Swedish is a curious language where a “puss” is a kiss, a “kiss” is a piss and when your friends tell you that you are breaking the “fart” limit they just mean that you are driving too fast. Swedish English is equally interesting and while all adult Swedes speak the language with impressive fluency, they do not always use it the way a native speaker might and sometimes they are careless with unintended meanings or suggestions in their brand names.

Stockholm interior design store Granit, for example, marketed a lamp covered in dots and named “Prick”, which is simply the Swedish word for dot.  Their rival IKEA couldn’t let this stand unchallenged and launched a storage box called Nobb, now wisely discontinued. (Nobb is also the name of an unfortunate Norwegian company Norsk Byggevarebas.) 

At the heart of Stockholm there is also a large building labeled “PUB” which clearly isn’t one. This is simply the name of Sweden’s leading department store, named after founder Paul U Bergstrom.  To be fair PUB has been around a long time – a young Greta Gustafsson worked in the hat department before moving to Hollywoodand changing her name to Garbo.  Since then the word “pub” has been introduced into Swedish in its more usual meaning.  But there is a difference. The English have long mocked “thick Americans” for thinking that all pubs called, say, “the Red Lion” belong to the same chain. In Sweden this joke has become reality and there is a chain of pubs all called “the Bishops Arms” – written without apostrophe, Swedish style.

Some place names are unintentionally funny, too, like the town of Pukebergin the south east of the country, long famous for its glassworks. The locals pronounce it more like “pooka-barry” and perhaps don’t realize how unappealing it is to consumers to eat and drink from authentic Pukeberg glassware.

But of all the branding mishaps I have seen in Swedennone can beat the 2005 launch of a new ice cream by GB Glace, the Swedish brand owned by Unilever. In an attempt to extend an existing brand called “Nogger” – the name comes from “nougat” — they introduced a new liquorice-flavoured version, coloured black and, for the short time it was on the shelves, astonishingly named “Nogger Black”. 

By: Andrew Hennigan

Communication Consultant, Speaker, Writer