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Olympic-level swearing: Why do Danes drop the F-bomb so often?

Olympic-level swearing: Why do Danes drop the F-bomb so often?
"Fuck, det er så fedt, meaning literally, "Fuck, it's so cool", was the first reaction of Danish sailor Anne-Marie Rindom when she took Denmark's first Olympic gold at Tokyo. We asked Rasmus Nielsen, a socio-linguist from the University of Southern Denmark, what's going on with Denmark and the F-bomb.

For newcomers to Denmark from the English-speaking world, it may have come as a shock that a country’s leading Olympic performer would use the word “fuck” so lightly in an interview with the country’s state broadcaster. 

It might be even more surprising that the state broadcaster would then use the quote in its headline for the biggest story of the day. 

But as anyone who has spent time in the country will know, the word “fuck” crops up in spoken and written Danish in contexts that seem wildly out of place for English speakers. 

“The way she used the word is as a marker of joy. It’s not even used as a swear word, she’s just expressing happiness,” Nielsen, an associate professor at the university, told The Local. “Clearly, it doesn’t have the same semantic content as it does in English.”

Whereas the word “fuck” is used in English only in informal settings, in Danish it can be used in almost any context, he explained. 

“There are no domains in Denmark where you can’t use it. If it can sneak into an article where an athlete celebrates her gold medal, you can use it everywhere. But in a native English-speaking context, there are certain definitely areas where it’s not appropriate.” 

Nielsen himself said that he often got into trouble when he studied at a high school in the US for using the word “very liberally, as we as we do in Denmark”. 

“In the US, so long as you’re backstage and not at a formal event, then the word pops out all the time. It’s used, especially by younger people in all sorts of informal contexts. But there’s definitely a certain domain of usage where you won’t find it at all.”

READ ALSO: The absolute worst words in the Danish language

Even the quality media, such as DR, Politiken or Berlingske, frequently use the word “fuck” in headlines, particularly the phrase få en fuckfinger, meaning “get the middle finger”, which is used frequently when a politician’s proposal or candidacy is rejected. See here, here, or here

According to Nielsen, the word “fuck” has gained a steadily greater role in written and spoken Danish since the end of the Second World War and particularly since about 1990, edging out other Danish swear words such as fanden (“the devil”), or for helvede (“for hell”).  

“It’s pushed out basically every single other old Danish swear word. It’s just ‘fuck’ before everything now,” he said. “Most of the old swear words are basically gone.” 

The word can be used extremely flexibly in Danish, as it can be in English, cropping up as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, or in phrasal verbs, such as “fuckup”, which generally follow the same pattern as in English. 

Normally, when using the word, Danes give little thought to the fact that it might be offensive.

Rindom on Sunday was, however, a rare exception to this. 

“I’m sorry, I’m swearing,” she apologised. 


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  1. Without splitting hairs, but coming from a native English speaker, I would have thought that ´´fuckup´´ as one word is only a noun. As a verb, and a separable phrasal one at that, it would be two words. I wonder if Princess Mary uses it?

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