Warning: As you may expect, this article contains uncensored swearing which some readers may find offensive.
Have you ever wondered if the people of the Nordic countries swear? Finland and Denmark take turns being the happiest country in the world, and Iceland, Norway and Sweden are not far behind on the same metric.
So, do Nordic people even have reason to curse? If you ask them, the answer would probably be: of course! Across the Nordic countries, swearing is a widespread practice, from teenagers to jaunty grandmothers. Even younger children are known to throw in a swearword once in a while (sometimes under their breath, depending on the proximity of their parents).
If you’re curious about this perhaps controversial language practice as performed in the Nordic countries, then this article is for you. Read on to get an idea of the nature of profanity in this part of the world, as well as specific examples of swearwords from each country.
So, hva faen are you waiting for? Have fun learning a bit about Nordic foul language!
The nature of Nordic swearing
As in other parts of the world, swearing in the Nordic countries is often done to let off steam. For instance, when you’re angry with someone, you want to express annoyance at something, or you seek to (mentally) relieve the pain of stubbing your toe (we’ve all been there!).
Just like swearing in other languages, swearwords in the Nordic languages reference things that are taboo in the local culture. However, swearing in the Nordic countries does seem to differ from swearing in the UK or the US, for example, in two particular areas: the perceived offensiveness of swearing and the themes of the swearwords.
Perceived offensiveness of swearing in the Nordic countries
Studies on the perceived offensiveness of swearing in English-speaking countries as well as the Nordic countries have been conducted and compared. The results suggest that Nordic people swear more freely than their English-speaking counterparts.
In general, Nordic people have a laissez-faire attitude towards swearing, and to many, swearing is an integral part of their everyday language. Whilst many in the UK share the same attitude, Nordic people often go further, swearing in contexts even Brits would find unacceptable.
To many Nordic people, swearing is an integral part of everyday language.
This laid-back relationship with bad words is evident when watching TV for instance. Even when guests on Nordic TV shows are instructed not to swear while on air, some just can’t help doing so – and the swearwords themselves aren’t censored or bleeped out.
Although Nordic people tend to swear more freely, swearing is not considered good form. Given that swearing is a rather informal use of language, there are of course certain situations in which it would be inappropriate to do so.
At a job interview, for example, you’d probably be better off keeping the swearing to a minimum – or just refrain from doing it at all. That way you don’t risk coming across as unprofessional.
However, if your potential employer is blown away by your wit, skills and vision, you might just get the job anyway.
Themes of Nordic swearwords
Some of the themes present in English-language swearing also exist in the Nordic languages.
Religion as a theme, or the incorporation of God, the devil or hell when swearing, is a prime example of this. In Sweden, for instance, many people use the swear word fan, which literally means ‘the devil’, as an exclamation for when something goes wrong.
You can also swear by ‘hell’ in all five Nordic languages. In Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish, you would exclaim Helvetti!, Helvíti!, Helvete! and Helvete!, respectively, whilst you would say For helvede! in Danish.
One theme that is not present in English-language swearing today is that of diseases. In Danish, this theme contains swearwords with reference to serious illnesses such as cancer.
Kraftedeme is an example of this as it is a contraction of Kræften æde mig, which translates into ‘may cancer eat me’. This swearword acts as an oath: a curse that is used to strengthen a statement and underline the seriousness of the speaker. For example, Det er kraftedeme ikke i orden!, means ‘This is not okay – may cancer eat me if it is okay!’.
Another theme that is exclusive to the Nordic languages as compared to English is numbers. In Sweden, you can exclaim Sjutton! or Attans! when something doesn’t go according to plan. Meaning ‘seventeen’ and ‘eighteen’ respectively, these words are technically classified as euphemisms in Swedish, which makes them very unloaded and safe to use in any situation.
Danish has a similar euphemism – For syv sytten!, literally meaning ‘For seven seventeen!’ – which is used in a similar way to its Swedish counterparts.
The influence of English on Nordic swearing
Like other societies, the Nordic countries are heavily influenced by American culture in the form of TV, films, music and, as a consequence of this, language use.
In Denmark, code-switching (the act of alternating between languages in the same conversation) is not unheard of, especially within the younger generations. The occasional ‘literally’, ‘honestly’, ‘sorry’ or even typical English syntax often enter the conversation.
This English-inspired language use has also found its way into swearing across the Nordic languages.
The Nordic countries and their swearing are heavily influenced by American culture and English-language use.
Apart from swearwords originating from Nordic languages, the use of ‘fuck’ and ‘fucking’ can be heard and seen in each of the Nordic countries – ‘shit’ has also been adopted by many Nordic people. Both four-letter words are used in much the same way as they are in the English-speaking countries, i.e. when something goes wrong.
In Danish, for instance, you could say Fuck, jeg har glemt mine nøgler!, meaning ‘Fuck, I forgot my keys!’. You could easily use ‘shit’ instead of ‘fuck’ in this example – the swearwords are interchangeable in most situations.
Just like in English, the swearword ‘fucking’ is used descriptively to emphasise a negative attitude the speaker has towards someone or something. In Danish, Han er en fucking idiot! means ‘He is a fucking idiot!’.
The perceived offensiveness of English swearwords amongst Nordic people compared to Americans or Brits has been debated, as it seems that the aforementioned four-letter specimens don’t have the same impact when used in the Nordic countries.
It could be that the theme of sex is just not as taboo as in the English-speaking countries… or maybe swearing in a foreign language doesn’t feel as bad as in your mother tongue.
