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DANISH LANGUAGE

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.

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

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. 

Member comments

  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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DANISH LANGUAGE

‘Don’t take it personally’: Word ‘Anglophobia’ added to Denmark’s dictionary

‘Anglophobia’ was one of 252 new words added to the Danish Dictionary on Friday.

'Don’t take it personally': Word 'Anglophobia' added to Denmark's dictionary

The Danish Dictionary (Den Danske Ordbog) received an update on Friday with ‘Anglophobia’ – anglofobi, as it’s written in Danish – one of a number of notable new entries to the national lexicon.

A total of 252 new words, 12 new meanings and 5 idioms have been added to the Danish Dictionary, along with revisions to 194 existing entries.

The headline entry is arguably anglofobi, which has the dictionary definition “disgust for or hostility towards England or English language and culture”.

That may sound alarming to English people or other Anglophones in Denmark, but it does not signal a change in Danish sentiment towards the UK nation according to Henrik Lorentzen, senior editor with the Society for Danish Language and Literature (Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab).

“You mustn’t take it personally,” Lorentzen told The Local’s English reporter in a telephone call.

“It’s not included because there’s a particular hostility towards English people, or towards American or Anglo-Saxon culture,” he said.

“Some would say ‘there’s Brexit, there’s Boris Johnson’ – but it’s not because of that,” he said.

The large quantity of new entries into the dictionary can primarily be credited to space created by the dictionary’s move from physical to online form, he explained.

Around two decades ago, the Danish Dictionary was produced as a six-volume physical book which naturally limited the space available for entries.

“But now we make dictionaries for the Internet, and have done so for the last 13 years,” Lorentzen said.

“Now we also have space for foreign words, loan words or whatever we choose to call them,” he said.

The digital age has also improved language researchers’ ability to detect use of new or loan words by broadening the volume of text that can be encompassed in its work, he explained.

A large proportion of loan words – including anglofobi – can be found among the new entries. Other examples include firmware, piece, maceration, FOMO and nativisme.

On a similar theme to anglofobi, a cluster of words prefaced by anti-, including antiamerikansk, antimuslimsk and antiisraelsk among several others, were added to the dictionary on Friday.

“Some of these words are not so new but they are unfortunately relevant because there are conflicts in the Middle East, in Europe, so there are some words that are relevant to mention,” Lorentzen said.

Last summer’s UEFA European Championship semi-final, in which England defeated Denmark after a disputed penalty decision, does not appear to have permanently damaged relations between the nations, though.

The inclusion of anglofobi does not reflect increased anti-English sentiment related to football “as far as I can tell,” Lorentzen said.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re coming home’: How Denmark views the Euro 2020 semi-final clash with England

During the recent election campaign a satirical Twitter account posted a spoof picture of the leader of the national conservative Danish People’s Party, Morten Messerschmidt, claiming he wanted Danes to drop the use of the term “fast food” and instead call convenience meals hurtigmums.

Messerschmidt did not in fact make any such statement, but his party has in the past spoken against the use of English loan words in Danish.

“Some people think the English spillover into Danish overwhelming, awkward or even damaging for the Danish language,” Lorentzen said in a press statement which accompanied the announcement of the dictionary update.

“For others, English is woven into everyday life and working life, they perceive multilingualism as more of an opportunity than a threat, and the use of English words and expressions can in certain circles even be an important identity marker,” he said.

The Danish Dictionary is descriptive and therefore obliged to account for the most broadly used vocabulary in the national language, the statement notes. This applies regardless of the linguistic origins of the words.

The dictionary is a free online resource and is used by around 130,000 people daily, according to the statement. It is updated twice a year, based on a body of texts comprising over a billion words.

The Society for Danish Language and Literature (Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab, DSL) publishes and documents the Danish language from its historical origins to the present day.

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