Saturday, 5 April 2008

Observations of the Swedish Language

Generally speaking if a Swedish word looks like an English word, it often means the same thing even if it is pronounced differently. However notable exceptions are “slut” which means close/shut, “bra” which means good, “fart” means speed, “fack” means pigeonhole, and a “Facket” is a trade union.
The Swedish word for marriage, “gift”, also means poison, which seems appropriate in a country with one of the highest rates of divorce.

Some other Swedish terms are pretty funny when translated into English word for word. For example vegetables are called “Grönsaker” which literally translates as “Green things”. “Svartsjuk” translates as “black sick” which means jealousy. “Svartfisk” means “black-fish”, which is squid. “Ögonblick” literally translates “eye-blink” and means “moment”. (Eg. “Vänta en ögonblick” – “Wait one moment.”) And finally my favourite is the Swedish word for bat, “fladdermus” which translates as “flapping mouse”.

Some other amusing expressions include “Nej men hej” which is something you say when you unexpectedly bump into someone you know. Its literal translation is “No but hi.”

“Vad Sjutton” is a type of old-fashioned cursing. Translated into English it means “What Seventeen.” Why seventeen, I don't know, but don’t say “What sixteen” because you’ll just look stupid. A variation on this term is “Sjutton också!” which means “seventeen also”.

“Gott Mos” means “good mash” (as in mash potato) and can be used as an all-purpose compliment. If it strikes you as a little bizarre imagine what “cool bananas” sounds like to a Swede.

“Lagom” is a Swedish word which basically means “not too little, not too much, just right”. Despite being a highly subjective term I have been told if you’re in a deli or butcher it is possible to order a “lagom” amount and shopkeeper will know exactly how much to give you.

Mind you there are plenty of English terms and expressions that don’t make much sense to Swedes. When the Aussie Rules football team got together late last year to watch an AFL match, many of the Swedes in the room were befuddled when they heard the commentators says “He kicks the ball across the face of goal”. (“But a face is what’s in front of your head. How does a goal have a face?”) It is also difficult trying to explain how the act of being inside a closet, or coming out of a closet, relate to being gay.

UPDATE: Regular reader Fillipa (native Gothenburger now living in Coburg) has been kind enough to bring another odd Swedish expression to my attention.
"Jag kände inte igen dig" which means "I didn't recognise you" but in its literally tranlsation comes across as: "I didn't feel again you."

Another term that I've discovered since this blog entry was first posted is the term "extrapris" which obviously translates as "extra price" but not so obviously is applied to things that are on sale.

1 comment:

Filippa said...

You missed a couple of literary translations, here are one that my mun is quite fond of:

"Jag kände inte igen dig"
Literally: "I didn't feel again you"
actual meaning: "I didn't recognise you"

Looks like you're finally getting around to learning Swedish - how do you find it?