Swedish Lesson #12

Smörgås [sm’ör:gå(:)s]

While you may have heard of smörgåsbord (one of few Swedish words adopted by the English language), you probably didn’t know that the Swedish word for sandwich, smörgås, means “butter goose”.

As bizarre as that sounds, the origin of the word isn’t that crazy: Back when people churned their own butter, small lumps would rise to the milk’s surface and someone likened these lumps to geese bobbing on a lake. Somewhere along the way this came to mean the whole sandwich, not just the lumps.

Swedish Lesson #11

Ogooglebar [o:g’o:ɡelb:ar]

You’ve probably heard of this one by now after all the worldwide press it got that Google had pressured the Swedish Language Council into dropping ogooglebar (“ungoogleable”) from its annual list of new Swedish words. A classic case of the Streisand Effect, it backfired in the most spectacular way and birthed the word into several other languages, making it the most rapidly influential Swedish word of all time, I would think.

In Sweden, Santa doesn’t break into your house in the middle of the night, he delivers the presents in person on Christmas Eve.

In Sweden, Santa doesn’t break into your house in the middle of the night, he delivers the presents in person on Christmas Eve.

Julbocken by John Bauer, 1912.
The Yule Goat is one of the oldest symbols of Yule/Christmas in Sweden. The goat was originally a sacrifice, but in the 19th century it became the one who brought gifts on Christmas Eve. Though the goat was eventually replaced as the bringer of gifts, it is still popular as a holiday decoration.

Julbocken by John Bauer, 1912.

The Yule Goat is one of the oldest symbols of Yule/Christmas in Sweden. The goat was originally a sacrifice, but in the 19th century it became the one who brought gifts on Christmas Eve. Though the goat was eventually replaced as the bringer of gifts, it is still popular as a holiday decoration.

Swedish Lesson #10

Jul [ju:l]

In Sweden we call Christmas jul, or yule as it’s spelled in English. Yule was originally a midwinter festival celebrated by Germanic peoples of northern Europe, but later became absorbed into Christmas and is now basically equated with it (though few Swedes celebrate or even think of jul as a religious holiday). There are still many differences between jul and Christmas though, the most notable one being that our version of Santa (called tomten) comes to your house on Christmas Eve (julafton) and hands you presents in person. There’s no sleigh, no reindeer, no North Pole and no elves making toys.

I’ll end it there, but follow the links if you want to know more. Oh, and last but not least, if you want to say Merry Christmas in Swedish you say God jul! (god is pronounced with a long o, like good).

Swedish Lesson #9

Skyfall [sj’y:fal:]

Skyfall isn’t just the title of the latest Bond movie — it’s also Swedish for downpour. It means the same as in English when translated literally, so whenever it’s raining heavily in Sweden we proclaim that the sky is falling. I guess whoever came up with it was a real Chicken Little.

Will Ferrell would enjoy my Swedish lessons, I think.

Swedish Lesson #8

Fart [fa:r_t]

The Swedish word for speed is fart. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that.

Extra credit: A speed bump is called a fartgupp.

Swedish Lesson #7

Today’s lesson is dedicated to a very dear friend of mine from Canada whom I’ve been teaching random Swedish words and expressions. With today being Thanksgiving in Canada and it being autumn and all, I thought this would be a suitable lesson for the day:

Lönn [lön:]

Lönn is the Swedish word for maple, and pronounced it sounds more like “lunn” than “lonn”. It is also a rarely-used synonym for hidden, with the only use I can think of being lönnmördare, the Swedish word for assassin (“hidden murderer” translated literally, “maple killer” translated poorly).

Swedish Lesson #6
End titles from Victor Sjöström’s Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage, 1921), which (on a completely unrelated note) recently was voted the greatest Swedish film of all time by Swedish film critics and scholars.

Swedish Lesson #6

End titles from Victor Sjöström’s Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage, 1921), which (on a completely unrelated note) recently was voted the greatest Swedish film of all time by Swedish film critics and scholars.

Swedish Lesson #6

I haven’t done one of these in ages, so it’s high time to bring it back.

Slut [slu:t]

If you ever find yourself watching an old Swedish movie and it ends with a black screen and the word slut, don’t be offended. Slut is the Swedish word for “end” and has no derogatory meaning at all. It is also pronounced differently from the English word so there’s no risk of overhearing any Swedes casually talking about “sluts” (unlike sex).

Swedish Lesson #5

Alla hjärtans dag [al:a j’är_t:ans da:g]

Swedes go against the grain (even against our linguistic relatives Norway and Denmark) on February 14th and call Valentine’s Day Alla hjärtans dag, which translates to All Hearts Day.

Swedish Lesson #4

Å [å:] and Ö [ö:]

Å and ö are not only letters in the Swedish alphabet (a-ring and o-umlaut) but they’re also the Swedish words for a small river and island, respectively. As such, Sweden’s second largest island Öland translates literally into the rather awkward “Island land” in English, but most often the ö (and å) is tacked on the end of the name, like Fårö (Sheep Island).

The only other single-letter word in Swedish is “i”, which means “in”.

More lessons.

Swedish Lesson #3

Kung Bore [kung: b’o:r_e]

Kung Bore is the Swedish equivalent to Jack Frost, though it would more accurately be translated to King Borealis as the name derives from the same word that gave Aurora Borealis its name. It’s not very commonly used except right when the first snow falls and people say that “Kung Bore has struck”.

Oh, and Bore is pronounced like “boo-reh”, not like bore as in boredom.