Danish word of the day: Fanden

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Danish word of the day: Fanden

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

This swearword might seem milder on the surface but hits a bit harder than the many imported curses in the Danish language.


What is fanden?

Like other popular expletives, helvede (“hell”) and satan (“satan”), fanden, meaning "the devil" has a religious connotation.

The three words above are almost interchangeable for swearing, usually preceded by for, as in for fanden! Which roughly translates to “for devil’s sake!”.

They are all used as a light to moderate swearword, perhaps slightly harsher than "damn" or "shit" in English but less aggressive than “fuck” as an expletive.

Most Danes would in theory object to using them in front of children, although in practice they slip out now and then.

You could use them, for instance, if you hit your thumb with a hammer, left your mobile charger at home, or found a parking ticket slipped beneath your windscreen wiper. 

Fanden is a bit softer than the other two, and commonly used for less acute situations – to express mild disappointment or frustration, or even surprise or amazement. It is also very commonly abbreviated to leave out the middle consonants, leaving you with for fa’en!


Why do I need to know fanden?

The description above makes it seem like a mild expletive but, like its two sweary relatives, Danes don’t necessarily take its use frivolously. In fact, you will sometimes see people ‘write’ the word without actually writing it, instead replacing all the letters after the first one with dots, as in for h…… or for f…..

Contrast this with the cavalier way in which fuck – a swear word which (obviously) is loaned from English but has a much milder impact in Danish – is thrown around in live sports interviews, posters on railway stations and on pre-watershed broadcasts. It’s even used to name the middle finger. Similar can be applied to "piss" and "shit", both extremely common in Danish and frequently used by children.

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

The word "fuck" has gained a steadily greater role in written and spoken Danish over the last few decades and particularly since about 1990, edging out the older Danish swear words like fanden and helvede.

It is perhaps for this reason that some people, notably from older generations, might still wince a little when it comes to writing the latter words but not the former.

While Danes are generally more laid back about swearing than people in, for example, the US or UK, there does still seem to be a hierarchy as to which words are worse than others, and the f-word does not figure as highly as fanden on this list.



If you've misplaced something, such as a hammer, you could say hvem fanden har taget min hammer? ("who the hell took my hammer?").

If there is a situation of chaos, confusion or frustration, you can exclaim hvad fanden sker der altså! (“what the devil is actually going on!”)

Fanden can take on a plaintive quality, especially when given a nasal tone, when it expresses a sort of exasperation or frustration: faaa’en

Hva’ fa’en! (hvad fanden or “what the devil”) is also commonly used to express surprise, or amazement. When bumping into an old friend or acquaintance unexpectedly, for instance, you might say Hva’ fa’en, Kathrine!, before hugging them. 



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