The English language has a lot of words… maybe even the most words of all the languages in the whole wide world. I can’t be totally sure of that because I haven’t counted myself, and even if I had, I probably still wouldn’t trust my count. I’m the kind of person who gets a headache and has to lie down if I think too hard about how Daylight Savings Time works.
Nonetheless, that’s what reputable sources (ahem OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY cough) tell me, and I’m sticking to it, despite claims to the contrary from certain Swedish acquaintances of mine (cough MY HUSBAND I really have to get some cough drops) that the Swedish language actually has more words than English.
Apparently Fredrik Lindström (Notable Expert on the Swedish Language) told him that the English language’s claim to having the most words was a myth. Having not seen the clip myself, I’m going to just keep on saying that English has the largest vocabulary in the world until Fredrik Lindström or Horace Engdahl (another Notable Expert on the Swedish Language) personally consent to an arm-wrestling match or convince me otherwise.
All the same, the English language could always stand to add a few more words to the list.
In the time that I’ve lived in Sweden, I have encountered some words that are just so amazingly perfect I want to buy them coffee, ask them out on a date, and then somewhere down the line ask them to spend the rest of their lives with me. And if they agreed—oh, how happy I would be!!
Here’s the catch, though: it’s likely that no one outside of Sweden would understand my Swenglified English. Then everyone would think that I’m a stark raving lunatic (as usual), poke my eyes out and cast me out of society. (It’s happened before.)
My solution is, therefore, to spread my favorite and most useful Swedish words to the rest of the world so that I can keep using them and everyone will understand what I mean.
Ideally, of course, all the words that make me laugh (here and here) would make it on the list, too, but I’ve actually narrowed down the list to only the words that cover some concept that we don’t have a word for in English.
Biggest vocabulary or not, there’s always room for a few more words in the English language.
Sambo. (pronounced SAM-boe)
What to call that person who you’re not married to, but have a long-term, committed relationship with? SAMBO! Easy as that.
It comes from the word “sammanboende,” or “living together,” and it makes it so easy to describe your relationship! In Sweden, it’s totally normal to live together with your partner before marriage, and that’s becoming the case throughout the rest of the world, too. (I mean, it’s probably just one more sign of the end of the world coming, but other than that, no big deal.)
So what do you call your lady friend when you’re 32 and you’ve been together for 8 years? A girlfriend? Aww! That’s so cute! Do you like totally hold hands at the movies and stuff?
What can I say? Sometimes you like it but aren’t ready to put a ring on it. When that’s the case, “sambo” is the way to go. We NEED this word in English!
Check out my two-part guide to the sambo visa: Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Tjejkompis/killkompis. (pronounced SHAY-comb-piss, KILL-comb-piss)
So I was talking about a movie with my friends, and my friend who’s a girl but not my girlfriend said she really liked it but my friend who’s a guy but not my boyfriend said he thought it was stupid, and then my other friend who’s a girl but not my girlfriend said she thought it was too predictable…
Ugh. I think my IQ dropped 5 points just by writing that sentence.
Sometimes when you’re telling a story, though, you want to be clear on whether it was a man or a woman said something. Even if you use names to distinguish the sexes, there’s still a grey zone. Kyle, Ashley, Alex… And unless you’re a 45 year old woman and wear a lot of pink, you sound pretty dumb talking about the trip you took with your girlfriends.
Enter tjejkompis and killkompis, which mean “friend who is a woman” and “friend who is a man,” respectively. Why do we not have words for this already?
Tjej. (pronounced “shay”)
Why oh why do we not have an English counterpart to the word “guy”?! For example, what am I supposed to say in this situation?
We were having a great party until the football game started, and then all the guys gravitated towards the TV and quickly became extremely boring, refusing to communicate with THE GIRLS/THE WOMEN in full sentences, grunting, and shoveling chips into their mouths with animal intensity.
