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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Kiva! Seven unique Finland Swedish words the world needs to know

Sweden is not the only country where Swedish is spoken as a first language. Here are some words that are unique to the Swedish that's spoken in Finland.

Kiva! Seven unique Finland Swedish words the world needs to know
The border between Sweden and Finland. Photo: Erik Simander/TT

Across the Baltic sea in neighboring Finland nearly 300,000 people speak Swedish as their first language.

Having been part of the Swedish empire from 1249 until 1809, this led to a large group of the population along the coast speaking Swedish as their first language. Nowadays Finland has two official languages, although the usage of Swedish varies across the country. A person who speaks Swedish as their first language is called a Swedish-speaking Finn.

Although the Swedish spoken in Finland is similar to the one spoken in Sweden, Finnish has sneaked its way into the language. As a result there are several unique words that only Swedish-speaking Finns use. Sometimes, it may even feel like you’re speaking another language. These words are called finlandismer.

Below are a few Finland Swedish words that you may find useful, although keep in mind that there are several dialects across the country that may use the words differently.

Roskis

Sweden Swedish equivalent: papperskorg/soptunna

English meaning: trash/bin

One of the most famous Finnish Swedish words. Originating from the Finnish word for trash, it’s pronounced rÅskis, as the o is pronounced the Finnish way.

Juttu

Sweden Swedish equivalent: grej/historia/inslag

English meaning: thing

A very flexible word that can be used to mean pretty much anything. A useful word to have on hand. You don’t know how to describe something? Just call it a juttu and that’ll keep the conversation flowing. Also originally a Finnish word, but very common among young Swedish-speaking Finns.

Råddigt

Sweden Swedish equivalent: stökigt

English meaning: messy

Although the origins of the word are unclear, this is a word that most likely originated from various Finnish Swedish dialects. Råddigt is used to describe something that is messy, like a room or a car.

Krabbis

Sweden Swedish equivalent: baksmälla

English meaning: hangover

If you’ve had a few too many drinks, you may experience some krabbis the following day. You can also use the word krapula to describe the banging headache you experience, although this is a word mainly used in the Helsinki region.

Did you have one too many last night? You may be feeling a bit krabbis today. Photo: Fotograferna Holmberg/TT

Håsa

Sweden Swedish equivalent: jäkta

English meaning: rush

You’re running around, trying to find everything you need, struggling to take a break? A Swedish-speaking Finn may ask you to sluta håsa (stop rushing) and calm down. Another Finnish word that has managed to sneak its way into the Swedish language. 

Nakupelle

Sweden Swedish equivalent: naken/näck

English meaning: naked

The Emperor has no clothes, he is nakupelle. When a person isn’t wearing any clothes, they are nakupelle. Has several times been voted the best finlandism in existence by Swedish-speaking Finns.

Kiva

Sweden Swedish equivalent: kul/trevlig

English meaning: nice/fun/exciting

Similar to juttu this word is very useful in everyday language. Also originally a Finnish word from the Northern parts of the country, kiva has managed to establish itself as one of the most common words in the Swedish language among young people in Finland. You will rarely hear older Swedish-speaking Finns use this word.

Useful in situations to keep the conversation going. Don’t know how to respond to someone? Just say kiva and that will be enough. Your intonation will show just how nice you think something is. Kiva!

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: liga

You may have this word in your native language or recognise it from football leagues such as the German Bundesliga or Spain's La Liga. Liga has a similar meaning in Swedish, too, with one crucial difference.

Swedish word of the day: liga

Liga originally comes from Latin ligāre (“to bind”). In most languages, liga means “league”, a group of individuals, organisations or nations who are united in some way.

Similar words exist in many European languages, such as Dutch, Spanish, Czech and Polish liga, Italian lega, French ligue and Romanian ligă.

A league is almost always something positive or neutral in other languages, but in Swedish a liga is something negative – a criminal gang, with the word ligist referring to a (usually young, male) gang member, thug or hooligan.

Political or diplomatic leagues are usually translated into Swedish as förbund (“union” or “association”) rather than liga: one example is the Swedish term for the League of Nations, Nationernas förbund.

The only exception to this rule is sport, where the popularity of international football leagues such as the Bundesliga and the Premier League has lessened the negative meaning somewhat in this context. Fans of hockey will be familiar with SHL, Svenska hockeyligan, and Sweden’s handball league is referred to as handbollsligan.

The history behind liga’negative meaning in Swedish can be traced back to the Thirty Years’ War, which took place largely within the Holy Roman Empire between 1618 and 1648.

Essentially, the Thirty Years’ War began as a fight between Protestant and Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire, with Catholic states forming the Catholic League and Protestant states forming the Protestant Union.

Sweden was – and still is – Lutheran, meaning that, when they got involved in the war in 1630, their enemies were the Catholic League – or the katolska ligan in Swedish, with its members being referred to as ligister or “league-ists”.

King Gustav II Adolf eventually beat the Catholic League in 1631 at the Battle of Breitenfeld, ultimately leading to the formal dissolution of the league in 1635 in the Peace of Prague, which forbade alliances from forming within the Holy Roman Empire.

Although this may seem like ancient history, Swedes still don’t trust a liga – the word’s negative connotations have survived for almost 400 years.

Swedish vocabulary:

Jag är lite orolig för honom, han har börjat hänga med ett gäng ligister.

I’m a bit worried about him, he’s started hanging out with a group of thugs.

Manchester United har vunnit den engelska ligan flest gånger, men City är mästare just nu.

Manchester United have won the Premier League the most times, but City are the current champions.

De säger att det står en liga bakom det senaste inbrottsvågen.

They’re saying there’s a gang behind the recent spate of break-ins.

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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