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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Swedish word of the day: åsiktskorridor

This word is crucial if you want to get along with Swedes, whether in a professional or personal context.

Swedish word of the day: åsiktskorridor
The phenomenon is not limited to Sweden. Image: nito103/Depositphotos

Åsiktskorridor means 'opinion corridor' or 'corridor of opinions', from en åsikt (view/opinion) and en korridor (corridor).

It's used to talk about the range of different opinions that are socially acceptable to share or to hold on a subject.

Åsiktskorridor is a recently coined term, its first known use being in 2009. It was later defined by political science professor Henrik Oscarsson, who was describing the subjects that it's acceptable to put up for debate.

If a topic is outside the åsiktskorridor, it is viewed as too extreme or divisive to debate, and therefore rarely brought up in the public debate or even within conversation, especially among people who don't know each other well. Playing devil's advocate or starting a debate on these topics for fun rarely goes down well in Swedish circles.

On one hand, the åsiktskorridor could in theory help to keep extreme views such as racist or homophobic opinions outside the mainstream, and helps to avoid giving airtime to people who are arguing against something that has been proven as fact, such as climate change deniers or conspiracy theorists.

The problem that Oscarsson raised was that many people may still hold opinions outside the 'corridor', so if the åsiktskorridor is too narrow, people are losing out on the chance for constructive debate and free speech in favour of the Swedish preference for consensus.

READ ALSO: How to have an argument without offending a Swede

One example the political scientist gave was abortion rights, since studies showed 14 percent of Swedes agreed with limiting the right to abortion. Since these rights have been a key part of Swedish feminism for several decades, this view is often seen as too extreme and outside the accepted range of views.

The phenomenon isn't limited to Sweden, and terms like 'political correctness' and 'echo chamber' in English show there's an understanding that people tend to surround themselves with people who hold similar views, and only share opinions which they believe are held by the majority in the group, in other cultures too.

Examples

Det är inte bra om åsiktskorridoren blir för smal

It's not good if the opinion corridor gets too narrow

Är åsiktskorridoren i Sverige en myt eller verklighet?

Is the opinion corridor in Sweden a myth or reality?

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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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

​​Swedish word of the day: skenhelig

When keeping up appearances is holy.

​​Swedish word of the day: skenhelig

To be skenhelig is to be ‘hypocritically pious’, in other words ‘sanctimonious’ or perhaps even ‘holier-than-thou’. Another definition is ‘a person who tries to give the impression of being pious or good-hearted (without being so)’.

Note that the ‘sk-‘ in skenhelig is an example of the Swedish “sh” sound, also seen in kött and sjuksköterska, pronounced not with a hard ‘k’ sound, but by exhaling and creating a sound similar to a unvoiced whistle.

Skenhelig consists of two words, sken and helig. Helig simply means ‘holy,’ but sken can have many meanings, such as ‘shine,’ ‘glow,’ ‘impression,’ or even a horse bolting. Here, the meaning comes from ‘impression’. 

Sken can mean impressions of appearances that are often true, but when there is deception, then skenet bedrar. The British sitcom Keeping up appearances, which used to run on Swedish television, in Swedish was called Skenet bedrar, meaning ‘deceitful appearances.’ 

You will find sken in this sense in other words like skenmanöver, a military term meaning ‘a diversion’, skenrättegång, ‘a mock trial’, skenäktenskap, ‘a sham marriage.’

So literally skenhelig means ‘feigned holy’. 

Skenhelig has been attested since 1639, and comes from the German scheinheilig with the same meaning.  

There were some attempts to develop this idea further. Starting in the 1700s skenhelgon appeared, with helgon meaning ‘saint’. And the 1800s saw the appearance of skenfrom, with from meaning ‘pious’. 

Another interesting synonym of skenhelig is gudsnådelig. Gudsnådelig can’t be easily translated into one word in English (mainly because English, unlike Swedish, cannot create words simply by combining them without people reacting awkwardly).

Gudsnådelig. like skenhelig, is used to mock someone who is pretending to be pious, but more specifically ‘acting as if they have been given the grace of God’, since the ‘grace of God’ in Swedish is Guds nåd. If you were to try to translate it, you might get something like ‘god’s-gracey’. Yes, ‘gracey’ is obviously not a real word, but ‘graceful’ does not mean the same as ‘acting as if with the grace of God,’ so you would have to go with a neologism. 

Do your best to keep up the appearance of being a proficient Swedish speaker, if you are not already. Perhaps you might practice by calling your best Swedish goody two-shoes friend skenhelig, as a joke of course.

All jokes aside, skenhelig, like most words, gains much meaning from context. It may be ok to call a friend skenhelig as a joke, but if you are being serious, that is a pretty bad accusation. Have a great week!

Example sentences:

Berit, du är fanemej den mest skenheliga människan jag träffat.

Berit, dammit, you are without doubt the most sanctimonious person I have ever met.

Vem i helvete kallar du skenhelig, Putte?  

Who the hell are you calling sanctimonious, Putte?

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.

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