If you shop very often at IKEA, it’s a very good idea to learn how to pronounce the interesting Swedish characters. Otherwise, you might get in trouble. I bought a HÖGBO mattress there last Saturday, and when the worker repeated my order, she said “Hogbo” in a very Australian accent. So I wasn’t sure. Was I going to get a mattress, or one of those scary heart-shaped pillows with arms?

The characters that come up are:

Å – AKA the A-ring
This is the sound [ɔ] in IPA; it appears in English words “war” and “boring”. Easy.

Ä – or A-umlaut
This one has two variants: it usually sounds like the [ɛ] from the word ‘get’ or ‘red’. But if it comes before an ‘r’ sound, it becomes [æ], which is sort of halfway between ‘feather’ and ‘father’. Don’t worry too much about that; we cover that in our Advanced IKEA class.

Ö – or O-umlaut
In IPA, this looks like [œ]. It isn’t so tricky. It’s the same as [ɛ], but it’s rounded. Try saying the word ‘get’ while making an ‘o’ with your lips, and you’ll have the sound.

So now, armed with knowledge, you can be confidant in your pronunciation of the names of household goods and the people who design them.

I explained all this very patiently to the helper, but she was like all ‘whatever’. I wonder why they don’t train the workers more carefully in Swedish phonology. It’s going to cause a problem there someday. A big one.