The Secret World of 'IKEA Speak'

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IKEA doesn't just pick cute Scandinavian words for its products. There's actually a method to the madness. Bathroom fixtures are named after Scandinavian bodies of water. Bedding is named with words associated with sleep, comfort and cuddling. A popular rug is called "Ludde," which can mean fuzzy. Linguist Nanna Ericsson cracks the code.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

So you know, the BPP crew is a very curious bunch. And at least once a week, one of us gets kind of lost down a wormhole in investigating some interest or another. Our editor, Trish McKinney, has lost at least a year of her life trying to figure out who invented the rubber chicken and why. Producers are still offering money to anyone who can provide that answer.

And it was one of those wormholes that led us recently to investigate the way that Swedish furniture store IKEA names its products. And if you've even been in the store - most Americans probably have - I feel safe saying that - you've noticed the Scandinavian-sounding product names. But you probably didn't know that there is meaning to that madness. It's not just whatever pops into some Swedish furniture executive's head.

For instance, chairs and desks tend to have men's names like Eric and Jonas. Curtains have women's names like Andrea(ph) and Britt(ph). Even the store's name mean something.

IKEA. Those are the initials of the store's founder - Ingvar Kamprad. I don't know if I said that with a Swedish accent or not. The E and the A stands for the farm and village where he grew up. The IKEA naming system is explained in detail on Wikipedia. It says bedding products have names associated with sleep and cuddling. Kitchen products have grammatical names and dining room furnitures named after places in Finland.

But as we told you in the previous segment, we can't take Wikipedia at its word. So we're going straight to a more reliable source. Joining us now, live, on the ground, in Sweden, is Nanna Ericsson. She's studying English and linguistics at Stockholm University.

Hi, Nanna.

Ms. NANNA ERICSSON (English and Linguistics Student, Stockholm University): Hello. Hi.

MARTIN: Thanks for coming on. We appreciate it.

Ms. ERICSSON: No problem. No problem. It's fun.

MARTIN: Thanks for being our woman on the ground there in Sweden.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ERICSSON: Yeah.

MARTIN: Now, I'm going to apologize in advance because I'm fairly sure, if I haven't done it already, I'm going to insult everyone with a solid grasp of the Swedish language as I…

Ms. ERICSSON: All right, we'll see.

MARTIN: …try to muddle through this. Now, we understand that bathroom articles in IKEA are actually named after Scandinavian lakes, rivers and other bodies of water. So we looked on the Web site and they have a sink called the Hollviken. Is that…

Ms. ERICSSON: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: What's a Hollviken?

Ms. ERICSSON: Well, that's actually just the name of a bay. It's - viken means bay in Swedish.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. ERICSSON: So that's the name of the bay.

MARTIN: So they figure everything that's related to a bathroom and water. We're going to name after…

Ms. ERICSSON: Yes.

MARTIN: …a body of water.

Ms. ERICSSON: I guess that was their thinking. Yeah.

MARTIN: Okay. Now, garden furniture's named after Swedish islands.

Ms. ERICSSON: Mm-hmm. Makes that two, right?

MARTIN: Yeah, I - well, how does that make sense? I guess because you use your garden furniture on a beach?

Ms. ERICSSON: Outdoors, I don't know.

MARTIN: Okay, okay. We'll speculate.

Ms. ERICSSON: Afterward, sometime - because you know, we can't stay outdoors that much of the wintertime.

MARTIN: Ah, that's true.

STEWART: Ah.

MARTIN: And I…

Ms. ERICSSON: Even though right now, it's really rainy and not snowing.

MARTIN: And there are islands off of Sweden? I'm embarrassed to ask that…

Ms. ERICSSON: Yes, yes. Loads of them.

MARTIN: Okay. Who knew? And beds' wardrobes, whole furniture, Norwegian place names. So my question: I have a bed, an IKEA bed, it's named the Malm. Is that that a place?

Ms. ERICSSON: The what?

MARTIN: The Malm. M-A-L-M.

Ms. ERICSSON: Oh. Yeah.

MARTIN: What is that?

Ms. ERICSSON: Well, that actually means a kind a - something that you get from rocks from mining, but I guess, it's related to either a place for that or…

MARTIN: Sounds like a mineral?

Ms. ERICSSON: Yeah.

MARTIN: Huh. Who knew? And, so there are apparently some products, boxes, wall decorations, pictures, frames, clocks, they're named after colloquial expressions.

Ms. ERICSSON: Yeah.

MARTIN: Do you happen to know any examples of those?

Ms. ERICSSON: Well, I don't actually know an example of ones they use in IKEA. Do you have one?

MARTIN: Not in front of me but let me ask you this. IKEA has some rugs called ludde? What does ludde mean?

Ms. ERICSSON: L-U-D-D-E?

MARTIN: L-U-D-D-E. Yeah.

Ms. ERICSSON: Yeah, that's actually a nickname for a boy's name, Ludwig, and it's also a kind of a version of fuzzy in Swedish, which is Ludig(ph).

MARTIN: Okay. That makes sense.

Ms. ERICSSON: Yes.

MARTIN: That leaves me to ask you are there any of these words or product names that just don't really translate well into other languages maybe that mean something else or that means something maybe inappropriate or something that's often misunderstood in Swedish?

Ms. ERICSSON: Hmm, that's a good question. I'm not sure about that. I was looking at the Web site yesterday actually and I just knew that I saw a couple of more of those puns where they did. I know they have like a whiteboard pen called babla(ph), which is babble or prattle(ph).

MARTIN: Ha, that's a good one.

Ms. ERICSSON: Yeah, and I guess they have one where they have baby products called barnslig, which means childish. But I guess barn means, obviously, something completely different in English, so…

MARTIN: That's true. Now, let me ask you. IKEA is kind of taking over the world. They're everywhere, people shopping there, buy their furniture. What's the perception of IKEA in Sweden? Do all the people shop there?

Ms. ERICSSON: Out there, it's everywhere.

MARTIN: So it is popular?

Ms. ERICSSON: It's - well, I mean, I guess it's popular with everyone but basically, a lot with young people and like families with children. It's where you go to buy a lot of furniture for little money, obviously, which is - and maybe you're not that, you know - maybe originality is not your foremost reason for going. I don't know.

MARTIN: You're - but people still show up. Does everyone in Sweden have the same furniture?

Ms. ERICSSON: Yeah.

MARTIN: Will you go over to…

Ms. ERICSSON: Basically, everyone else…

MARTIN: …your friend's house and you're like, oh yeah.

Ms. ERICSSON: Traveling light.

MARTIN: I knew that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, thank you for helping us sort out the naming system that's apparently more intricate than perhaps we had thought.

Ms. ERICSSON: It's no problem at all.

MARTIN: Nanna Ericsson…

Ms. ERICSSON: Okay. Right.

MARTIN: …she's studying English and linguistics at Stockholm University, talking about the IKEA naming system.

Thanks, Nanna.

Ms. ERICSSON: No problem. Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you.

Ms. ERICSSON: Bye.

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