Something Swedish

Right Word, Wrong Meaning.


Last summer I noticed a joyfully jibber-jabbering toddler atop his  fathers shoulders up above the crowd in an amusement park. Amongst his noises he kept repeating “Bye-bye” and to me it seemed like the opening and closing of his tiny fist was a wave. I giggled and exclaimed how cute it was that the baby was saying bye-bye to everyone who passed, not really thinking it’s unlikely he would be picking up English at 2 or 3 years old. Through fits of laughter my husband explained that “Bajs bajs” is common child speak for “poop,” the child was announcing to the world that he needed to, or already had pooped and there I was thinking it was adorable.

When I  misunderstand Swedish because I jump to a familiar meaning too quickly, this is the scene that always pops into mind.


From google images.

The most popular three words that are recognized for being spelled like English words are Sex, Slut, and Fart. But it’s not what you think, really.

It’s likely you will see sex everywhere in Sweden, but don’t blush- it’s just the number six.

Everyone has their own fart, it’s nothing to be ashamed of- we all move at own speed, or pace.

Every Swedish story has a slut – an ending.


And so I decided to hunt for more words that might cause confusion:

  • When a family talks about their barn it doesn’t mean they own a farm animals – they have children.
  • Being stung by a bi is more literal than being hurt by a person interested in both sexes – bee stings can be lethal.
  • When buying from the fruit stand and a sign saysask it doesn’t mean that you can bargain for the price- it is the price per case or pack.
  • If someone asks you if  you want a gift, be careful- they are either offering you a marriage or poison.
  • Being invited to the bio isn’t as odd as it seems. You aren’t being asked to use the bathroom, or for your autobiography- Movie theaters are a fun source of entertainment!
  • You’ll hear a lot of chatter about bras, but its not lingerie – bra means good.
  • Don’t ask your chef to make food for you – it’s your boss.
  • Tack!” isn’t a warning that your about to sit on something sharp – it means thank you.
  • Being full in Sweden doesn’t mean that you’ve had too much to eat – it’s having too much to drink, being drunk.
  • When someone says they are going to spy on you don’t be nervous – but do move out of the way because they are about to vomit.
  • Bland is not boring – it means mix.
  • When someone tells you that they go to gymnasium, it doesn’t mean that they play sports or games all day- they attend high school.
  • Wiping your feet on a mat isn’t as polite as it sounds- no one likes dirt on their food.
  • If your friends sign an email sending you lots of puss don’t be grossed out- they are sending you kisses.
  • And when you think they’ve started to called them kisses but messed up and said kissa, they are actually talking about taking a piss.


Surprisingly a lot of the words that look the same in English are actually the same. Skimming through a pocket dictionary, this is about 1/3 of the words spelled identical to English but the others had the same meaning, and then add another bunch that were spelled close enough to be recognizable. Sometimes the spelling is off just because the language, alphabet, and pronunciation is different- many C’s are K’s, I’s and Y’s are mixed up, W’s and Q’s are rare, and ending E’s disappear. Often when I can’t think of a word for something in Swedish it’s because the word is too similar to English and being obvious, I overlook it.

But beware of some- this list is just the beginning, can anyone think of any others?


10 thoughts on “Right Word, Wrong Meaning.

  1. Haha, thanks for clearing this up- “Every Swedish story has a slut – an ending.” I was starting to be judgmental of Swedish literature.

  2. wrist=handled

  3. That is funny, we just talked about this, Philip and I yesterday, and Liam today! I think it’s called “false friends”. Liam told us that his classmate wrote “the slut” to end her story, and the teacher told her that “slut” doesn’t mean “end” but something totally different. He wouldn’t tell the children what the actual meaning was, so Liam googled it and read it out loud to the class. Too funny to read this blog post after our conversations!

    • Hahaha, that is way too funny!! What a coincidence. The teacher shouldn’t have peaked his curiosity, lol Saying the word doesn’t exist in English so you can’t write it at the end of a story would have worked! But then there would be no funny story 🙂

  4. wonderful post! marrying a first generation Chinese Canadian (me being from Michigan) has brought about a few times like this often when talking with his parents and extended family. thankful to have my husband know and translate or help me when i have a look of awe on my face or a blank stare.

  5. Pingback: Awkward & Offensive Language Mishap # 2 « Something Swedish

  6. Love your blog.
    Having a bonus daughter whose first language is English, and learning Swedish from age 3, teaches alot about grammar.
    Using a verb in English to make a Swedish verb – just end it with -a:
    sit – sitta
    swim – simma
    eat – äta
    … men sedan kommer
    kiss – kissa (to pee)
    hit – hitta (fo find)
    We have had many good laughs form this!

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