforward description seems to lend itself to quite a few Swedish/English gems like these.

Tiffany Hoffman

Tiffany Hoffman

One of my favorite things about the Swedish language is that there is no limit to how many letters a word can have. So, words like rusdrycksförsäljningsförordningen [rules governing the sale of alcoholic beverages] exist.

Of course, these types of super-long words are really specialized, but they’re still fun. Here’s a YouTube video with fun, difficult-to-pronounce Swedish words:

Aside from any super-long words–which immediately go on my list of favorites to say–I really like the words lagom (just right) and skönt (a nice feeling). Since there isn’t really an exact translation into English, it makes these words really unique.

Lastly, I think I have to confess that some of my favorite words to use are words that I made up. Of those, I really like barnfågel–which to me is a completely logical word for “baby bird”. Oh, and semla is my favorite word when I’m craving something sweet.

Carina Silfverduk

Carina Silfverduk

When I first arrived in Sweden, I already knew a bit of Swedish. I often fell into fits of giggles every time I saw the word slut. Slut REA! The possibilities for pictures to send to my American friends and family seemed endless. The problem, of course, is that you need to know English AND Swedish to appreciate the humor. If you don’t know what slut (end, final) or rea (sale) stand for then it’s not that funny.

I also like other words that are shorter than their English counterparts (i for ‘in’, for example). I like them because I’m lazy when I use my phone to text message; shorter words are easier to text. I’ve decided that the ultimate efficient texting method would be to combine the shorter English words and Swedish words and write in Swenglish as many of my friends call it.

For members


Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day: 'Qualcosa non torna'

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.