I am not a girl, but I do not want to have to use the word “women” as a counterpart for “guys,” because it sounds like it’s on a whole different level with respect to age and maturity. And don’t tell me to use “gal.” When is the last time you actually heard someone use the word gal in conversation?
I don’t want to call other women my age “girls” but I don’t always want to call them women, just like I would say “hanging out with the guys” instead of “hanging out with the men.” We so totally need a casual, in-between word for women for these situations.
Vabba (pronounced “vah-bah”)
Vabba is already kind of a made up word in Swedish; it comes from the phrase “vård av sjukt barn” (which means taking care of a sick child) and has been made into a verb that means you’re staying home from work to take care of your sick child.
“How was work today, Johan?”
“No work for me! I vabba-ed today.”
Added bonus: it’s a fun word to say, so as you’re mopping up your poor child’s puke and putting her to bed with fluids and a bucket, you can sing a little song: “vabba vabba vabba vabba vabba vabba vabba vabba BATMAN!!” or “vabba vabba dooooooo!” (the second one is supposed to be Scooby Doo’s signature sound, not that you needed the explanation).
Pålägg (pronounced POE-leg)
Pålägg covers every kind of toast or open-faced sandwich topping you’ve ever heard of or more. Brilliant.
Sandwich enthusiasts, you’ve been warned. I see you and I know what you’re doing.
You want to divide up sandwich toppings into different groups and invite them to different parties and act like they belong to totally different classes: condiments, spreads, cold cuts, cheeses, vegetables, double Dijon super snob dressings, homemade super-local organic pickle slices, WELL YOU DON’T FOOL ME, ALL SANDWICH TOPPINGS ARE PART OF THE SAME UNIVERSAL SANDWICH TOPPINGS FAMILY AND WILL NOT BE DIVIDED BY YOUR PETTY LABELS.
By the power invested in me by the Swedish Institute (they probably regret that), I hereby declare all sandwich toppings to be created equal in the eyes of sandwiches.
Mysa. (pronounced like MEE-sah)
Oh, the joy of coming home after a long day of work and mysa-ing. You can mysa by yourself, with one person, or a group.
The idea of mysa-ing encompasses relaxation, hanging out, being comfortable, having a good time, being content, enjoying the moment, and recharging.
Some examples of mysa-ing:
→ I could come home and eat dinner with my husband and watch a movie with him until deciding to go to bed.
→ I could have a girls’ night in with my friends and sit around and talk for hours.
→ I could come home to an empty apartment and put on pajama pants, make myself a giant bowl of ice cream, and plop down on the sofa to watch a few hours of reality television. (This example is a hypothetical situation, of course.)
Mysig (pronounced MEE-sig)
Describing anything that is in any way cozy, exceptionally pleasant, comfortable, or having an unexpectedly good (but relaxing) vibe. It’s related to the word mysa above, but it describes a place or a situation rather than what you’re doing.
The classic example of something that’s mysig in the swedish context has to be a warm living room on a cold winter’s eve, candles flickering in the windows and a soft comfy couch in front of a roaring fire, a cup of something warm and a something sweet to eat. If that doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart, I don’t know what will.
Fika (pronounced FEE-kah)
Last but certainly not least, FIKA!
Fika: a concept so simple and yet so unbeatable, it defines a nation. Fika may just be Sweden’s greatest contribution to mankind. The rest of the world just doesn’t know it yet.
Fika can be either a coffee break or a coffee date, depending on the context. It connotes a kind of pleasant, laidback exchange over coffee and a little food. It’s associated with all the best parts of a coffee date, so much so that even if your boss invites you to a discussion about what’s going wrong in your work, if she does it over a fika, you feel instantly reassured that everything’s going to be alright.
You can have fikas at work, fikas after work, fikas in school, fikas with your professors or teachers or students, fikas with your family, birthday fikas with coffee and cake, midday fikas with coffee and open-faced sandwiches…
Basically, there’s no such thing as a bad time for a fika, and it is so much more than just a coffee break that we really really REALLY need to start using this word. Pronto. Immediately. NOW.