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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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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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