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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: bajamaja

Today's word of the day is fun to say, less fun to use.

Swedish word of the day: bajamaja
Didn't ABBA once write a song about portaloos? Oh wait, that was Waterloo. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Our word of the day today is bajamaja. The plural of bajamaja is bajamajor. Note that, in Swedish, the letter “j” is pronounced like “y”, so this is unfortunately not pronounced in the same way as the English word “major” – a more accurate pronounciation could be something like bye-a-my-a for the singular, or bye-a-my-or for the plural.

Bajamaja is the Swedish word for a portable chemical toilet, like those often found at music festivals or other temporary outdoor events. These toilets are known in British English as a “portaloo”, and in American English as a “porta-potty”. Both “portaloo” and “porta-potty” are brand names which have now become the word used to describe all chemical toilets, and the Swedish word bajamaja is no exception.

Although the name was probably chosen due to the fact that it rhymes, it does also have an interesting etymology.

The word baja is a less-common synonym of the verb bajsa, a word you have almost certainly come across if you know any Swedish children, who love to talk about bajs (poo) and call each other bajskorvar (poo sausages).

Therefore, the first half of bajamaja can be translated as “poo”. The second half, maja, is an older term which can still be found in some Swedish dialects, and can be translated as a primitive building such as a hut or den. Indeed, maja is the Finnish word for “hut” and the Estonian word for “house”, which both come from the Latvian word for house: māja.

So, a bajamaja can be roughly translated as a “poo den” or a “poo hut”. Think about that next time you’re in need of one at a music festival.

Example sentences:

Usch, den bajamajan var jätteäcklig!

Ugh, that portaloo was really disgusting!

Vår BRF ska ha rörarbete nästa sommar, vi kommer behöva använda bajamajor nere i gården.

Our housing association is planning pipe work next summer, we’re going to have to use portaloos in the courtyard.

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 – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: liga

You may have this word in your native language or recognise it from football leagues such as the German Bundesliga or Spain's La Liga. Liga has a similar meaning in Swedish, too, with one crucial difference.

Swedish word of the day: liga

Liga originally comes from Latin ligāre (“to bind”). In most languages, liga means “league”, a group of individuals, organisations or nations who are united in some way.

Similar words exist in many European languages, such as Dutch, Spanish, Czech and Polish liga, Italian lega, French ligue and Romanian ligă.

A league is almost always something positive or neutral in other languages, but in Swedish a liga is something negative – a criminal gang, with the word ligist referring to a (usually young, male) gang member, thug or hooligan.

Political or diplomatic leagues are usually translated into Swedish as förbund (“union” or “association”) rather than liga: one example is the Swedish term for the League of Nations, Nationernas förbund.

The only exception to this rule is sport, where the popularity of international football leagues such as the Bundesliga and the Premier League has lessened the negative meaning somewhat in this context. Fans of hockey will be familiar with SHL, Svenska hockeyligan, and Sweden’s handball league is referred to as handbollsligan.

The history behind liga’negative meaning in Swedish can be traced back to the Thirty Years’ War, which took place largely within the Holy Roman Empire between 1618 and 1648.

Essentially, the Thirty Years’ War began as a fight between Protestant and Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire, with Catholic states forming the Catholic League and Protestant states forming the Protestant Union.

Sweden was – and still is – Lutheran, meaning that, when they got involved in the war in 1630, their enemies were the Catholic League – or the katolska ligan in Swedish, with its members being referred to as ligister or “league-ists”.

King Gustav II Adolf eventually beat the Catholic League in 1631 at the Battle of Breitenfeld, ultimately leading to the formal dissolution of the league in 1635 in the Peace of Prague, which forbade alliances from forming within the Holy Roman Empire.

Although this may seem like ancient history, Swedes still don’t trust a liga – the word’s negative connotations have survived for almost 400 years.

Swedish vocabulary:

Jag är lite orolig för honom, han har börjat hänga med ett gäng ligister.

I’m a bit worried about him, he’s started hanging out with a group of thugs.

Manchester United har vunnit den engelska ligan flest gånger, men City är mästare just nu.

Manchester United have won the Premier League the most times, but City are the current champions.

De säger att det står en liga bakom det senaste inbrottsvågen.

They’re saying there’s a gang behind the recent spate of break-ins.

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 USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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