Fully Sweded by David Astle

Meet Sebastian. He doesn’t talk much. In fact he hasn’t spoken since we met. The strong silent type, Sebastian has a round head and lean flanks. He hails from Sweden, along with Gilbert, who lives in my dining room.

We also have an L-shaped couch called Karlstad and a blond coffee table named Ramvik. To complete the family there is Benno the bookcase, a desk named Galant and nest of shelves in the garden shed called Gorm.

I don’t speak Swedish. Apart from the words our language has pinched – like ombudsman and smorgasbord – I’m mute as Sebastian. Yet all this time, living among the IKEA colony we call a home, I’d presumed Ramvik was a word meaning modular couch with puffy armrests in Stockholm.

And Florö was Swedish for a queen-size bedframe made of particle board and steel rods. Turns out Floro is really a herring town in western Norway, just like Trondheim, the sister bed in the catalogue, is a seat of learning five hours north of Oslo.

There’s a system lurking behind these IKEA names, though the logic is harder to grasp than a clammy Allen key. Benno and Gorm, say, are both Swedish boys, as is Gilbert the chair and Sebastian the adjustable stool. Meanwhile Lusy Bloom (a cushion) and Alvine Snurr (a throw rug) are two Nordic lasses.

Lakes and rivers (like Apskar and Toftbo) belong in the bathroom, being a wash basin and cotton mat respectively. Swedish islands occupy the patio as furniture. While Finnish towns are interior tables, and Danish ones, carpet.

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, created this quirky naming system to offset his own dyslexia, goes the popular theory. Far better to link a low table to Ramvik, a small dairy town on the Baltic, rather than dabble in the typical coding claptrap of CQ41-209TX, which happens to be a laptop at Harvey Norman.

Nouns and adjectives also rate as chattels in the IKEA catalogue. Doll-house items are listed under Duktig, which means well-behaved. While Luftig, an exhaust fan, translates as airy. Mind you, the tactic can backfire when some names are exported.

Already in Australia we changed the Jerker work station into a seemlier Fredrik, just as Berliners balked at buying a double bunk for kids called Gutvik, since it meant good bonk in German, not bunk. And what odds do you give Lyckhem, an occasional table meaning bliss, on surviving innuendo?

But soon enough we’ll all be yapping makeshift Swedish. As IKEA flotsam populates our homes, we won’t blink twice to hear our host remark, ‘Hey Trish, why not grab that extra Gilbert near the Expedit and slide it under the Helsinki.’

David Astle is a cruciverbalist and author of Puzzled: Secrets And Clues From A Life Lost In Words.

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