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Beware of False Friends Posted by on Jun 25, 2008 in Vocabulary

There are some words in the Swedish language that just make English speakers giggle. Sometimes even more than giggle. You know which words I’m talking about. You too had a goofy smirk on your face when you saw them for the very first time. Especially when you didn’t expect them. And then, when nobody was watching, you tried to see how these words would roll off your tongue.

The easiest one of the bunch was definitely “bra”. You repeated it out loud – bra. And then a bit louder – BRA! People just looked at you with smiles on their faces. “What a happy guy,” they thought.

And then, there was this time when you were driving and almost hit a lamppost after meeting your first “farthinder”. After a while you stopped giggling, and after a little while longer, you stopped paying attention altogether. And when the day came that you used bra and fart all in the same sentence without giggling, you realized you’ve been in Sweden for a lot longer than you thought.

False friends (sometimes mistakenly called “false cognates”) can be a source of much joy when learning a new language. Swedish is no different. And to add to the hilarity is the fact that these Swedish false friends mentioned above look very naughty to an English speaker.

Yet in fact they are perfectly innocent.

Bra = fine, well, good.
If somebody asks you how you are, you can simply answer “bra!

Fart = speed
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and I’m not even going to go there.
And the ubiquitous “farthinder”? It’s simply a speed bump.

Other false friends you might want to remember are:

Ful = ugly
Full = drunk
Bad = bath
Kissa = to pee

And I’ll let your Swedish (non-false) friends teach you the truly nasty sounding ones, OK?

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Comments:

  1. from russia:

    fine article

  2. chris:

    what about the signs that say “slut” you never talked about those!

  3. Anna:

    Hej Chris!

    Those were deemed slightly less appropriate for the American readership, if you know what I mean. 😉

  4. M. DIALLO Ahmadou:

    Hi;

    I’m Mister DIALLO, from Dakar – the Capital City of Senegal in West Africa. Then, sorry for my English.

    Because of a training in Stockholm, last April – I discovered Sweden for the first time.I’ve learned many good things about the culture of this country – so, since then I’m trying to find means of learning Swedish.

    I was at the Swedish embassy, Dakar in order to find “contacts for studying Swedish” and because of them, I’ve got your address. Of course, I’m trying, since then, daily to speak Swedish.
    Now I hope, I can rely on you to get more information of “how to get the better books and the best way that allows beginner… who speak only french and just a bit of English,to understand Swedish!

    Thank u very much & God be with u.

    Amadou

  5. Maria Ebbeskog:

    When you see the word “slut” in a Swedish shop it means out of stock.
    /Maria

  6. Maria Ebbeskog:

    It means holiday.
    /Maria

  7. Maria Ebbeskog:

    Here is a good link to swedish language courses
    http://www.peluche.de/sfse/index.html?target=233.h tml

  8. timan russul:

    Ann ..you have the ability to make animals to talk like humanbeing…the secret to learn or teach any language is to be natural and spontaneous..lovely , u contain those diamonds…aa thats why we fellow ur Order and law !plz what this other( ur) stand in Swedes?

  9. timan russul:

    Ann ..you have the ability to make animals to talk like humanbeing…the secret to learn or teach any language is to be natural and spontaneous..lovely , u contain those diamonds…aa thats why we follow ur Order and law !plz what this other( ur) stand in Swedes?

  10. Lina:

    lol..sometimes even when u’ve been in sweden it makes u smile..like my classmate was almost fluent in swedish but he was laughing so hard seeing the Glassen är slut..lol

  11. Brenda:

    hi anna, you blog is really informative.

    i wonder what part of sweden u are in. i’ll be studying in Vastera for a year and I’d be looking for a part time job while i’m there. is there a website or a forum or anything that u can recommend?

    i’ve just begun learning the language and it’s not that difficult. the words are quite easy to remember. ur blog does help people like me. thanks. more power.

  12. Anna:

    Hi Brenda!
    I’m in Västerbotten. Finding work without speaking Swedish will be tough. Have you checked out the official employment agency website? http://www.ams.se
    good luck!

  13. Sage:

    How entertaining! i happen to be 25% Swedish and always have been interested in Ikea, Stockholm, Swedish tradition, and MOSTLY the church there and how it got set up.

    this site is friendly and helpful.
    thanks!
    <3

  14. Carina:

    Love your site being swedish its fun to read about what a foreigner make of it, I learnt a few bits ands pieces as well.
    Carina

  15. mahmoud:

    my name is mahmoud from egypt.23 years old .
    iwant new freinds from sweden . can any one become my friend . my email is zee0031@yahoo.com.
    thanks

  16. Kris:

    I’ve seen a sign where it says “slutstation” – hahaha!