Unstranlatable Swedish Words: Mångta, Fika, Resfeber, Tretår


Swedish has some unique words that are untranslatable. LOST IN TRANSLATATION: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World is written by Ella Frances Sanders. Ella is an illustrator and writer, and according to her bio in the book ‘lives all over the place, most recently Morocco, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland’.

“Words allow us to grasp and hold on to an extraordinary amount. Sure, all languages can be picked apart and reduced to just a few vowels or symbols or sounds, but the ability that language gives us is incredibly complex. There may be some small essential gaps in your mother tongue, but never fear: you can look to other languages to define what you’re feeling, and these pages are your starting point,” she writes. “Words reduce reality to something the human can grasp, which isn’t very much.”



Mångta: noun: the road-like reflection of the moon in the water. “Perhaps people don’t notice these glimmering, lyrical moments enough anymore, but the way the moon reflects and leaps across the black water of the ocean at night is surely a sight to behold.”


Fika: verb: gathering together to talk and take a break from everyday routines, usually drinking coffee and eating pastries – either at a café or at home – often for hours on end. “The combination of coffee and conversation is a great one, and often leads to inspired exchanges, bright ideas, and general caffeine-induced brilliance. It is perhaps unsurprising that fika is a social institution—Swedes have nearly twice the average per capita consumption of the European Union.


Resfeber: noun: the restless beat of a traveler’s heart before the journey begins, a mixture of anxiety and anticipation. “You’ve been counting the days, and now you’re counting down the hours. Your heart knows that it’s going on a journey and you cannot sit still as a result. So pick up our backpack, put on your boots, and go boldly into the adventure and the unexpected.”


Tretår: noun: on its own, ‘tår’ means a cup of coffee and ‘patår’ is the refill of said coffee. A ‘tretår’ is therefore a second refill, or a threefill. “Whether you read this and think, “Only three cups” or you don’t understand how it’s possible to stomach even one cup of coffee, let alone three, you have to admit that this is a very logical and efficient word.”

There are more than a dozen words that are literally untranslatable from Swedish to another language, or words that are unique to Swedish – words that encompass a complex meaning with a nuanced cultural aspect to them: orka (having energy), blunda (ignore or be blind to other things), jobbig (annoying, tedious, difficult), vabba (be at home with children particularly when they are sick), vobba (at home with sick children yet working) …