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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
Don't get this confused with the similarly-spelt word "ligga", which means "lie down" or "have sex". Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: skitkul

Today’s Swedish word of the day is a word you use to affirm how fun something was, or with an ironic tone, how boring something is or was.

Swedish word of the day: skitkul

And it’s got the word for “shit” in too, which always makes for a great word in Swedish.

Swedish is a language that lends itself well to building new words, and often some colourful prefixes can be found appended to many different nouns. One of those prefixes is skit-, which, you guessed it, means ‘shit’. Skit- is used both negatively and positively, and should be seen as emphasizing whatever the word it is attached to is trying to convey. It is less offensive than “shit” would be in English. You can happily use skitkul in conversation with your mother-in-law (or in a headline on a news website).  

Skit- should also not be pronounced as the English ‘skit’, but sounds more like a boiling kettle trying to say ‘shit’. If you can imagine that. Here’s the phonetic spelling /ˈɧiːt/ in case anyone knows how to read it. 

Another lovely example of the ever-present skit- prefix is skitfet. It literally means ‘shit-fat’, but is used in somewhat the same sense as ‘phat’, which as most of you know means ‘cool’, but naturally in a cooler way.

As previously mentioned, skit- can be found in many words, like, skitnära (shit-near), skitful (shit-ugly), skitäckligt (shit-disgusting), skitunge (shit-kid), skitbra (shit-good), skitrolig (shit-funny), skitstor (shit-big), skitball (a shit-good time), and so on and so forth. In fact, a good way of becoming more integrated into Swedish society might be trying to build new words with the prefix skit-. Many Swedes, I am sure, will be more than happy to assist. 

Then there is the second part of our beloved word skitkul, which is -kul. And kul is kul, and generally understood to mean ‘fun’, as in something being fun.

The origin of this word, however, is a bit murky. Some say it originates in the Finnish word kyllä, meaning ‘yes’ or ‘sure’, but another possible origin can be found in the Romani word ‘kul’ which means ‘completely’. That is then supposed to have merged with a Swedish word for something being ‘successful and excellent’, kulan, which can be seen in the expression ‘kulan i luften’, meaning either ‘the ball’ or ‘the bullet in the air’. 

We can only guess where that phrase originates. Perhaps a reference to gambling, as in the ball is flying into the roulette wheel, or maybe to war in the case of it meaning bullet. But that might be the stuff of another article. 

It’s been skitkul to examine this wonderful word with you. Best of luck putting it to use!

By Alex Rodallec

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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