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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
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

​​Swedish word of the day: pyttipanna

This word of the day is a lot of bits of leftovers.

​​Swedish word of the day: pyttipanna

Pyttipanna or pytt i panna is a Swedish dish, but really a Nordic dish, as it exists in Norway (pytt i panne), Denmark (biksemad), and Finland (pyttipannu). The word or words supposedly mean ‘little bits in a pan’. Panna of course is simply ‘pan’ as in ‘frying pan’. But pytt, it seems, is an interesting little word. 

Taken as is, pytt has several meanings: a penis (see pitt), a small person (as in liliputian, lilleputt), a local name for the ‘marsh tit’, which is a little bird, or simply small. But all of those might be wrong. The Swedish Academy actually proposes that the pytt in pyttipanna did not originally mean ‘small’, but that it instead might come from putta, a word that today only means ‘push’, but which has the same root as the English ‘put’ and once also had that meaning. 

This would of course mean that the correct translation into English of pyttipanna is ‘Put in a Pan’! While many refer to it as ‘Swedish Hash’ or ‘Swedish Fry Up, and one could imagine it as ‘Pieces in a Pan’, Jamie Oliver sticks to the actual name pyttipanna when he makes it, and that is the recommended way.

The dish itself is a dish worth tasting for reference, as nearly every Swedish school child will have eaten it, sometimes several times a month, during their entire schooling. The dish is as Swedish as any. And there are fancier variations if you wanna go that way – look for krögarpytt. 

As is often the way with words, people constantly find new and at times even funny uses for them. Pyttipanna is no exception. 

Here you can see Swedish journalist Sara Mitchell-Malm making great use of pyttipanna in the sense of someone being ‘pyttipanna-ed’ or in other word proverbially cut to pieces. The target is British prime minister Liz Truss, and Mitchell-Mann also grabs the opportunity to get a jibe in at the Swedish minister for foreign affairs, Ann Linde.

Translation: ‘Aaah, a whole hour of British local radio journalists making pyttipanna of Liz Truss – the evening shift couldn’t start better. You have to listen, I beg you, she makes Ann Linde on German television seem like a professor of rhetoric.’

What Sara Mitchell-Mann is doing here is replacing the standard slarvsylta, another dish used to say that someone is being shredded by critics or opponents, with pyttipanna. An English language equivalent would be the American ‘making chop suey of someone’. 

Before you ascend to Mitchell-Mann’s Jedi level of pyttipanna use, start by making the dish for your friends. There are many great recipes online. Good luck!

Example sentences:

Gillar ni inte pyttipannan så kommer jag göra pyttipanna av er nästa gång! 

If you don’t like the pyttipanna, I’ll make pyttipanna of you next time!

Pyttipanna eller krögarpytt? Vad är skillnaden?

Pyttipanna or krögarpytt? What’s the difference?

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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