Swearing in Danish Posted by Bjørn A. Bojesen on Feb 23, 2012 in Vocabulary
Once upon a time there were three travellers: a Swede, a Norwegian and a Dane. Having walked for days, they arrived at a magical swimming pool. There was no water in it, but the owner of the pool told them to state a wish when they jumped from the springboard. They would then splash right down in the objects of their desire. – Women! shouted the Swede, ran across the springboard and landed in the hot embrace of the most beautiful, naked ladies. While the Norwegian was standing on the board, though, he felt hungry after the long walk. – Food! he said, and jumped into a sea of the most delicious dishes. All the while the Dane had been standing at the edge of the pool, shaking his head at his foolish Scandinavian brethren. How could they be wasting their chance to get rich and famous like that! Well, he could do better. Solemnly, he stepped onto the board, clearing his throat for the great words he was about to utter. Alas! A leftover from the Norwegian’s buffet, an innocent banana skin, had located itself just in front of the Dane’s lifted right foot. – Sh*t! He exclaimed, and landed in a pool full of muck.
I don’t remember who told me this joke (I guess it was a Norwegian or Swede rather than a Dane!) But I think it says a lot about Danes and swearing:
- A lot of Danes have a lighthearted attitude to swearing. Those Danes like to swear now and then, but in a rather mild and joking way. (You must go to other countries to experience wild curse battles in the street!)
- In Danish, we’ve taken some swearwords from English. (Sh*t! is in the original, Non-English version of the joke!)
Traditionally, there have been two groups of Danish swearwords, of which the largest remains the
When a hammer hits the nail of your thumb rather than that nail you were holding between your fingers an instant ago, the most basic thing to yell out would be
Av! [rhymes with ’now!’] Ouch!
If you feel really angry, you might scream
Av for fanden! ”Ouch for the Devil!” (neutral oath)
Av for Satan! ”Ouch for Satan!” (stronger oath)
or, if you’re a polite kind of person,
Av for søren!/Av for katten! ”Ouch for søren!”/”Ouch for the cat!” (mild oaths)
In the last two examples, the bad word has been replaced by something more innocent – a cat and a word which doesn’t really mean anything (but sounds a lot like the name of the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard!) Anyway, they are just stand-ins (or euphemisms) for the real name of the Bible’s Bad Guy. The Horned One appears in a lot of settings, often with a genitival -s ending (like the English –’s in Billie’s):
Hun er en fandens god danser! She’s a f*ing brilliant dancer! (literally: ”Devil’s good”)
Din satans nar! You bl*dy fool! (This one is very strong. Don’t go around saying things like that in Copenhagen!)
A strange thing about Danish is that accusations of the You fool! kind are actually made with the word for ”your”! So You idiot! would be Din idiot! – literally ”Your idiot!” That also goes for positive comments: Din frække pige! You rude girl! (Literally: ”Your rude girl!”)
Some ”Devilish” swearwords have the ending -me:
Nu holder du fandeme op! Now you f*ing stop! (Literally: Now you ”d*mned” stop!)
Jeg er søreme glad for at jeg mødte dig! I’m indeed happy to have met you! (This is a very mild oath indeed!)
This ending is short for mig, me. All the -me words originate in short phrases with the structure ”May the Devil do this or that to me!” A fun example is denondelyneme!, which comes from den onde lyne mig! (May the Evil One hit me with lightnings!)
God seems to be present in only one Danish exclamation: sgu.
It comes from så Gud (so God), but has lost a lot of power. It can be translated as ’indeed’ or ’actually’:
Han er sgu meget flink. He’s actually quite nice. / He’s indeed a nice guy.
Some foreigners may be startled by the amount of ”toilet words” flying out of (some!) Danish mouths, but don’t worry: It’s mostly a way of stressing things, and rarely means anything offensive.
Hun var pisse sur. She was f@ing mad. (Literally ”mad like p*ss”).
Han var skide ligeglad. He was totally indifferent. (Literally ”indifferent like cr*p”.)
In this context, you may also note the word røv, which is used in a lot of contexts for that body part which can be really hard to get out of a sofa! 🙂
And if you’ve spent all the evening writing that love letter on your computer, and there is a power outage and you discover you forgot to save the document, you might just want to scream
The F word
Sexual swearwords are rare in Danish. (And mentioning those that do exist would be a little bit over the top for a decent, well-mannered blog like this one!) But I have to mention the English ”F word”… This vulgar creature has crept into Danish from American films. It has indeed become a part of everyday slang – especially among people younger than 40. Please keep in mind, though, that the F word – in its base form or with an -ing ending – is very much weaker in Danish than it originally is in English (after all, Danish lacks the English F verb!) When a young Dane sighs F*k, hvor er jeg træt!, it means little more than God, I’m tired! English-speakers may blush, but for a Dane the F word has basically been reduced to a powerful piece of sound, much like saying
Øv! [rhymes with British though] D*mn!/Ouch!
Have you picked up some juicy Danish lingo? Please share it with the other readers by adding a comment! Comments won’t be censored… 😉
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D. O. Petersen:
I can just hear my great great great grandfather swearing in a lighthearted sort of way! Thanks for sharing.
