10 Swedish Words You Will Not Find in English

I saw this a while back and wanted to post it on here:

Whether Swedish is the world’s richest language or not, it can lay claim to at least ten very common words that are sorely lacking from English. We’ve compiled a list of the top ten here, and you may be surprised what’s NOT in the list…

The only thing a Swede likes more than having a “fika” (which means, essentially, coffee and cake) is talking about the word fika and how you’ll never find it in English.

“So it’s like a coffee break?” you may foolishly ask a Swede.
“No, no, it’s a lot more than just coffee. There are cinnamon buns.”
“Ah, so more like a high tea, perhaps?”
“Tea? Don’t insult me, it’s coffee. And cakes.”
“So coffee and cakes then…”
“Well that’s not one word, is it? Shut up and eat your cake.”

The fact is, any Swede will proudly defend the word for hours. Perhaps that’s even what they spend their fika breaks doing.

But be that as it may, “fika” is a word we don’t have in English, yet.

If it’s not fika, you can bet your bottom krona that talk of untranslatable Swedish words will lead directly to the word “lagom” which means “just right” – (think Goldilocks and her final bowl of porridge).

However, these two words have been done to death in language discussions, and here at The Local we’ve found ten (dare we say it) more useful words that don’t have any English word equivalent, at least not yet…


orka: This verb is a tremendously common word in the Swedish language meaning “to have the energy”, and has nothing to do with Orcs. Eg: Do you orka to watch The Lord of The Rings trilogy this weekend? No, Sven, I do not orkar.

harkla: Ok, we can admit, this one’s not so common, but it is great. It’s used to describe that little coughing noise one makes, often before giving a speech or dislodging cinnamon bun pieces from their throat. Eg: Gollum crouched on the rock and harkled, again and again.

hinna: This is an enormously common verb in Swedish, meaning “to find the time” or “to be on time”. Eg: Will you hinna to the cinema? We won’t hinna to catch the train if you don’t turn up the heat on those jävla meatballs

blunda: To cover your eyes, or to turn a blind eye. Eg: My ex-girlfriend walked into the room and I blundared. I don’t know if she saw me, my eyes were closed. Has she gone?

mysa: We almost have this in English with the word snuggle, but if you’re gonna be mysering in Swedish, you can do it with someone, alone, or even in a café – perhaps “to cosy up” fits the bill. Eg: After my wife left me, I did a lot of solo myser-ing. It wasn’t the best of times. It wasn’t the worse of times either…

duktig: Anyone who has learnt Swedish will have heard this one by encouraging Swedes, who I suspect don’t always mean it. It means “good at it”, or “talented at it”. Utter one half-formed sentence in Swedish and a Swede will say “How duktig you are!” and then probably switch back to English to remind you that they have been fluent since birth

jobbig: In terms of common words, you can’t spend a day in Sweden without coming across this word. It can mean troublesome or trying, annoying or difficult, about people, things, events – almost anything. It’s a real all-encompassing word. Eg: I thought the train system in Sweden was so jobbigt until I cycled to work, and that, my friend, was even jobbigare. You’re so jobbig when you complain.

gubbe/gumma: Here is a two-for-one package meaning “old man/old lady” and rather endearingly – that is, if you’re saying them in an affectionate voice. In fact, they can be coupled with “lillegubben” to mean “little guy” for a boy, or lillagumman for a girl. However, I am assured that it’s rather rude to call a strange old man a gubbe, even if he’s yelling at you for cycling on the footpath… Eg: Hey lillagumman, come would you like some candy? No, gubben, my mother told me never to take candy from gubbes

mormor/morfar, farmor/farfar: As well as being a tongue twister for the rookie Swedish learner, this combination is a brilliant selection of words we desperately need in English. These are the words for your grandparents – (Mothermother, fathermother, motherfather, fatherfather). Incidentally, the word for grandchild is childchild, but let’s take this one step at a time. Eg. I want to see more of mormor and less of farfar. I also want to see farmor far less.



4 Responses

  1. So are there any English words that you don’t have a Swedish equivalent?

  2. This is really interesting! We do have a near equivalent of ‘harkla’ in English. It’s ‘hawk’ or ‘hoick’ (same root, usage depends on where you’re from) and means to cough something up or clear your throat eg ‘she got some phlegm/some toast stuck in her throat but managed to hawk it up’.

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