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In the last two examples, the bad word has been replaced by something more innocent – a cat and a word which doesn’t really mean anything (but sounds a lot like the name of the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard!)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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