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2 January, 2017

Are Swedish curse words punchy enough?

Jävlar! Fan! Helvete! Sitting around a table of fellow Newbies the topic of Swedish curse words came up. Not everyone shared my opinion that this set of Swedish words can be a fun and useful addition to our vocabulary. A common complaint being that they were not really that useful or forceful enough for a truly good curse.

But really, how can a loud sing-song and drawn out Fy faaaaaaan fail to bring a smile to your lips? The tonal nature of the Swedish language is rarely more evident then when used as part of a good curse. A point that was even made during my SFI course as we grappled with the complexity of Swedish pronunciation. As I have further explored the variety and nuances of Swedish curse words I would argue that they do indeed provide the forceful outlet of frustration that any good curse should. In the right circumstance of course!

Many common Swedish curse words seem to have roots in references to the devil. For example Fy fan, Jävla and Satan! Helvete (hell) is not so far removed from that subject either.

That these sayings remain an active part of modern Swedish is an interesting connection to the religious history of the country. These (and other “dirtier” curses) may not be appropriate in all situations and are rarely used in official communications. However, perhaps due to their devilish roots, they seem rather tame and inoffensive when compared to common curse words in English and are commonly used here.

It would be a rare Newbie who has not heard these words used to express frustration on the job or perhaps public transportation. Certainly they can be a useful and important part of daily conversation.

A bit lame bit difficult to translate

Also interesting is the lack of variety in and difficulty of translating Swedish curses into English. Perhaps this explains the lack of enthusiasm on the part of my English speaking companions for cursing in Swedish. Lack of an easy translation makes it harder to grasp some of the finer points, but it’s also part of what gives Swedish cursing a distinct flavor all of its own.

Swedish national identity is in large part a product of the Swedish language. Swedish curses are an integral part of the Swedish language. And so, Swedish curses are as much a part of Swedish identity as are meatballs and the Royal family.

Often, curses are among the first words learned as part of a new language and can act as a gateway to further conversation and learning even beyond SFI. And of course there are many more excellent Swedish curses than I have mentioned here. So I say embrace the Swedish curses and next time you find yourself in a group of Newbies or Swedes and the conversation lulls ask them what their favorite Swedish curse words are and why. You may well encounter some new words as well as some lively pronunciation. And if you offend anyone, be sure to let them know you are new here and still learning the nuances of cursing in Swedish!

Written by Samuel Adams Reitman

I am 35 years old, American and married to a Swedish woman. We have lived in both Sweden and the U.S. and are currently down south in Lund. Having been a newbie in Sweden I was happy to get the chance to share my experience with others through this platform. Living in any new place always provides opportunities to observe and record; and if those observations strike a chord with others, all the better. My interests in Sweden and life include, but are not limited to, literature, scuba diving, history, snaps songs, and being out in nature. Hope you enjoy!

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