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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Kiva! Seven unique Finland Swedish words the world needs to know

Sweden is not the only country where Swedish is spoken as a first language. Here are some words that are unique to the Swedish that's spoken in Finland.

Kiva! Seven unique Finland Swedish words the world needs to know
The border between Sweden and Finland. Photo: Erik Simander/TT

Across the Baltic sea in neighboring Finland nearly 300,000 people speak Swedish as their first language.

Having been part of the Swedish empire from 1249 until 1809, this led to a large group of the population along the coast speaking Swedish as their first language. Nowadays Finland has two official languages, although the usage of Swedish varies across the country. A person who speaks Swedish as their first language is called a Swedish-speaking Finn.

Although the Swedish spoken in Finland is similar to the one spoken in Sweden, Finnish has sneaked its way into the language. As a result there are several unique words that only Swedish-speaking Finns use. Sometimes, it may even feel like you’re speaking another language. These words are called finlandismer.

Below are a few Finland Swedish words that you may find useful, although keep in mind that there are several dialects across the country that may use the words differently.

Roskis

Sweden Swedish equivalent: papperskorg/soptunna

English meaning: trash/bin

One of the most famous Finnish Swedish words. Originating from the Finnish word for trash, it’s pronounced rÅskis, as the o is pronounced the Finnish way.

Juttu

Sweden Swedish equivalent: grej/historia/inslag

English meaning: thing

A very flexible word that can be used to mean pretty much anything. A useful word to have on hand. You don’t know how to describe something? Just call it a juttu and that’ll keep the conversation flowing. Also originally a Finnish word, but very common among young Swedish-speaking Finns.

Råddigt

Sweden Swedish equivalent: stökigt

English meaning: messy

Although the origins of the word are unclear, this is a word that most likely originated from various Finnish Swedish dialects. Råddigt is used to describe something that is messy, like a room or a car.

Krabbis

Sweden Swedish equivalent: baksmälla

English meaning: hangover

If you’ve had a few too many drinks, you may experience some krabbis the following day. You can also use the word krapula to describe the banging headache you experience, although this is a word mainly used in the Helsinki region.

Did you have one too many last night? You may be feeling a bit krabbis today. Photo: Fotograferna Holmberg/TT

Håsa

Sweden Swedish equivalent: jäkta

English meaning: rush

You’re running around, trying to find everything you need, struggling to take a break? A Swedish-speaking Finn may ask you to sluta håsa (stop rushing) and calm down. Another Finnish word that has managed to sneak its way into the Swedish language. 

Nakupelle

Sweden Swedish equivalent: naken/näck

English meaning: naked

The Emperor has no clothes, he is nakupelle. When a person isn’t wearing any clothes, they are nakupelle. Has several times been voted the best finlandism in existence by Swedish-speaking Finns.

Kiva

Sweden Swedish equivalent: kul/trevlig

English meaning: nice/fun/exciting

Similar to juttu this word is very useful in everyday language. Also originally a Finnish word from the Northern parts of the country, kiva has managed to establish itself as one of the most common words in the Swedish language among young people in Finland. You will rarely hear older Swedish-speaking Finns use this word.

Useful in situations to keep the conversation going. Don’t know how to respond to someone? Just say kiva and that will be enough. Your intonation will show just how nice you think something is. Kiva!

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

​​Swedish word of the day: tandfe

How the fee for a warrior's good luck charm became a fairy.

​​Swedish word of the day: tandfe

Tandfe means ‘tooth fairy’ in modern Swedish. Why mention the ‘modern’ bit? Well, because it didn’t always mean this. 

In the folklore of various countries, the tooth fairy is a winged creature that replaces a lost milk tooth (usually placed under a pillow or in a glass of water) for a gift, most often a coin or a bill. 

But this fairy is not even a fake fairy, it is a double fake, nothing but a mistranslation. Going back to pre-Christian times in Scandinavia, among the Norse peoples, a tannfé was a gift given to children when they lost their first tooth.

The Old Norse word tannfé, is made up of the two words tann, meaning ‘tooth’, and , which has the same root as the modern day Swedish , meaning animals that are kept for financial return, such as cattle. comes from the older or , meaning ‘property; wealth’. Often used to denote what was given to pay for something. In other words a ‘fee’.

So tandfe really means “tooth money” or a “tooth fee”. The confusion is of course with the French word fée or English ‘fay’.

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This tradition of giving gifts for teeth is so old it even appears in Norse mythology, more specifically in the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse narrative poems. There it is written that Álfheimr, home of the light elves and the god Frey (whose sister Freyja might be the reason why the fifth day of the week is called Friday), was gifted to the infant Frey as a tooth gift. 

Alfhęim Fręy

gǫ́fu í árdaga

tívar at tannféi.

Meaning: 

Alvheim fick Frej

av de andra gudarna

i tandgåva arla i tiden.

As translated by Björn Collinder. Notice, arla, in Collinder’s translation, like the milk company, means ‘early’ or ‘ere’ and has the same root. This is also where ‘yearly’ comes from, but the word in Old Norse is árdaga, meaning ‘in days of yore’. Let us attempt a translation in English:

Alfheimr, Frey

was gifted in old days

by the Gods as a tooth fee.

This tradition itself is said to have come from the belief that children’s teeth offered protection or luck in battle, and that many Norse warriors wore them on necklaces.

Perhaps when your kids are old enough to not believe in the tooth fairy anymore, you can finally tell them the truth about this double fake fairy, and give them a piece of real mythology and history to replace it with.

Example sentences:

Mamma, tror du tandfen kommer om jag lägger min tand under kudden?

Mommy, do you think the tooth fairy will come if I put my tooth under the pillow?

Det finns ingen tandfe!

There is no tooth fairy!

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.

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