Do you know if there is a ‘word per day’ in Danish? I am learning and jeg vil meget gerne fint det ! Jeg har lave det med Italian og det var en godt practise for mig. Nu jeg vil gerne det sammen men på Dansk !
Bjørn A. Bojesen:
@Stephanie Hej Stephanie! There seems to be a Danish ”word of the day” e-mail service at http://www.innovativelanguage.com/products/wordoftheday/lang/19
I haven’t tested it, though, so please tell me if it works! 🙂
(And if it doesn’t, let’s see what we can do…)
Held og lykke med at lære dansk!
@Stephanie I’m new to the street we live in, but have lived in DK for almost 3 years. I was a little shocked when a neighbour came to see us about some building concerns regarding a new house next door. I invited him in from the cold, and his response seemed polite until I translated “skidt med det” to ‘shit with that’. I am pretty sure it’s just an expression and his intention wasn’t rude – but now I’m wondering if he thought my invitation wasn’t genuine? 🙂
Bjørn A. Bojesen:
@Ida Chiavaro Hej Ida!
”skidt med det” simply means ”oh, that doesn’t matter”.
So, I don’t think you neighbour was being rude! 🙂
Good luck with your Danish studies!
I’m a 35 year old Dane. I never heard anybody being called Din satans nar!
Since the nineties our most used swear word has been fuck. We started using it for fun. Now it’s a part of our everyday words
Bjørn A. Bojesen:
@jens Hi Jens!
You may be right ”Din satans nar!” is not a very common swear word combination. (Perhaps ”Din fucking stodder” would’ve been more up to date!)
I have heard it, though. But then I’m very interested in dialects and ”old things”, so maybe I’m a bit biased! 😉
Do you use ”fuck” as a swear word? Like when you get angry and want to ”fire back” at someone?
Most people I know simply use it like English people use the word ”ouch!”
I mean, in Danish, the word ”fuck” has become so weak that it isn’t really a swear word.
What do you think?
Hi. I’m a Dane living in England. In our town we get a lot of foreign students, as we have several language schools. A large proportion of these are lovely Danish teenagers whose English is excellent, and they appear to have grasped that in English the ‘F’ word is bad! However, it is such a natural part of the Danish language that Danes don’t even seem to notice that they use it when they speak Danish. The natives here get quite offended when they hear the ‘F’ word constantly used by especially the Danish students. A few days ago in a shop one Danish girl shouted to her friend elsewhere in the shop: ‘Se her, er den ikke bare fucking lækker’? To which the friend, at the top of her voice, replied: ‘ Ej, er du crazy, den er da fucking grim’…….;-)
Hi My mother was Danish and passed away last month. She used to say something in Danish which we were told was “Do you love me”. However, we now believe it may have been something rude her parents used to say to one another. I do not know the Danish spelling, however, it sounded like this in Aussie “mucus a bar bit” Grandfather used to tell grandmother she was only a little “lort” which we know is “shit”. I think the bar sounding word may have been bae, which is “poop”. Can someone please help us. Thanks, Lynette
Bjørn A. Bojesen:
@Lynette Boal Hej Lynette!
Heh, that’s interesting… “Mucus a bar bit”… What part of Denmark was your mother from? ”bit” may have been ”bitte” in Jutland dialect – that means ’tiny’ or ’wee’, and is actually quite loving! If she’d only said ”mucus a bit bar”, it might have something to do with ”bitte barn” – ’little child’. Other than that, I’m afraid I’ve got no idea…
Anne Marie Campbell:
@Bjørn A. Bojesen Hi… im born and rasied in South Jutland, Denmark. Maby ” Mucus a bar bit” could mean, ” mutes æ barn æ bit”, as they would say in prober danish : “Kysses barnet lidt”… Again translatet to english ” if the child is kissed a wee bit ” just a thought… 😀
All the best
Hi. My mother was Danish and I never heard her swear but she lived in Denmark before the Danes had an influx of crude language from US movies and Danes became confused with American English and English English. Visiting Denmark frequently to stay with friends and relatives I find it uncomfortable to hear adults using the f word so liberally and their children too yet scold their children if they swear in Danish. Oh the irony. I realise they have borrowed it from American films but they appear to be in total ignorance how stupid and crude they sound and one young relative proudly informed me his teacher at school uses the F word. When my Danish friend, a woman who prides herself on bringing her children up as educated used f…..g loudly in front of her elderly mother I tried to explain using the word like she does when in England would is not a good idea and I didn’t like hearing it she just didn’t get it. Danes need to understand English people can be offended and they won’t be invited back to English homes with their use of coarse English swearing.
Bjørn A. Bojesen:
@Anne Larsen Hi Anne,
I’m really happy you shared your experiences! I have a huge problem with the f word myself, and would never use it. But it seems like 80 % of the people around me here in Denmark think it’s just a fun taboo word without any emotional implications. I’m really sorry it has to be like this, and I sincerely hope that there’ll be some kind of linguistic awakening here in Denmark – we surely need it! Please keep telling people how the swearing is affecting you. I’m sure Danish can change again, for the better. In the meantime, I hope you haven’t given up on this strange and fascinating language! 🙂
@Anne Larsen I don’t agree.
