From crisis to AI development – the Swedish list of new words 2023
Violence, inflation and climate change are prominent themes in our list of new words. But also the rapid technical development within AI technology.
In 2023, several desecrations of the Koran have taken place in Sweden, leading to a political Koran crisis (korankris). One effect is an increased cyber threat towards Sweden, a threat that demands an increased cyber resilience (cyberresiliens), i.e., an ability to withstand such cyber attacks from a foreign power.
Inflation has led to skimpflation (snikflation), where companies instead of raised price levels reduce discounts and quality of products. Customers’ response to this is to be multi-loyal (multilojala) and look for discounts and offers at different supermarket chains. At the same time, deinfluencers (antiinfluerare) discourage people from buying expensive or inferior products.
Another trending theme is generative AI (generativ AI), on the list represented by the verb to prompt (prompta), to write instructions to a chatbot, and the adjective AI cloned (AI-klonad), copied through AI technology.
English and Scandinavian word export
In a globalised world, new words also tend to be global. Words that we can find both in the Swedish list and in lists from other countries are e.g. Barbenheimer, gargasnipe, nepo baby, sensitivity reader, streaming farm, and situationship. Even popular word parts of compounds are often spread globally, like AI in AI voice (AI-röst) and (in)flation in funflation (kulflation).The majority of these are so-called calques or loan translations into Swedish, for instance hyschpengar from the English form hush money.
As medieval English to a large extent consisted of words from the Nordic languages, it’s not always easy to assess the exact etymology of words and expressions. The floss, the word used for a popular dance move a few years back imported from the US, is actually an old North Germanic and Norwegian word for woolen thread. In recent years, quite a few words have – once again – been exported from Scandinavian languages to English. Well-known Swedish examples are flight shame (flygskam), lagom (balanced or just enough), and plogging (picking up rubbish while jogging; plogga).
What is the Swedish list of new words?
It’s a list of around 35 new words and expressions that we, The Swedish Language Council, have published around Christmas since 1986, for the past ten years in cooperation with the linguistic magazine Språktidningen. It’s just a small sample of words that have been frequent over the past year and at the same time, hopefully, say something about today's society and the year that has passed.
We gather words by consuming newspapers, television, radio, podcasts, social media, and so on, but also through targeted searches in text corpora. Hundreds of new words and expressions are registered at the Language Council every year, and at the end of the year we pick a small sample of these words to our word list. The words on the list must meet certain criteria regarding frequency, novelty, word formation, et cetera.
A common misunderstanding is that the words are “approved” by the Language Council, that they are “the official new words” and now part of “the official Swedish dictionary”. But linguists do not invent or approve of words, that is something only ordinary language users can do by creating and using new words. What linguists do is to detect and define those words. If they spread and are used sufficiently often, maybe they will eventually end up in dictionaries. Around 30 % of the words in our lists are long-lasting enough to enter a Swedish dictionary, normally after several years of use.
Therefore, the list is also a reminder of everyone’s responsibility to create words, because we continuously need new words to express the things we want to say. Accordingly, the most important words are those that fill a “semantic gap” and thereby enable us to speak of new phenomena and things that previously had no name.
See all of the 34 words on the list of new Swedish words 2023 (the list is only available in Swedish, but you can get a rough translation through a search engine or maybe an AI service)