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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
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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 kakorna. (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 kakorna.

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.

Member comments

  1. As a new learner and speaker of Swedish, unburdened by years of tradition and really just wanting to speak and write it correctly, I am absolutely in favor of bringing the written language into accord with the spoken form. The mismatch is, from the point of view of an outsider, a bit silly!

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Swedish word of the day: blåsippa

Today's word of the day is a little blue spring flower with an unexpected political connection.

Swedish word of the day: blåsippa

The blåsippa blooms in Swedish forests between April and May, meaning it is one of the earliest spring flowers to bloom in Sweden, even popping up through the snow in some areas.

The latin name for blåsippor is anemone hepatica, and they also go by the name common hepatica, liverwort or pennywort in English.

It is most common in southern Sweden, although it does grow as far north as southern Norrland.

The blåsippa is a protected flower in all of Sweden, meaning that you can’t dig it up or pick the flowers, so you won’t see the small blue flowers for sale in florists or garden centres.

In some areas, the rules are even stricter. In Halland, Skåne, Stockholm and Västerbotten counties, and parts of Västra Götaland county, you are not allowed to remove or damage the flowers or even collect its seeds.

The name blåsippa is a compound made up of the word for blue, blå, and the word sippa, which is the Swedish name for plants in the Anemone genus, which are related to buttercups and sometimes referred to in English as windflowers.

Other common plants in this genus you may also come across in Sweden are vitsippor (literally: “white sippor“, known in English as wood anemones), and gulsippa (“yellow sippa“, known in English as yellow anemone, yellow wood anemone, or buttercup anemone).

From left: backsippor (pasqueflowers), gulsippor (wood anemones), and blåsippor (anemone hepatica, also known as common hepatica, liverwort or pennywort). Photo: Jurek Holzer/SvD/Scanpix

The word sippa can be traced back to the Finland-Swedish word for vitsippa used in the Nyland or Uusimaa region of Finland: säper. This in turn comes from the French word chapel, borrowed into Swedish from the German schappel or scheppel, which means “crown of flowers”, “diadem”, “royal crown” or “bridal crown”.

In popular culture, blåsippor are perhaps most well-known as the official flower of the nationalist Sweden Democrats political party since 2006. The flowers are also blue and yellow, the same colours as the Swedish flag. 

Almost all of Sweden’s political parties have historically had official flowers, and some still do, such as the Social Democrats’ red rose, the Left Party’s red carnation, the Centre Party’s four-leaf clover and the Green’s dandelion.

The Christian Democrats had a wood anemone or vitsippa prior to 2017 and the Liberals had a cornflower prior to 2016. The Moderates are the only party without an official flower, choosing instead a blue letter M as their party symbol.

There is also a popular Swedish children’s song about blåsippor, Blåsippan ute i backarna står, about children picking blåsippor in the spring and running home to their mother, saying that they no longer have to wear shoes or socks because spring has now arrived.

Blåsippor don’t catch colds,” their mother says, telling them they still have to wear shoes and socks as it’s still winter.

Example sentences:

Får man plocka blåsippor?

Are you allowed to pick blåsippor?

Nej, blåsippor är fridlysta i Sverige.

No, blåsippor are protected in Sweden.

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.