In any case, ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ have become an integral part of the Nordic vocabulary of swearwords. So much so that certain countries have developed their own spellings of ‘fuck’ and ‘fucking’. Icelanders, for instance, spell the words fokk and fokking, respectively, whilst the Norwegians often spell ‘fuck’ either fakk or føkk.
Swearwords from each Nordic country
Are you curious to learn some bad language from each of the Nordic countries? Below is a list of the most common or remarkable swearwords from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
|Kraftedeme||‘May cancer eat me’||An oath used to underline a statement, e.g. Det er kraftedeme ikke i orden, meaning ‘This is not fucking okay’. It’s one of the most loaded Danish swearwords.|
|Fanden||‘The devil’||An exclamation with variations (for fanden). Fand(e)me is an example of fanden being used as an oath, meaning ‘May the devil eat me’.|
|Helvede||‘Hell’||Exclamation with variations (for helvede). It can also be used to describe a situation: Det er et helvede means ‘It’s like hell’.|
|Lort||‘Shit’||An exclamation that can also be used to describe an object that the speaker dislikes, e.g. Jeg hader den lortetelefon, meaning ‘I hate that shitty telephone’.|
|Sgu||‘So help me God’||An oath used to underline a statement, e.g. Det gik sgu godt, meaning ‘That went damn well’. Sgu is very mild, and it has been debated whether the word is still classified as a swearword.|
|Perkele||‘The devil’||An exclamation with variations: Voi perkele, meaning ‘Oh the devil’; and Perkeleen perkele, meaning ‘The devil of the devil’. It’s used much like ‘Goddamnit’ in English.|
|Helvetti||‘Hell’||An exclamation with variations: Voi helvetti, meaning ‘Oh hell’; and Helvetin helvetti, meaning ‘Hell of hell’. You can also say Helvetin kuustoista, meaning ‘Hell’s sixteen’.|
|Saatana||‘Satan’||Exclamation. Another version is Voi saatana, meaning ‘Oh satan’. You can say On tää saatanallinen työmaa, which literally means ‘This is a satanic construction yard’, or more colloquially ‘This is such a pain in the arse’.|
|Perse||‘Arse’||An exclamation with variations: Voi perse, meaning ‘Oh arse’, and Perseen perse, meaning ‘Arse of the arse’. You can also say Perseen suti, meaning ‘The brush of the arse’ when something goes really wrong.|
|Paskiainen||‘Shithead’||A form of name-calling used in the same way as ‘Son of a bitch’ in English. Another version is Senkin paskiainen, meaning ‘You shithead’.|
|Andskotans||‘The devil’s’||Used descriptively prefacing another swearword, e.g. andskotans flón, meaning ‘the devil’s idiot’. Another version is andskotinn sjálfur, meaning ‘the devil himself’, which is used to describe a person.|
|Djöfulsins||‘The devil’s’||Used descriptively prefacing another swearword, e.g. djöfulsins gunga, meaning ‘the devil’s coward’.|
|Helvíti||‘Hell’||An exclamation that can be combined with other swearwords, such as fokking helvíti. Another version is the curse farðu til helvítis, which means ‘go to hell’.|
|Rassgat||‘Arsehole’||Used in multiple curses, e.g. farðu í rassgat, which means something along the lines of ‘crawl up your own arsehole’. Can also be used for expressing endearment. Hvað þú ert mikið rassgat!, which means ‘Aren’t you a little arsehole!’, is perfectly fine to say to your lovely little niece or nephew, for example.|
|Haltu kjafti||‘Hold your mouth’||Used in the same way as ‘shut up’ in English. Haltu á ketti literally means ‘hold the cat’, and is a euphemism for haltu kjafti.|
|Faen||‘The devil’||Exclamation. Fy faen is a stronger and very common version of the word.|
|Jævel||‘The devil’||A form of name-calling used in the same way as ‘You fucker’ in English. Jævla is the adjective version, e.g. Din jævla idiot, which means ‘You devilish idiot’.|
|Drittsekk||‘Shitbag’||A very common form of name-calling that can be compared to ‘scumbag’ in English.|
|Skitt||‘Shit’||An exclamation that is often used when faen is too loaded, for example when expressing indifference to a minor incident.|
|Fakk deg||‘Fuck you’||An insult used in the same way as its English counterpart. It can also be used sarcastically/playfully. This is an example of how ‘fuck’ can be used with a Norwegian spelling.|
|Fan||‘The devil’||A very common exclamation that has almost lost its offensiveness. It can also be used as Fy fan to show disgust.|
|Satan||‘Satan’||Exclamation. It’s also used with också in the expression Satan också! in the same sense as ‘Fuck!’.|
|Jävlar||‘Devilish’||Very commonly used as an exclamation (Jävlar också!) and description (din jävla idiot, meaning ‘you devilish idiot’).|
|Helvete||‘Hell’||Exclamation. Another version is the expression Helvete också!, which literally means ‘Hell also!”.|
|Attans||‘Eighteen’||An exclamation used much like ‘Damn!’. As a euphemism, it is not technically a swearword, and is very unloaded.|
Now that you know more about the controversial linguistic practice of swearing in the Nordic languages, you’ll be able to show off what you’ve learnt. Nordic people tend to have a great sense of humour and they’ll probably enjoy hearing a foreigner swear like a native!
Just remember to keep the swearing to informal situations – Sandberg takes no responsibility for any lost job opportunities due to foul language!
Christina Bjerggaard is a Danish translator at Sandberg. She wrote her master’s thesis on the translation of swearwords from English to Danish and, with her additional research for this article, is now our in-house profanity expert!