English swearwords and insults such as fucking, shit and motherfucker are eating their way into the Scandinavian languages. Not only in graffiti and street art, but also in the media. (Photo: Kissmama)

The new face of Nordic profanities

Nordic youths don’t swear more than their elders, but they use widely different profanities, a Nordic swearword conference finds.

Nordic youths use swearwords that refer to faeces and sex, while older people stick to profanities related to religion.

But there’s virtually no difference in how much the two generation swear, explained language researcher Marianne Rathje when she presented her research at the Symposium on Swearing in the Nordic Countries, held in Copenhagen earlier this month.

”We’re dealing with a shift in the use of swear words,” she said. “Today’s youths mainly use profanities that refer to the lower body.”

Her research into how the different generations use the language shows that the young generations have replaced a lot of the old swearwords such as ‘For fanden’ and ‘Satans’ (both diabolical in nature) with new ones about the nether regions.

We curse more when we’re with peers

Young people swear more when they’re with their peers, whereas they tone it down when they’re with older people.

Marianne Rathje

’Fuck’, ’Shit’ and ’Pis’ (Danish spellings) are some of the not-so-pretty words that have come into common usage in the young generations.

When, on the other hand, middle-aged and elderly people vent their anger they use profanities such as ‘Gudskelov’ (‘Thank Goodness’), ‘For Søren’ (Søren is a common Danish boy’s name. Here it’s used as a euphemism for ‘satan’.), ‘Sgu’ (‘Damned well’) and ‘For helvede’ (‘For hell’s sake).

But when the two generations get together they adapt, as Rathje noted in her 24 video recordings of conversations between three different age groups.

“All three generations use virtually the same number of swearwords, but they adjust their foul language to the situation they’re in,” she said.

Swedes like to stick their tongue out at the English-speaking countries that bleep out swearwords.

Kristy Beers-Fägersten

“Young people swear more when they’re with their peers, whereas they tone it down when they’re with older people. And older people swear more when they’re talking to young people than when they’re talking to older people.”

Facking is satisfying in Sweden

This trend is also present in Norway and Sweden. Another trend is the great increase in the use of words like ‘Fuck’ and ‘Shit’.

This inspired Swedish linguist Kristy Beers-Fägersten of Södertörn University to check how many English profanities had made their way into Swedish newspapers. The comic strips, direct quotes and the picture captions had the greatest number of profanities, the most common ones being ‘Shit’ and ‘Facking’ (A Swedish version of ‘Fucking’).

This trend is also present in the film industry, for example in the popular Swedish film ‘Fucking Åmål’.

In Denmark, 55 percent of young people’s profanities focus on the nether regions of the body.

Some of the most common – and most easily translatable – ones are ‘Fuck’, ‘Shit’, ‘Fucking’, ‘Crap’, ‘Scheisse’, ‘For fuck’s sake’ and ‘What the fuck’.

For the older Danes, 79 percent of the profanities they use originate in religion.

They use words such as ‘Sgu’ (‘Damned well’), ‘Du godeste’ (‘My goodness’), ‘Vorherre bevares’ (‘Good Lord’), ‘Gud’ (‘God’), ‘For helvede’ (‘For hell’s sake’) and ‘For satan’.

Source: Sproget.dk

And in Sweden they don’t bleep out profanities like they do on TV channels such as BBC and CNN.

“It’s satisfying to use English swearwords in the media – because you can,” said Beers-Fägersten.

“Swedes like to stick their tongue out at the English-speaking countries that bleep out swearwords.”

However, when it comes to traditional Swedish swearwords and insults, the Swedes appear to be more puritan. These words are only rarely seen in newspapers today.

Norwegians have a go at mothers

Insults about mothers also appear to have entered the Scandinavian languages.

Phrases such as the English ‘Motherfucker’ and its Spanish equivalent ‘Hijo de puta’ have not been common in the Protestant Nordic countries, but a Norwegian interview study recently found that Norwegian working-class youths sometimes insulted the opponent’s mother when they were arguing.

In Lithuania, it’s not English and Spanish profanities that cause the greatest concern for the puritans – rather, it’s the ones coming from Russia, said Giedrius Tamasevicius, of the University of Vilnius.

The Lithuanian linguist has examined how many profanities are spoken out loud on Lithuanian talk shows. His studies show that the country’s best-known comedians and TV stars mainly use foul language when they’re telling jokes.

”People are particularly worried about swear words that come from the Russian language,” he said, adding that Lithuanian youths are also moving away from traditional Lithuanian swearwords.

Other researchers from Finland, Norway and Sweden also presented their swearword research at the swearing symposium.


Read the Danish version of this article at videnskab.dk

Translated by: Dann Vinther

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