Swedish dictionary: 140 years in the making

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Patience pays off:

Official Swedish dictionary completed after 140 years

One hundred and thirty-seven full-time employees have worked on Swedish Academy Dictionary over the years since 1883

Agence France-Presse in Stockholm
Wed 25 Oct 2023


The definitive record of the Swedish language has been completed after 140 years, with the dictionary’s final volume sent to the printer’s last week, its editor said on Wednesday.

The Swedish Academy Dictionary (SAOB), the Swedish equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary, is drawn up by the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel prize in literature, and contains 33,111 pages across 39 volumes.

“It was started in 1883 and now we’re done. Over the years 137 full-time employees have worked on it,” Christian Mattsson told AFP.

Despite reaching the major milestone, their work is not completely done yet: the volumes A to R are now so old they need to be revised to include modern words.

“One such word is “allergy” which came into the Swedish language around the 1920s but is not in the A volume because it was published in 1893,” Mattsson said.

“Barbie doll”, “app”, and “computer” are among the 10,000 words that will be added to the dictionary over the next seven years.

The SAOB is a historical record of the Swedish language from 1521 to modern day. It is available online and there are only about 200 copies published, used mainly by researchers and linguists.

The academy also publishes a regular dictionary of contemporary Swedish.

The Swedish Academy was founded in 1786 by King Gustav III to promote the country’s language and literature, and work for the “purity, vigour and majesty” of the Swedish language.

Having lived in Sweden for a year, part of it up near the Arctic Circle, I must say that you get a different sense of time (or rather timelessness) up there.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Don Keyser]


  1. John from Cincinnati said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 7:52 pm

    The Swedish Chef character first appeared on The Muppet Show in 1975. I imagine the B volume of the SAOB predates that appearance, and so does not (yet) contain an entry for Bork, bork, bork! Skada!

  2. Emil said,

    October 26, 2023 @ 7:30 am

    Always fun to see your own country mentioned! Swedish in general has great resources for linguistic tasks, one of them being the above mentioned online version of SAOB, which can be viewed along with a contemporary dictionary at svenska.se (swedish.se, .se being our top-level domain).

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