Tag Archives: Vocabulary

One Swedish word, two meanings in English: rykte and säkerhet

snowy sundsvall

I’ve just got back from two days in Sundsvall working as a language trainer with a group of European Works Council reps at SCA.

One issue that came up was Swedish words that have two different meanings in English. If you are thinking in Swedish and then translating, the danger is that you will choose the wrong one.

First rykte. This  means either rumour or reputation. Two very different things.

There’s a rumour going round that she will resign.

Forget the rumours! Let’s stick to the facts.

A rumour is an unsubstantiated story.

The company’s reputation was badly damaged by all the negative publicity.

The hotel has an excellent reputation.

Reputation is the commonly held opinion of a person, company etc. If you have a bad reputation, you are infamous or notorious!

Säkerhet has two meanings: safety and security. Here they are related to each other but different nevertheless. Safety concerns the prevention of accidents and injuries to people. Security concerns the prevention of theft and damage to property.

We take the safety of our workforce very seriously.

The regular safety rounds help to identify accident black spots.

There have been too many thefts. We need to improve security.

Guards patrol the perimeter to ensure maximum security.

Sometimes when translating we encounter sentences where both these meanings are implied by säkerhet. In this case, both the English words need to be used.

We have developed an action plan to increase safety and security at the factory.





Krakel Spektakel, yummy mummies and Foxy Knoxy

Lennart Helsing is a Swedish national treasure. Written in the spirit of Edward Lear, his wonderful children’s books have delighted many generations of kids. There’s even a new film based on his work.

Anglophile Helsing understands how much children love to play with words and is wonderfully inventive with language. The names of his characters say it all: Håkan Bråkan, Krakel Spektakel etc.

The technical term for rhyming doubles like this is reduplicative phrases. And English speakers love them even though very few us know that term. Used all the time, our language is choc-a-bloc with them:

pub grub, hanky panky, hoity toity, Delhi belly, higgledy piggledy, culture vulture, pow wow, jet set, slo mo, airy fairy, namby pamby etc

Expressions like riff raff and mish mash have been around since Shakespeare’s time. And we are constantly inventing new ones: flower power, pooper scooper, yummy mummy etc.

Some of these phrases are rich in meaning.  A yummy mummy is far more than a good looking mum. It’s a woman who despite having small children, is always immaculately dressed in designer clothes and has perfect make up. It’s definitely slightly pejorative. The revenge of all those other mums who don’t have nannies and a rich husband.

Reduplicatives are very popular for nicknames which tend to stick. President Nixon will always be Tricky Dicky. And consider the case of Amanda Knox, the American woman at the centre of the much publicized murder case in Perugia. A journalist coined the nickname Foxy Knoxy and suddenly the media of the world had a peg on which to hang all their comments about her bohemian lifestyle. She must be cursing that hack.  She’s Foxy Knoxy for the rest of her life now.