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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: fisförnäm

Today’s word is an expression Swedes use when other people think a little too highly of themselves. 

​​Swedish word of the day: fisförnäm

Fisförnäm is a composition of the two words fis, meaning ‘fart’, primarily one with a hissing sound, and förnäm, which means ‘noble, distinguished’. The combination is a slight slur for someone who is ‘stuck up, cocky, or thinks themselves better than others’ but who in actuality is not better at all. Perhaps somewhat comparable to the American expression of ​​’thinking the sun shines out of one’s own arse’ or simply ‘self-important’.

The late linguistics professor Jan Strid once explained fisförnäm on Swedish radio. While doing so he explained that the reason that fis refers to hissing farts is because it most likely has the original meaning of ‘blowing’. Which explains the word askfis, ‘ash fart’, meaning the youngest child which does nothing but sit by the fire blowing into the ashes and getting them all over the face. Then there is the bärfis, the ‘berry fart’, the insect commonly known in English as either shield bug or stink bug. There the word obviously refers to the bad smell produced by the bug. 

The late great professor then went on to explain how fisförnäm has a sibling in struntförnäm which means the same thing. Strunt, which in Swedish means ‘nonsense’, comes from German with the original meaning of ‘dung’, ‘dirt’ or ‘filth’. So struntförnäm in a way means ‘filth noble’ and by extension fisförnäm has the same original meaning: someone who says they are great, but they are really not better at all.

And that is a word that in a way is quintessentially Swedish. Why? Because of Jantelagen

Many of you are surely already familiar with the Law of Jante, but for those of you who are not, Jantelagen, first formalized in a satirical novel by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, is a set of rules or attitudes that many Swedes, Norwegians and Danes supposedly espouse. You might enjoy having a look at celebrated Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård explaining it on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Fisförnäm has been found in print as far back as 1954, some 21 years after the publication of Sandemose’s book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor), in 1933. So it is younger than the formalization of the Law of Jante, but there is probably no connection between the two besides the societal norms both are expressions of. And though the 10 rules of the so called Law of Jante were first expressed in the aforementioned book, the attitudes are much older. 

To think yourself better than others is still somewhat frowned upon in Sweden, even if it is true. If you are familiar with Swedish football history you might have seen this in the Swedish public’s reaction to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s rise to stardom. Some Swedes just could not stand his boisterous attitude, some still can not. But of course, fisförnäm is not applicable to Zlatan, since he is arguably the best Swedish footballer of all time. 

Fisförnäm is an insult, but not a bad one, and might even be used a bit jokingly. You could perhaps try to use it when someone does not want to join an activity that is a bit ridiculous. For reference (and a laugh) you might have a look at when famed Swedish show host Stina Dabrowski asked Margaret Thatcher to do a little skip in place on her show.

Example sentences:

Sluta var så fisförnäm nu, du kan väl va med?

Stop being so self-important, why not join in?

Nä, jag orkar inte följa med dit, de är alla så fisförnäma.

Oh no, I’d rather not go there, they are all so unduly haughty. 

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 USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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