What’s your most embarrassing linguistic faux pas?

Every week, we ask a regular panel of readers to discuss a particular aspect of life in Sweden. This week: linguistic faux pas.

What's your most embarrassing linguistic faux pas?
The Local; Philip MacKenzie

Graeme Newcomb

Graeme Newcomb

On a balmy summer night last year I thought (in my wine-fueled state) that I would try and impress my in-laws with my fluent mastery of the lingua franca. I spotted a large fox running towards the forest and thought, here is my opportunity: brimming with confidence I exclaimed what I thought was “titta på den stora räven” (‘look at that big fox’). What actually came out was “titta på den den stora röven” (‘look at that big asshole’). By this time the fox had disappeared into the forest and the only thing visible was the neighbour, who is universally unpopular with the in-laws. The gods of multi-cultural relationships were looking down on me that night.

Emma Chataway

Emma Chataway

Whenever I speak Swedish I feel pretty embarrassed all of the time, sometimes I’ll be concentrating hard on making sure I say a particular thing right or pronounce something properly that I make another mistake that I’d usually get right. It’s just so frustrating to think so much about what you’re going to say next.

Once when I was at my boyfriend’s parents’ place, I was losing terribly in a card game with the whole family. I tried to get my boyfriend to help me and batted my eyelids and said, “Älskar du med mig?” Everyone looked up and started laughing. I didn’t realize I had asked if Micke was sleeping with me; I thought it was an innocent, “Do you love me?” I’ll never make that mistake again.

One thing that really annoys me is that I can’t say ‘familj’ right. I just can’t round it off at the end, I don’t hear the difference between how I say it and how my boyfriend says it, but somehow it’s always wrong. I can say ‘sju’, I can pronounce all the letters in the alphabet fine, I just can’t seem to get ‘familj’ right. So if I have to say it I always make a small cough towards the end of the word, I really don’t want to be feigning a cold every time I talk about my family but it seems to work or make Micke laugh whenever I give it ago. But I pledge, one day I’ll say it perfectly and before that happens I’ll keep practicing. And well, if it never happens, I guess I’ll just have to keep coughing.

Igor Trisic

Igor Trisic

Generally I have problems with everything at the moment. It even seems that my English has gotten a bit worse since I started speaking Swedish. When it comes to the grammar the hardest is to make sure that conditional adverbs (e.g ‘inte’) come after finite verbs in conditional sentences. Furthermore ‘hade’ and ‘har’ are almost omitted in conditional sentences in written Swedish which often makes me wonder was it ‘hade’ or ‘har’ which got omitted. As for pronunciation, the biggest problem right now is how one should pronounce ‘ö’ and ‘sj-’. ‘Sjuksköterska’ for example. And I guess I will not be going to ‘Örebro’ anytime soon.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith

So far I have not had any embarrassing moments, but I have had some problems with the tone and pronunciation of some Swedish words. My most usable phrase is, “Kan du prata engelska?”

I must not be saying it quite right, because I get some puzzling looks from Swedes when I say it, but once I say, “English”, everything is fine.

Daniel Nyström

Daniel Nyström

When I was younger I played hockey for Djurgårdens IF and we once had a Canadian team visit and stay with us. I was quite good at English for my age (about 13), but I really hadn’t figured it out 100 percent yet.

We all had one player from the other team staying with us. When I didn’t know how to say a word, I wanted to say “I don’t know how to pronounce that.”

But I kept saying, “I don’t know how to expel that” — relating to the word “spell”.

Every time I said that, he looked at me funny, but didn’t correct me, and in retrospect it’s one of those things that made me take more interest in my English classes.

Mary Uhlin

Mary Uhlin

Linguistic faux pas for me have been many, but as for now when I do speak Swedish, I still inject the words in English when I am uncertain if I have said it correctly. I mostly have faux pas when I engage in conversations.

For example, in my office last week they were talking of going to a Microsoft meeting after lunch, I spoke up and said that I had also brought “micro mat” (microwave food) with me to eat and continued on with how everyone seemed to be doing that a lot more these days. [Microsoft in Swedish is pronounced meecro – soft].

I am still at the stage where I must listen intently to what is being said because every time I go a little on auto-pilot I never get it right! However, I am usually always good for giving the people around me a good laugh!


Italian word of the day: ‘Inchiodare’

You'll nail this word in no time.

Italian word of the day: 'Inchiodare'

What do a carpenter, a detective, and a bank robber screeching to a halt in their getaway car all have in common?

In English, not much – but in Italian, they could all be said to inchiodare (eenk-ee-ohd-AHR-eh) in the course of their professional activities.

In its simplest form, inchiodare simply means ‘to nail’ (chiodo, ‘kee-OH-do’, is a nail) – a picture to a wall, or a leg to a table.

Ha trovato questo cartello inchiodato alla sua porta.
She found this notice nailed to her door.

Inchioderò la mensola al muro più tardi.
I’ll nail the shelf to the wall later.

But like ‘to nail’, inchiodare has more than one definition.

You can use it to describe someone or something being ‘pinned’ in place, without actually having been literally nailed there.

Mi ha inchiodato al muro.
He pinned me to the wall.

La mia gamba è inchiodata al terreno.
My leg is pinned to the ground.

You can be metaphorically inchiodato to a place in the sense of being stuck there, tied down, or trapped.

Dovrei essere in vacanza e invece sono inchiodata alla mia scrivenia.
I should be on holiday and instead I’m stuck at my desk.

Don'T Forger You'Re Here Forever GIF - The Simpsons Mr Burns Youre Here GIFs

Siamo inchiodati a questa scuola per altri tre anni.
We’re stuck at this school for another three years.

Sono stati inchiodati dal fuoco di armi.
They were trapped by gunfire.

Just like in English, you can inchiodare (‘nail’) someone in the sense of proving their guilt.

Chiunque sia stato, ha lasciato tracce di DNA che lo inchioderanno.
Whoever it was, they left traces of DNA that will take them down.

Ti inchioderò per questo omicidio.
I’m going to nail you for this murder.

Thomas Sadoski Tommy GIF by CBS

Senza la pistola non lo inchioderemo, perché non abbiamo altre prove.
Without the gun we’re not going to get him, because we have no other proof.

For reasons that are less clear, the word can also mean to slam on the brakes in a car.

Ha inchiodato e ha afferrato la pistola quando ha visto la volante bloccando la strada.
He slammed on the brakes and grabbed the gun when he saw the police car blocking the road.

Hanno inchiodato la macchina a pochi passi da noi.
They screeched to a halt in the car just a few feet away from us.

Those last two definitions mean that you’re very likely to encounter the word when watching mystery shows or listening to true crime podcasts. Look out for it the next time you watch a detective drama.

In the meantime, have a think about what (or who) you can inchiodare this week.

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