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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
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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.

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Swedish word of the day: milda makter

There are few easier ways of making a Swede laugh than to invoke the heavenly powers, with the phrase milda makter!

Swedish word of the day: milda makter

Milda is similar to the English word mild, and can be translated here as “gentle”, while makter is the plural of makt, which means “power”.

The phrase can therefore literally be translated as “gentle powers!”, and seems to be praising or calling for aid from deities other than, and perhaps subordinate to, the Christian one. 

It’s roughly equivalent to saying “goodness gracious”, “holy moly”, or “good heavens” in English, in that it’s a little archaic and also slightly coy, as the user is holding back from the more hard-hitting herregud (for God’s sake!). 

It always has mild amusement value, but I feel it’s funnier coming from someone who barely speaks Swedish. 

Other less common variants of the phrase include milda Matilda (mild Matilda) and milda tider (mild times).

When I spoke to the Swedish Language Council a couple of years ago to ask about the history behind milda makter, they told me it was difficult to be certain of the origin of the phrase, or what it refers to, before pointing to an entry in the Swedish Academy’s dictionary.  

This entry groups milda makter together with himmelska makter (heavenly powers), and alla makter (all the powers), as examples of “playful exclamations expressing great surprise”. 

If it’s your birthday party and your friends have arranged a giant oversized cake, the phrase milda makter might be in order. 

Or you might use it if you’re watching Melodifestivalen on TV and a singer who won Eurovision with a brilliant, rousing anthem stages a weird, self-involved interpretive dance piece, instead of giving the audience what it really wants. 

You can see an example of the phrase being put to good use in this sentence by Dagens Nyheter’s late great etiquette columnist Magdalena Ribbing, in which she expresses her annoyance at both people who thank others too much, and those who don’t thank others at all.  

Milda makter, suckar jag, så sorgligt korkade båda dessa ytterlighetsgrupper är, she writes. “Goodness gracious, I sigh, how depressingly wrong-headed both of these fringe groups are!” 

It’s also a phrase beloved of Sweden’s tabloid newspapers, as in this story about a giant strawberry: Milda makter, vilken gubbe! (Holy moly! What a strawb!)

Whatever its origin, I feel it’s a phrase that all newcomers to Sweden, and in fact any speaker of Swedish at all, should use at every opportunity. 

Example sentences:

Milda makter! Det var en stor fisk du fångade.

Holy moly, what a big fish you’ve caught!

Milda makter, titta på klockan!

Good heavens, look at the time!

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