Swedish word of the day: puss

Swedish word of the day: puss
Image: nito103/Depositphotos
Today's chosen Swedish word is useful for romantic chat – and if you're familiar with English slang, it probably means something very different than you think.

Puss means 'kiss' in Swedish.

But it's a specific type of kiss: usually brief and with a closed mouth, equivalent to English 'peck'. It doesn't have to be romantic or sexual, and you'll hear people say it to their friends and family members as much as, if not more than, to their partners.

If you want to talk about a more romantic or passionate kiss, that's kyssa. But be warned: kyssa may be linguistically related to the English 'kiss', but kissa in Swedish means 'to pee'. So make sure to pronounce kyssa with a soft 'k' (English 'sh') to avoid any awkward misunderstandings.

Puss puss (kiss kiss) is a common way of saying 'goodbye' between friends, like a verbal version of the French or Italian cheek kiss greeting, and you can also say 'tusen pussar' (a thousand kisses) for closer relationships such as between siblings, parents and children, and closer friends. Puss can also be used as a verb: pussa, as in han pussade henne på kinden (he kissed her on the cheek).

You might be wondering if there's any link to the English word 'puss', a slang term for cat, which is related to poes in Dutch, Puus in Low German, and pus in Norwegian. The etymology of these words isn't known for sure, but it's possible that they actually share a root with Swedish puss.

The Local put the question to Sweden's Language Council, which told us: “The Swedish dictionary says that puss is recorded in Swedish since 1712 and comes from the Swedish dialect word puss, probably onomatopoetically.”

They were unable to comment on any connection between English and Swedish puss, but in both English and German, 'puss' was originally the name used for calling a cat rather than the standard noun used in writing or description. In modern Irish, pus means mouth, and can be used in particular to describe a sulky look with pursed lips or a pout. Therefore it's possible that all of these words share a root which described a pouting expression, which was likened to the call for a cat in many languages but to a kiss in Swedish. 

And interestingly, the Swedish equivalent of 'pussycat' – an informal term of affection for a cat – is kissekatt


Puss och kram!

Hugs and kisses (a common way to say 'goodbye')

Hon pussade sin lille son på pannan

She kissed her little boy on the forehead

Do you have a favourite Swedish word you would like to nominate for our word of the day series? Get in touch by email or if you are a Member of The Local, log in to comment below.

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