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False Friends – How “ett kiss” in Swedish isn’t “a kiss” in English Posted by on May 13, 2020 in Culture, humor, Swedish Language, The Swedish blog team, Vocabulary

Faux amies or false friends are tricky little things for language learners! Calledbilingual homophones” these are words that look or sound similar between two or more languages but differ significantly in meaning. So, you guessed it, while (ett) kiss is pronounced relatively the same in Swedish as it is in English, it’s not a kiss, rather it’s urine. Sometimes these words can really get us into trouble, and sometimes they aren’t as harmful!

Photo: Image Bank Sweden / Anna Öhlund, “Sled Dog Kiss,” in Jokkmokk, Sweden.

Indeed, there are many cognates that are exactly the same in English and Swedish. You may recall learning quite a few of these examples in my blog post featuring around the house nouns. In fact, one can often have a bit of luck when trying to translate words from one language to the other. Study and studera for example or discuss and diskutera, present and presentera, and so on. See what I mean? But alas, one cannot be too confident, after all konkurrera in Swedish doesn’t mean “to concur / agree” it means to compete

Let’s review some false friends you may have already seen:

En semester is quite opposite of a school term, rather it’s a vacation

Ett barn is a child. Somehow that one was easy for me to remember because my grandfather used to lovingly tell me that “children were born in barns.” Tack morfar

Glass (en) is not “a glass” at all but the Swedish word for ice cream.
Gillar du glass? Do you like ice cream? 

A classic joke in my beginning classes always develops around the word gift. In Swedish this word has double-meaning; it’s both the adjective married, and a noun for poison.

Vi har varit gifta i nio år.                       We have been married for nine years.
Det finns råttgift i garaget.                    There is rat poison in the garage.

The word gipt from Old Norse means gift or dowry, often the most dreaded, and all-too-expensive part of nuptials. So, perhaps this gift was indeed like poison in the eyes of the Vikings.  Come on Sigurðr, it can’t be that bad, right?

Speaking of bad (ett), that means a swim or a dip.

En kock means a chef.  And on the contrary, if chefen pulls you into her office, it means the boss wants to speak with you. 

Wearing en kostym, a suit, to your job’s summer barbecue party is too formal. Unless you work at en fabrik, a factory, that makes suits, then you’re right on! 

LNSF Farthinder  – Speed Bump

Nu kör vi full fart! Excuse me, what?! Full fart means full speed. So speed bumps in Sweden are called farthinder. If you don’t slow down at the farthinder, you may have a en smäll, a crash.

A few more nouns:
Swedish            English
en kind
        ->    a cheek

dragon         ->   tarragon

(ett) kiss       ->    urine

en blankett  ->     a form, as in paperwork

The adjective full in Swedish means drunk.  Aktuellt doesn’t mean “actually,” it means current Eventuellt means possibly.
Vi ska eventuellt flytta till Uppsala.  We will possibly move to Uppsala, (not eventually).

Now, if you’d like to hug your new Swedish friend, don’t ask to hugga, because that is the verb for stab.

Who’s confused? False friends will do that to you! Can you think of more examples of these bilingual homophones in Swedish and English? Which ones trip you up the most?

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About the Author: Chelsea B

Chelsea is a Swedish language instructor and translator living in Minnesota, U.S. She has a degree in Scandinavian Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College and has experience living and working in Sweden from north to south! In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, listening to music, and practicing slöjd, the Swedish word for handcraft.


Comments:

  1. Bob Barker:

    In Northern England the word “barn” commonly means “child”. I guess it’s from the times when Scandinavians settled thosen parts.

    Barns laik in the beck = Barnen lek in i bäck.
    (Northern England dialect)

    In Scotland the word “bairn” is normally used.

    • Chelsea B:

      @Bob Barker I didn’t know that! Thanks for sharing that, Bob!

  2. Liz S:

    This post is brilliant! 😀

    • Chelsea B:

      @Liz S Nice to hear that you liked it, Liz! Tack!

  3. Duncan:

    According to Wiktionary, (Swedish) “gift” comes from German “Gift”, which originally meant (English) “gift”, but became used as a euphemism for “poison”, and ultimately retained only this meaning, see https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Gift#German

    • Chelsea B:

      @Duncan Yes, that’s right!

  4. Claude:

    Go even further on the “kock”:

    a “kock” is indeed a cook
    but a “kuk” is .. a cock !

    • Chelsea B:

      @Claude Javisst! Wouldn’t want to mistake those words!