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Swedish word of the day: jordskred

Jordskred is the Swedish word for a landslide. It’s a compound word, just like its English counterpart, made up of two words: jord and skred.

Swedish word of the day: jordskred
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Let’s start with the first part of the word: jord. This originally comes from the Early Old Swedish iorþ, where the þ is pronounced ‘th’. It has the same root as the English word for jord, earth.

Like in English, it can be used both to mean the planet Earth (jorden) or earth as in soil or land.

It’s also used in a number of phrases, with some examples being gå under jorden (to go underground, in the sense of hiding from police or other authorities), moder jord (Mother Earth), komma ner på jorden (to come down to earth, in the sense of being brought back to reality), and ha fötterna på jorden (to be practical).

The second part of the word, skred, is the past tense of skrida, has a couple of different meanings.

Att skrida fram usually means that something is slowly moving forward, such as a procession, for example. In Danish and Norwegian, the word for progress is fremskridt or framskritt, for this reason (the Swedish word is framsteg).

You may also see it in the phrase att skrida till verket: to get to work or to spring into action.

That’s not the meaning used in jordskred, however. Here, skred means to slide or skate, a meaning you can also see in the Swedish word for ice skates, skridskor (literally: skate shoes). If you wanted to say you were ice skating, though, you would say jag åker skridskor, rather than jag skrider.

The word skred can also be used on its own to describe some sort of mass moving quickly (usually in the sense of a landslide), or in a compound word with another material, such as bergskred (literally: mountain slide, but better translated as rockslide) and snöskred (literally: snowslide, but better translated as an avalanche). You might also see the word lavin used instead of a snöskred.

In Swedish, as in English, you can use the word jordskred to refer to an exceptionally good result in an election or similar contest: this would be a jordskredsseger (landslide victory).

Etymologically, skrida comes from the Old Norse skriða, which is also the root of the English word scree, referring to small fragments of rock at the bottom of cliffs which have usually been formed through – you guessed it – rockslides.

Example sentences:

Ett jordskred inträffade på E6:an natten till lördag.

A landslide occurred on the E6 in the early hours of Saturday (natten till lördag could also mean Friday night).

Ronald Reagan vann en jordskredsseger i presidentvalet 1984.

Ronald Reagan won a landslide victory in the 1984 presidential election.

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Swedish word of the day: ätt

This word of the day is often used when discussing royal lineages, but may also be recognisable to the descendants of Swedish immigrants abroad.

Swedish word of the day: ätt

Ätt may look similar to the Swedish word äta, to eat, but its meaning is unrelated. It originally comes from an Old Norse term ætt, which in turn comes from a Proto-Germanic word meaning something like possessions or property.

Ætt in Old Norse had a few different meanings, like an area or quarter (as in austrætt, ‘the east), a family or pedigree, and a generation.

In modern Swedish, it has two meanings. The first, most commonly used, meaning is similar to the Old Norse meaning – a lineage or royal house. Sweden’s royal family, for example, are ätten Bernadotte or the house of Bernadotte, descended from French-born Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, who was made heir to the Swedish throne in 1810. When the childless Karl XIII died in 1818, Bernadotte took over the Swedish throne, taking the name Karl XIV Johan.

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A number of foreign royals are considered members of ätten Bernadotte, including Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II, whose mother was Princess Ingrid of Sweden (aunt to the Swedish king, Carl XVI Gustaf), as well as Margrethe’s sister, Anne-Marie of Greece.

Historically, the word ätt was similar to a clan, and it is now only really used when talking about royal houses or historically noble houses – normal people would use the word släkt to talk about their extended family instead.

Although Sweden no longer has official nobility, there are still a number of families considered to be adelsätter or noble families, also referred to in modern Swedish as uradel. The oldest of these which still exists is the Natt och Dag family, which can be traced all the way back to 1280, while Oxenstierna, Leijonhufvud and Hamilton are also well known adelsätter (although the last of these is not technically uradel, if we’re being pedantic). 

In Norse society, you could technically be part of more than one ätt at once, although you’d most likely refer to yourself by whichever ätt was most prestigious. Usually, an ätt follows the male line, but it could follow the female line if this was more prestigious.

However, one area where ätt has hung on for normal people is in the word ättling, which describes a descendent, usually of a particular person a number of generations ago. This can be the ättling of some particular nobleman or woman, but it can also be used to describe the descendents of more normal Swedes.

The descendants of people who left Sweden generations ago to move to the US, for example, are commonly referred to in Swedish as svenskättlingar (descendants of Swedes), whereas the children of Swedes who left Sweden recently would more likely be referred to as utlandssvenskar (foreign Swedes).

The second use of ätt in Swedish is used when referring to groups of runes in the Elder Futhark, the Runic alphabet used between the 1st and 8th centuries.

This alphabet consisted of 24 letters – runes, technically – which were divided into three groups of eight. Essentially, these runes were seen as being part of the same clan or family, so they were also described as being part of the same ätt.

Example sentences

Den svenska kungaätten är ätten Bernadotte.

The Swedish royal house is House Bernadotte.

Jag är en svenskättling från USA. Det är därför jag heter Hansson i efternamn.

I am a descendant of Swedes, from the USA. That’s why my last name is Hansson.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.