Swedish word of the day: utspring

Graduating high school is a big deal in Sweden, as today's word shows.

Swedish word of the day: utspring
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Utspring comes from ut (out) + springa (to run). You could translate it as “running-out” or “graduation dash”.

On the day of graduation, students typically run out of the school building, class by class. Groups of family and friends will be waiting for them outside, often with posters showing a photo of the student as a child.

The tradition started in the 1960s, when students had a final exam to complete on their final day of high school. That’s no longer the case, but the utspring is going strong.

Students will typically be wearing white (for women) and suits (for men) and sailors’ caps. And the celebrations don’t stop with the utspring; high school graduation is a big deal in Sweden, and the day continues with the students boarding trucks or floats to drive around the town, and parties into the evening.

In 2020 and 2021, the celebrations have had to adapt to the pandemic, which included limiting the number of students participating in each utspring, the number of relatives who could attend and enforcing distance between them.

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Swedish word of the day: dom

Today's word of the day has a number of different meanings, one of which is not technically correct when used in written Swedish - at least not yet.

Swedish word of the day: dom

Dom has a few different meanings in Swedish. First up is the Swedish word for a court verdict (from the Old Norse dómr meaning ‘judgement’), which you can also see in the words domare (judge or referee), and att döma (to give a sentence or a verdict), in this sense related to the English word ‘deem’.

Other words related to att döma or dom in the sense of a verdict or judgement include att bedöma (to judge) and en fördom (a prejudice).

The word dom can also mean ‘dome’ (from Latin domus), as well as the word for cathedral, where it is actually a shorter version of the word domkyrka (literally: ‘dome church’). Another Swedish word for ‘dome’ is kupol.

The final meaning of the word dom, and the one this article will focus on, is the spoken form of the words for ‘they’ and ‘them’ in Swedish, de and dem, which you may also see in informal writing, such as on social media or in text messages.

Dom is our word of the day today, as it looks like it may soon become official correct Swedish, replacing de and dem in written Swedish.

It’s been around for a long time – according to Språktidningen, it existed in certain dialects of Old Swedish, and examples of the precursor to dom, þom, exist in texts as early as the 1300s.

In 1954, the agency responsible for sending radio news, Tidningarnas telegrambyrå (which later became TT newswire) asked the Authority for the Protection of the Swedish Language how de and dem should be pronounced on air, as the use of dom in speech was becoming more and more popular.

They were told that di – a version of dom which has all but disappeared nowadays – and dom were acceptable “when speech flows freely and uncontrolled”, but that de and dem should be used when reading news items. The authority further said that di was “rural” and dom was “vulgar”.

Over the following decades, dom became more and more common in news broadcasts, both on the radio and on television, when TV broadcasting started in Sweden. This culminated in a call for a dom reform in the 1970s, by which time it had thrown off the shackles of its lower-class reputation.

Nowadays, no one is arguing against the use of dom in speech, but many Swedes are still against the use of dom in text, preferring instead to write de or dem.

In a 2022 study by Novus on behalf of Språktidningen, only 26 percent of Swedes wanted to make ‘dom’ official, with 39 percent preferring to continue to use ‘de’ and ‘dem’, and 31 percent having neither positive nor negative feelings towards a ‘dom’ reform.

Somewhat paradoxically, as the group most often accused of having problems with ‘de’ and ‘dem’, Swedes between 18 and 29 were most against a ‘dom’ reform, with the majority – 58 percent – against.

At the other end of the scale, Swedes over the age of 65 were most positive towards a reform, with 28 percent for a reform and 26 percent against.

What do you think? Should Sweden bring in a dom reform so the written language better reflects the spoken language, or should Swedes stick to what they know and keep writing de and dem, despite pronouncing both words dom?

Please leave a comment under the article. 

What do de and dem mean in English?

For English speakers, it’s relatively easy to figure out which one to use in text, as dem translates directly to ‘them’, and de to ‘they’ (or sometimes ‘the’ for plural nouns). Note that the correct pronunciation of both words is dom, regardless of the spelling.

Here are some quick examples:

De bakar kakor. (They bake cakes.)

Jag vill äta dem. (I want to eat them.)

De goda kakor. (The nice cakes.)

If Sweden were to carry out a language reform, these sentences would instead be written as follows, but still pronounced the same:

Dom bakar kakor.

Jag vill äta dom.

Dom goda kakor.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.