I’m a Dane who works abroad.
I use the F word but have only ever been told it’s rude in the USA and Canada.
In England at the working class it’s used basically in every sentence.
In the US I was okay when taught not to use it.
In Canada it was a total different story which ended up with the Police.
We sat 3 Danes, 1 american and 1 English guy in a bar at the bar.
We told jokes and stories which involved the F word – Suddenly this guy told us to keep quiet if we couldn’t stop using the F word.
Then he told us that his 10 year old daughter never had heard that word and that she never should (She was not there)
Now to my point: Isn’t it blindsided / ignorant to believe that language does not evolve over time – Saying the F word in my opinion is something that will get more and more normal – Guess it’s like somebody said Son of a bitch 60 years ago.. Nobody would even lift an eyebrow today.
Bjørn A. Bojesen:
@Henrik Hansen Hej Henrik,
thanks for your comment and your Canadian story! It’s very good to hear some different points of view. 🙂
I don’t think that anybody on this blog has ever said that language does not evolve.
(If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll see that there are plenty of modern expressions mentioned as well – cool, nederen…)
However, I do think we as language users have a choice. For example, when I’m angry, I can *choose* to say the F word, or to say another word. I think the development of the language depends on this. The F word may become more and more used, as you say – or it may not. It’s a fad right now – but who knows in 30 years, 50 years?
I also think that there are different ”Danishes” – street Danish, television Danish, formal Danish, stand-up Danish… Why do we need to mix them? Why do an editor and a teenager have to use the same words? Just look at all the Englishes… To me, that’s what making English such a great language.
Yes, I personally don’t like the F word – but that is just my humble opinion. (I personally think it is ugly, and there are other swear words I like better. Besides, you risk offending foreigners.) You’re of course allowed to use any word you like. That’s the way language works.
Hello Bjorn– I so enjoyed this article. My father immigrated from Bornholm to the US in 1921 at 18 years old, and passed away in 1981. He seldom swore in English (except to call sh*t, sh*t) but his language was often sprinkled with a singsongy “djævelskab” and “av for satan”. As a child I asked what it meant, and he told me it was Danish gentle swearing, and that Danes take the Devil’s name in vein, less rude he thought than American cursing. Thanks for the article.
Bjørn A. Bojesen:
@Dorothy Reed @Dorothy
Thanks a lot for the feedback and the story – as this is a controversial topic, it’s appreciated! 🙂
These make me think of my little Danish grandma, nothing like the little granny, in her most endearing voice, telling her grandaughter she had $h*t for brains in Danish. Not shocking that all the Danish words that I know (other than cheese) are swear words.
I’ve work in CPH as a tour guide, and I always tell this story about swearing in Danish. It’s fun to see the reactions from Canadians, Australians, or people from England.
But I found myself thinking, ‘why are you so shocked? It isn’t that bad, is it?’ And I was born in England.
It’s so easy to forget the power of these words when living in Denmark. Especially the F-bomb. Your blog got me thinking how I must sound so rude when I travel now.
Maybe I should censor myself a little. But then the popular expression, f*ck det, comes to mind. I’m trapped in a swearing circus.
Bjørn A. Bojesen:
Thank you very much for this comment! This is the best description I’ve read so far of the swearing situation in Denmark and the problems it creates when communicating with more sensitive foreigners… I just love your description of being trapped in a swearing circus, that is exactly how I often feel as well! (I often go to Norway, where they are much more ”careful” than the Danes.)
I am interested in knowing the oath my father (No doubt learned from my grandfather) used in the orchard when the engine pumping the chemical mixture onto the trees failed to work properly. Grandfather was from Jutland near Tonder if the dialect matters. Phonetically it sounded in ‘English like: Sattin abelikka mit ah yuh. The best I can do with my dictionary is: “satan øbbel ikke mit ……” That may or may not be a correct guess. Grandfather left Denmark in i872 so it would be an old oath in any case. Perhaps even part in German. Any help or confirmation would be appreciated. The last word or word of the phrase I have no guess for. Thank you for your polite blog. Paul
Bjørn A. Bojesen:
@paul larsen @Paul – that old oath is really intriguing… 🙂 The dialect is difficult for me to understand, and like you I’m only sure about the word ”satan”. The oaths starting with ”Satan” usually contain some kind of negative wish, like ”satan lyneme!”, which is short for ”må Satan lyne mig” (”may the Devil hit me with a lightning!) So maybe it’s like that here too, and if the word ”ikke” is indeed right, it might be something like ”may the Devil not arbejde [work] med [with – mit in German] XX” The last two words are interesting. ”ah yuh” sound like dialect ”o æ jord” (on the earth). So – and now I’m guessing wildly! – what if the whole thing meant ”Satan doesn’t collaborate on earth (only below it!!)” Can any readers figure it out?
Bjørn A. Bojesen:
@Bjørn A. Bojesen @Paul – an alternative reading with ”ah yuh” meaning simply ”æ jord” = the earth: ”Satan doesn’t work with the earth/soil.”