Swedish Language Blog

10 Swedish words you won’t find in English Posted by on Mar 27, 2012 in Culture, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Since I am stuck in bed with a nasty bug today, I will ruthlessly steal this brilliant list from the always equally brilliant page The Local. 10 Swedish words that you won’t find in English (click here for the full story). I have written about this topic before, missing simple words like bakfylleångest (hangover anxiety), kissnödig (in need of a wee) and träningsvärk (achy muscles after a work out) -words that pretty much speak for themselves. This list is slighty different, but boy do we use most of these words in the Swedish daily language. In other words, get a paper and a pen and take notes, friends!

1. Orka
This verb is a tremendously common word in the Swedish language meaning “to have the energy.
Ex: Jag orkar att gå uppför trapporna (I have the energy to walk up the stairs)

2. Harkla
It’s used to describe that little coughing noise one makes, often before giving a speech or dislodging cinnamon bun pieces from their throat.
Ex: Jag måste harkla mig! (I must dislodge something from my throat!)

3. Hinna
This is an enormously common verb in Swedish, meaning “to find the time” or “to be on time”.
Ex: Hoppas att jag hinner till tåget! (Hopefully I will make it to the train in time!)

4. Blunda
To close your eyes, or to turn a blind eye.
Ex: Blunda så ska du få en överrraskning! (Close your eyes and you will get a surprise!)

5. Mysa
We almost have this in English with the word snuggle, but if you’re gonna be mysering in Swedish, you can do it with someone, alone, or even in a café – perhaps “to cosy up” fits the bill.
Ex: Ikväll ska jag mysa framför tv:n! (Tonight, I will cosy up in front of the telly!)

6. Vabba
This is becoming increasingly popular in Sweden, and is short for Vård Av Barn (meaning “to be at home because the children need taking care of, but you get paid for it from the government”). In fact, Swedes have even taken to calling February “Vabruary” due to such common child sicknesses.

7. Duktig
Anyone who has learnt Swedish will have heard this one by encouraging Swedes. It means “good at it”, or “talented at it”.
Ex: Du är så duktig på att prata svenska! (You are really good at speaking Swedish!)

8. Jobbig
In terms of common words, you can’t spend a day in Sweden without coming across this word. It can mean troublesome or trying, annoying or difficult, about people, things, events – almost anything. It’s a real all-encompassing word.
Ex: Matte är så himla jobbigt! (Maths is so very difficult!)

9. Gubbe/Gumma
Here is a two-for-one package meaning “old man/old lady” and rather endearingly – that is, if you’re saying them in an affectionate voice. In fact, they can be coupled with “lilla gubben” to mean “little guy” for a boy, or “lilla gumman” for a girl.
Ex: Hon är en söt liten gumma (She is a cute little old lady)

10. Mormor/farmor/morfar/farfar
As well as being a tongue twister for the rookie Swedish learner, this combination is a brilliant selection of words we desperately need in English. These are the words for your grandparents – (Mothermother, fathermother, motherfather, fatherfather).

Gingerbread gubbe and gumma!

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  1. Hanna:

    Faroese and Swedish are so colse!!

    Orka – Orka
    Harkla – Harka
    Hinna – Lukkast
    Blunda – Blunda
    Mysa – Hugna sær (I think)
    Vabba – —
    Duktig – Raskur
    Jobbig – —
    Gubbe/Gumma – Gubbi/Gumma
    Mormor etc. – Omma/abbi

    Nice to see that I have learned something today xD

  2. Elisabeth:

    Mitt favorit ord ar Lagom, finns nog inte i nagot annat sprak.

  3. MichiganLady:

    Very nice!! Orka and Hinna are very useful words. I learned early on my distant cousin’s wife called him “Gubbe” “The Old Man” — and it must have nice connotations, jordgubbar being so awesome and all.

  4. Letícia:

    I’m looking at this list and thinking about how music does help you learn and memorize new stuff! It’s amazing. For example, I learned hinna from “Influensa” by Säkert (“inte hinna ångra”) and blunda from Håkan Hellström’s “Det här är min tid” (“dom sa se och du blundade”). 😀 And I totally agree about mormor etc., I wish we had such words in Portuguese as well. That would save a lot of time explaining which grandparent you are talking about.

    Hope that nasty bug goes away soon! Krya på dig, vännen!

  5. Jennifer:

    Perhaps I am just a bit dense, but this brings up a question I’ve had in mind for awhile: does morfar mean your mother’s father? or the mother of your father?

  6. Jamie Noakes:

    I enjoy this kind of thing and hope you don’t mind my adding some thoughts? The Swedish language has a liking for compound words, whereas English does not. The word ‘jobbig’ as you said yourself does in fact have several one word alternatives in English, it is just a case of application in the right context. Would ‘Clever’ not work in certain circumstances as an alternative to ‘Duktig’?

  7. Lou:

    How do you translate “tappa sugen”? I miss being able to use that expression and especially “livet är fullt av tappade sugar” … An what about “lagom”?

  8. Caroline G.:

    Although I grew up in Sweden, I am English but my son and his wife have taken Belgian citizenship and have adopted children from Haiti – our grendchildren. But they call us farmor and farfar. Hey, the world is international now! In fact it is very sensible because they have greatgrandmothers on both sides of the family living, as well as their mother’s parents, so farmor and farfar quite clearly identifies us as their father’s parents. Swedish is a sensible language.

  9. Julie:

    I LOVED this post. I would also add the lovely word, påtåra, which means to have a second cup of something

  10. MichiganLady:

    Jennifer–the word order tells you, just stick a possessive in there: morfar is “mother’s father”, systerdotter is “sister’s daughter” etc. 🙂

    I like morfarmor — Min morfarmor was born in Sweden.

  11. Jennifer:

    @ michiganlady

    Easy enough then. Thank you!

  12. Anastasia:

    Great post as usually. Must confess that I just adore this blog because almost all posts are so helpful, interesting and written with sparkling sense of humour. Thank you, guys, for making Swedish easier for us.

  13. jennie:

    Thank you ever so much everyone for you valuable inputs and additions! And for the very kind words about out blog as well! *blushing*. I’m amazed by the faroese similarities and @Leticia, perhaps you can write a guest blog about learning by listening to music? 🙂 You have clearly done amazingly well, and know all the great bands as well. Cheers also to @MichiganLady for answering the morfar q. Perhaps I shall make a long list with all the words I and you can think about that does not exist in English, including fika, lagom, påtåra, tappa sugen…
    How to translate tappa sugen? Hm… It means to lose interest, tappa = lose. Sugen is trickier, must research where that one stems from! //Jennie x

  14. Letícia:

    @Jennie, sure, I would love to! Thank you so much for the invite. I’ll see what I can come up with and get back to you. 🙂 x

  15. Jack:

    I am pleased to report that this blog was the inspiration for the name we chose for our beloved new puppy. She is an adorable little Lagotto Romagnola born and bred in US by noteworthy breeder Sandy Mignona, and the puppy’s father is the outstanding and accomplished Cisco in Sweden. As she is by nature a real snuggler and cuddler we latched onto Mysa when we read the above blog. Kudos! Our Italian truffle dog was sired by a Swedish Lagotto champion, so although her official name is Dolce Vita Casatella…at home we call her Mysa!!

  16. Daniel:

    My favourite is gapa – open your mouth.
    Though in fairness I think träningsverk would be DOMS in English

  17. Cathy Kingsbury:

    Bara Lagom (och fika) som fattas! 🙂
    Två ord som jag saknar är knäveck och armveck (back of your knee, back of your elbow är inte riktigt samma sak!).