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5 English words borrowed from Swedish Posted by on Jan 18, 2016 in Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Borrowing vocabulary is no unusual linguistic phenomenon. Just look at English – there are French words all over the place!


Most people know that a very large portion of English vocabulary is from other languages. Well, some of these thousands of words are, in fact, from Swedish! Here are 5 of them. Some, you may know; some might surprise you! Let’s take a look.

1. Ombudsman

An ombudsman is a public person who assists legal “persons”, most often individuals, in complaint errands against larger units such as companies or government agencies. The word comes from ombud, meaning “delegate” or “representative”, and man “man”. In Swedish, some people prefer to replace the second part -man with -kvinna “woman” in cases where the referent is female, but this is not required to make the use of the word correct.

2. Moped

Your favorite motor vehicle from your teenage years has a Swedish name! A moped is similar to a motorcycle, but has a smaller, less powerful motor, and sometimes also has pedals. This is exactly where its name comes from, and it was originally coined in Swedish magazine in the 1950’s. More specifically, the name is an abbreviated combination of motor and pedaler.

3. Tungsten

Tungsten, otherwise known as wolfram, is one of the chemical elements. It is symbolized by the letter W and has the atomic number 74. The name tungsten is one of the Swedish names for the element (the other being volfram, as in English). It’s composed of the Swedish words tung “heavy” and sten “stone”. According to Wikipedia, despite the name coming from Swedish, volfram is used more commonly due to the colliding use of the same name tungsten for the mineral “scheeite”, which is an ore from tungsten.

4. Gravlax

You may already know that lax is the Swedish word for “salmon”. Well, gravlax has been imported more directly into English and consists of lax suffixed by the verb grava, which refers to the act of cutting or slicing fish, rubbing it with salt and spices, and then pressing it. And voilà, you’ve got gravlax!

5. Smörgåsbord

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before! A smorgasbord (correctly spelt smörgåsbord) is another word for a buffet, often of small portions of food for individual choosing. Beyond this meaning, it can also refer to a varied collection of something in English. The word consists of smörgås, one word for “sandwich”, and bord “table”.


Are there any other Swedish words you can think of in English? What about your own language? Share with us in the comments!


Sources: Wikipedia; Wiktionary

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About the Author: Stephen Maconi

Stephen Maconi has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2010. Wielding a Bachelor's Degree in Swedish and Nordic Linguistics from Uppsala University in Sweden, Stephen is an expert on Swedish language and culture.