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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: skärgård

You don't have to spend long in Sweden to hear the word skärgård, especially if you live in cities like Stockholm or Gothenburg where the population relocate to the nearby skärgård every summer. Where does the word come from?

Swedish word of the day: skärgård
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Skärgård is, like many Swedish words, a compound word made up of the word skär, describing a small rocky outcrop and gård, which has a number of meanings such as “courtyard”, “farm” or “garden”.

Although skärgård is often translated to English as “archipelago” – a group of islands – the word officially refers to an archipelago made up primarily of small islands, close to the coast of a larger island or landmass, such as the rocky archipelagos near Stockholm and Gothenburg.

Other kinds of archipelago – such as those which are not close to other landmasses, or those made up of larger islands – can be referred to as an arkipelag or ögrupp. However, many Swedes will just use skärgård for any kind of archipelago.

Although the word skärgård doesn’t exist in English, a variant of skär has made its way into the language. The English term for this type of small rocky outcrop is “skerry”.

Skerry has an interesting etymology in English – it comes from the Old Norse term sker, which refers to a rock in the sea. This is related to the Swedish word skära, meaning “cut” – a skerry is a rock cut off from land.

Sker came into English via Scots, where it is spelled skerry or skerrie. Other languages also have this word, such as Norwegian skjær/skjer, Estonian skäär, Finnish kari and Russian шхеры (shkhery). It can also be found in Scottish Gaelic sgeir, Irish sceir and Welsh sgeri.

This also reflects the geographic area where skerries are found – there are skerries or skärgårdar along the northernmost part of the Swedish west coast near Bohuslän and Gothenburg, as well as on the east coast near Stockholm. The Norwegian coast also has a large number of skerries, and Skärgårdshavet or “the Archipelago Sea” lies off the southwestern coast of Finland.

In Russia, the Minina Skerries (Shkhery Minina) are one example of a skärgård, and in Scotland, Skerryvore and Dubh Artach in the Hebrides are also made up of skerries. Northern Ireland is home to The Skerries, off the Antrim coast, and Skerries is also the name of a coastal area of Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.

You may be wondering if the surname of the famous Swedish Skarsgård family of actors – Stellan, Gustaf, Bill, Valter and Alexander Skarsgård, among others – comes from the word skärgård. Although the spelling is similar, this name actually comes from the town of Skärlöv on the island of Öland, and means “Skar’s farm” (Skares gård, in Swedish).

Example sentences

Jag ser redan fram emot sommarsemestern – vi har hyrt en stuga ute i Stockholms skärgård.

I’m already looking forwards to summer – we’ve rented a cottage out in the Stockholm archipelago.

Sverige har många skärgårdar, fast Skärgårdshavet vid Finlands västkust är störst i världen med över 50 000 öar och skär.

Sweden has a lot of archipelagos, but the Archipelago Sea off Finland’s west coast is the biggest in the world has over 50,000 islands and skerries.

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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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: skitkul

Today’s Swedish word of the day is a word you use to affirm how fun something was, or with an ironic tone, how boring something is or was.

Swedish word of the day: skitkul

And it’s got the word for “shit” in too, which always makes for a great word in Swedish.

Swedish is a language that lends itself well to building new words, and often some colourful prefixes can be found appended to many different nouns. One of those prefixes is skit-, which, you guessed it, means ‘shit’. Skit- is used both negatively and positively, and should be seen as emphasizing whatever the word it is attached to is trying to convey. It is less offensive than “shit” would be in English. You can happily use skitkul in conversation with your mother-in-law (or in a headline on a news website).  

Skit- should also not be pronounced as the English ‘skit’, but sounds more like a boiling kettle trying to say ‘shit’. If you can imagine that. Here’s the phonetic spelling /ˈɧiːt/ in case anyone knows how to read it. 

Another lovely example of the ever-present skit- prefix is skitfet. It literally means ‘shit-fat’, but is used in somewhat the same sense as ‘phat’, which as most of you know means ‘cool’, but naturally in a cooler way.

As previously mentioned, skit- can be found in many words, like, skitnära (shit-near), skitful (shit-ugly), skitäckligt (shit-disgusting), skitunge (shit-kid), skitbra (shit-good), skitrolig (shit-funny), skitstor (shit-big), skitball (a shit-good time), and so on and so forth. In fact, a good way of becoming more integrated into Swedish society might be trying to build new words with the prefix skit-. Many Swedes, I am sure, will be more than happy to assist. 

Then there is the second part of our beloved word skitkul, which is -kul. And kul is kul, and generally understood to mean ‘fun’, as in something being fun.

The origin of this word, however, is a bit murky. Some say it originates in the Finnish word kyllä, meaning ‘yes’ or ‘sure’, but another possible origin can be found in the Romani word ‘kul’ which means ‘completely’. That is then supposed to have merged with a Swedish word for something being ‘successful and excellent’, kulan, which can be seen in the expression ‘kulan i luften’, meaning either ‘the ball’ or ‘the bullet in the air’. 

We can only guess where that phrase originates. Perhaps a reference to gambling, as in the ball is flying into the roulette wheel, or maybe to war in the case of it meaning bullet. But that might be the stuff of another article. 

It’s been skitkul to examine this wonderful word with you. Best of luck putting it to use!

By Alex Rodallec

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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