Tell a Swede you’re learning Swedish, and within 30 seconds you’ll be sucked into a deep, nuanced explanation of what “lagom” means. It’s practically a rule of nature. If you’re familiar with the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears, you’ll understand lagom. It’s when things are not too big, not too small, not too hot, not too cold, not too much, not too little… when things are just right.
Once you get a little deeper into Swedish, however, you’ll start finding a treasure trove of hilariously strange words and unexpected combinations. Jump on a bus, and you’ll find yourself on a journey to—horrors!—some unexplained slutstation… or last stop. Driving a car? Make sure you know the difference between an infart and an utfart, and breathe a sigh of relief when you finally get through yet another stretch of highway construction: fullfart ahead!
Those are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some of my favorite Swedish words that make me giggle, even more than a year in!
Bra: Not what you think it is! Bra just means good.
BH: Now that’s a bra! Even better, BH stands for brösthållare, which literally means “breast holder.” Yes. Who wouldn’t get turned on by a sexy breast holder?
Tandkött, Bröstvårta: Your gums, I hate to tell you, are nothing but “teeth meat.” And your nipples? Breast warts. This is helping you love your body, right?
Slutspurt: Oh, baby, oh, baby! Every time I see a slutspurt, I get in a shopping mood. That’s because slutspurt is usually used in a context that means “final sale.” What were you thinking?
Tjuvtitta, Tjuvlyssna: Att tjuva is to steal, so tjuvtitta is to “steal-look,” or peek at something you’re not supposed to! Similarly, tjuvlyssna is to “steal-listen,” or eavesdrop. What perfectly descriptive combinations.
Sockergris: In English, the slightly sugar-addicted might have a sweet tooth. In Sweden, the candy fanatics among us are called “sugar pigs.” I swear to all that is holy, the diet starts now.
Trivselbit: You know your great-great-aunt, the one who hosted three hour family dinners on real silver dinnerware and looked disapprovingly at you if you stole the last cookie from under her watchful eye? Well, she was teaching you a valuable life lesson for living in Sweden—don’t ever be the one to take the last piece of whatever it is you’re serving. That last pastry or piece of cake is the trivselbit, the comfort or security piece, and leaving it in peace is a sacred rule of Swedish table manners. Take the second-to-last piece, though, and you’re fine.
Kiss, puss: When is kiss not a kiss? When it’s pee. When is puss not a word that would result in X-rated search results? When it’s a kiss. You’ve been warned.
Gift: Gift (pronounced like “yift”) means “married.” Gift also means “poisonous.” Perhaps I am moving my relationship to the United States.
Nattuggla: Such a fun word to say: not-oogla! It means “night owl,” someone who likes to stay up late at night. Cuteness.
Kock: The Swedish word for “cook,” as in a Top Chef cook. Apparently this poses a fairly common Swenglish problem (or at least a common situation to joke about) given the way its pronounced. Imagine you’re on vacation somewhere and you have just the most delicious meal ever. What do you say? My compliments to the kock…
Farthinder: Yes, I have a 12 year old boy’s sense of humor. Fart means speed, so a farthinder is a speed bump. Not that this will stop me from making ridiculous jokes involving beans.
Blåmärke, blåögd: A bruise, taken literally, is a “blue mark.” Calling someone “blue-eyed,” or blåögd, is not just a physical description—it means he or she is naïve.
Kackerlacka!: I love this word. Kackerlacka, kackerlacka, kackerlacka!!! Too bad it means cockroach instead of something fun like “surprise” or “birthday party.”
That’s it for now! What other Swedish words make you laugh?
UPDATE: I wrote a follow-up post to this article. Follow the link to read 25 MORE Swedish words (and phrases) that make me giggle!