Over the past four years, I’ve travelled throughout the Nordic countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland (though mostly the first two) and I’m honored to call a few locals friends. I like Nordica. Candy involve lots of weird licorice, local specialty food is often…um…fish-filled, and everyone knows how to ski.

And you guys: Nordicans say the cutest things. In English.

I’ve collected a few of my favorite Nordic idioms below:

#5: Feeling high

When someone is praised to heaven, or just in a good mood, that person might say they are feeling “quite high.” In Nordenglish, that means feeling like you’re on top of the world and that everything is going your way—and that’s a reasonable interpretation. In American English, it means you’re drunk, stoned, or just dropped two tabs of acid—or that you feel like you just did those things, so you’re a bit out of it or giddy.

For people from my generation, you get high off of drugs. For people from my parents’ generation, you can also get high off alcohol. So depending on whether a Nordican is feeling great and has just had a couple beers, they might sound twenty years older than their obvious age to my US ears.

#4 Bubbles

 When it’s time to celebrate, you get bubbles, or bottles of bubbles—fizzy wine. I find the word both descriptive and cute—it conjures images of subsisting on sea foam, like Aphrodite.

In the US, we tend to bastardize the word “Champagne” to mean all sparkling wines, regardless of whether they come from the Champagne region of France, though “Cava” is gaining in popularity too. But drinking bubbles?! I like that much better. Makes me feel like a mermaid.

#3 Cozy

Here’s what I think is “cozy”: tucking a blanket around a sleeping child or zipping said child into some sort of snowsuit onesie. “Cozy” is not a word I generally apply to adults, locations, social situations, or really anything that doesn’t involve a person under a blanket or in a onesie.

Here’s what Nordicans think is “cozy”: quiet evenings at home with friends, two people in a corner, dim cafes with jazz playing in the background, candle-lit dinners, and other intimate social interactions and spaces. Tons and tons of stuff suddenly becomes “cozy” in Nordica. I think it’s because some of the Nordic countries have concepts along these lines that don’t translate well into English, like the Danish (?) hyggelig or the Norwegian koselig, which means something not fully translatable—sort of the warmness of being inside with people you like, I think, but then I don’t fully grasp these concepts. In English, it all comes out “cozy.” 

#2: Being “On” Things 

When I go to a gaming convention, I’d say that I’d say that I’m “at Dreamation” or “at Gen Con.” But the Nordicans say they’re “on Fastaval” or “on Knutepunkt.”

I feel that this phrasing really expresses the state of being in a temporarily different world. Being “on Fastaval” is sort of like being on vacation—it gives permission to change your whole state of mind.

Want to eat fermented fish preserved in lye and rehydrated? Sure! I’m on Knutepunkt now. Will I be responding to emails? No! I’m on Fastaval. And when I’m on Fastaval, I stay up until 6 am.

#1 Getting Children

In the US, we have children. It’s a state of being, and a state of possession—you have children, and then they loiter in your house for 18-25 years. In Nordica, instead you get children. There’s a certain spontaneity to the verb “get,” that I can’t exactly put my finger on. Like, “we went to the store for cereal, but instead we got children!” or, “I got drunk and then I got a tattoo children.” It also emphasizes the…er….process of getting.

 

Notable, but un-cute also-rans:

Toilet 

It’s probably because “toilet” is a cognate in several Nordic languages, but hearing someone ask for the “toilet” instead of the “bathroom,” the “restroom,” the “loo,” etc.,  always gives me the vapors a little bit. “Toilet” gets the point across but always sounds vulgar to my puritanical American ears. I mean, when you gotta go, you gotta go, and we all gotta go sometimes, but I don’t need to know which particular appliance someone is intending to use in there. Give me the fig leaf of pretending that you’re really in there to check your phone, or you know…”makeup”:

 

 “S**t” as an adjective

Norway is “s**t expensive,” and so-and-so got “s**t drunk” last weekend. If we wanted to swear about these things in the states, we’d use a different word. Norway is “f***ing expensive” and so-and-so got “s**t faced” or “f**king drunk” last weekend.

Is using expletives cute? Well, using them in this way always reminds me of how I used to curse on the playground. (Sorry, mom.) So I find it charming in its own way.

(Caveat: I’ve travelled to Nordica a bunch, but obviously I haven’t personally introduced myself to all 20 million people who live there and done a peer-reviewed study of their personal idioms.)

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5 Cute Things Nordicans Say (In English)

8 thoughts on “5 Cute Things Nordicans Say (In English)

  • May 4, 2014 at 1:18 pm
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    One last one: Economy.

    Nordic folks often say that something will “screw up my economy.” But to me, only nation-states have economies. I am on a budget.

  • May 5, 2014 at 3:06 pm
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    Of the five numbered items I only recognize 4 and 3, but I’ve never heard a swede translate the Swedish slang “bubble” (roughly “bubbly”), I’d say sparkling wine I guess. I think you’ve been spending too much time in the western colonies of Nordica. 😉

  • May 6, 2014 at 8:15 am
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    Hmm, while we’re at comparing cultures – in Croatia we certainly do #1, #2, #3, toilet and expletives. Regarding #4, we are also in the “champagne” club – though there exists a general word for sparkling wine, it’s rarely used outside of print or TV. Bubbles (and economy) would also catch me off guard. I would recognize “feeling high” and it wouldn’t sound weird to me in that context, though we would probably never use it.

    #2 makes sense to me because in Croatian we’d use our version of the word “on” in the same situation. Travelling across Europe, I often used English as an auxiliary language and several countries use… very specific linguistic constructs. For examples, Germans often use “we’ll see us at X” or “we’ll see each other at X” when they mean “see you at X” – it’s the direct translation of “wir sehen uns”, which is what Germans use to say that. Some similar peculiarities that you encountered might be due to how the Nordicans say such stuff in their own home languages.

    If you ever go to Croatia, you might notice that people often say “hand” when they refer to their arm or “leg” when they refer to their foot. That’s because in Croatian, our definitions for arms and legs “include” hands and feet – indeed, we don’t even have a specific word for the hand (though when the distinction needs to be made, such as in medicine, we use our word for fist instead to refer to it), and our word for the foot sees little use.

    Country specific stuff.

  • May 6, 2014 at 12:36 pm
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    Super-interesting, Ivan!

  • May 6, 2014 at 4:30 pm
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    This is very interesting. I have a thing to add on #3, because using cozy to describe a social situation might be your region of America showing. Here in the south, the term cozy to describe an intimate (used broadly here) setting is a common and perfectly acceptable term as far as I know.

  • May 6, 2014 at 6:50 pm
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    Hyggelig doesn’t translate. The funny thing is, americans also do it, you just dont have a name for it :-). Did you by the way know Lizzie, that there is a danish Roleplay convention called “Hyggecon” ?

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