8 Swedish words that just sound wrong in English

This article has been reprinted with the kind permission of the Swedish edition of The Local.

Swedish is a fun language to learn, but there are some words which can bring a blush to English-speakers’ cheeks.

Here are eight words which we still find awkward to use in conversation.

1. Fart

There’s a clever and delightful little Swenglish play on words: “It’s not the fart that kills, it’s the smell.” Why is it clever? Well, the word ‘fart’ is Swedish for ‘speed’ and the word ‘smäll’ (pronounced smell) is the Swedish word for ‘crash’. So, it’s not the speed that kills you, it’s the crash. If you invite your non-Swedish friends on a road trip, be prepared for adolescent humour every time you go past a police ‘fartkontroll’ (speed check) or drive into a carpark at the ‘infart’ (entry) sign.

2. Puss

We know that Swedes have a reputation for being sexually liberal, but if your “sambo” (the Swedish term for live-in lover) ends phone conversations by going “Puss, puss!” it is important to remember they are not suddenly confusing you with a kitten or trying to be saucy.

‘Puss’ actually means ‘kiss’ in Swedish and is a common way of wrapping up a phone call or email between family members, similar to ‘bisous’ in French or ‘bacio’ in Italian. Confusingly, the Swedish word ‘kiss’ translates to ‘pee’, so beware of that one too.

Prince Carl Philip gives his new wife Princess Sofia an innocent puss. Picture: Getty Images

3. Prick

If a Swede tells you to meet at 8pm “prick”, don’t punch them in the face. Not only because violence does not solve anything, but also because they did not mean to insult you using a vulgar English slang word. In Swedish, ‘prick’ means ‘dot’. So when the ever-so-punctual Swedes want to meet at prick 8pm, they just mean 8pm on the dot.

Be on the tee at 2pm, prick. Picture Getty Images

4. Kock

If you think this sounds like something famously foul-mouthed TV chef Gordon Ramsay might say, you could not be more … well, right, actually. If he were Swedish, at least. Because ‘kock’ is just the word for ‘chef’. So do try to hide your blush when your Swedish dining companion after a particularly yummy meal in a restaurant tries to pass on his or her compliments to the head “kock”.

Gordon Ramsay. What a kock. Photo: Getty Images

5. Bra

No, Swedes aren’t talking about women’s lingerie when you ask them how their weekend was. The word bra means good. If you’re Scottish you may have noticed that ‘bra’ is similar to the word ‘braw’, which also means good.

Hands up if you had a bra weekend. Picture: Getty Images

6. Sex

Get your mind out of the gutters, folks. It just means six. Except it doesn’t – it also means exactly what you think it means. It is a wonder that this one does not cause more confusion, but the fact that the Swedes somehow seem to understand when they are talking about one thing or the other shows that language is really all down to context.


7. Slut

This is one of the first funny words anglophone expats tend to notice when they arrive in Sweden – and it’s one The Local’s staff and readers alike keep giggling about even after years in the Nordic country. It just means ‘end’. So a ‘slutspurt’ (literally translated ‘end sprint’ or ‘final sprint’) is just the final splurge of a sale in a store. And getting off at the ‘slutstation’ is a far less exciting experience than what you may have been hoping for.

8. Fack

Swap the ‘a’ for a ‘u’ and repeat that word. Yes, that’s how it’s pronounced in Swedish, and no, it is not considered rude at all. Why should it? It is nothing more than the word for a small compartment such as a pocket on a rucksack or a pigeon hole. A friend once told us the story of her Swedish grandmother who tried to buy a suitcase in the United States and emphasized in Swenglish to the salesperson that she “needed plenty of fack”. Coincidentally, it is also the Swedish word for trade union. Go figure.

Give a fack, save a wallaby. Picture: Getty Images

This article was reprinted with the kind permission of the Swedish edition of The Local.

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