Cursing Abroad: Swedish Insults To Round Out Your Studies

Swedish insults may not be the most vulgar, but they can still make you feel dumb.
moose fight

Swedish definitely has a plentitude of ways to call someone stupid. A lot more than it’s got invectives for rude, respectless, or evil people, or the usual sexual crudeness. Why? Do Swedes, who hand out the Nobel prize, value intelligence? Or is there such an abundance of stupid people in Sweden that a diverse range of insults is necessary to keep it interesting? We don’t know, but we’ve collected some of the best Swedish insults. 

Jubelåsna or jubelidiot — Åsna (donkey) or idiot isn’t enough? Then add the prefix jubel, it means that the stupid person is in fact celebrating their jubilee as such — they’ve been an idiot for a really long time.

Hon har inte alla hästar hemma. Someone who’s not that smart, not in their right mind, or maybe even a little crazy, doesn’t have all horses at home. A similar expression is inte den skarpaste kniven i lådan (not the sharpest knife in the drawer), the equivalent of “not the sharpest tool in the shed”. It’s definitely more common to use these types of expressions to talk about another person, than directly addressing someone.

Hissen går inte ända upp. — Meaning, the elevator doesn’t reach the top. Use this insult when you have to deal with with people who are a bit slow. Or don’t, since it’s not very nice, and we don’t want to encourage bullying. Alternatively, you can say that they‘re tappad bakom en vagn (dropped behind a carriage).

Ljuset är tänt, men det är ingen hemma. — The light is on, but nobody’s home. This saying illustrates that everything seems just fine from the outside, but the person is, in fact, quite dumb. Another colorful expression with the same basic meaning is Hjulet snurrar men hamstern är död (the wheel is spinning but the hamster is dead).

Dummare än tåget — Meaning Stupider than the train. What’s so stupid about the train, you ask? One theory about the origin of this expression is that back in the 19th century, there was a locomotive named after the Swedish prince, Albert, who was thought to be a little dumb. On the other hand, most locomotives back then were named after famous people. Another theory is that the original expression was “stupider than the last car of a train”, which, famously, just follows the rest of the train with no real agency.

Han har otur när han tänker. — This translates to He’s got bad luck when he’s thinking. Pretty self-explanatory and delightfully sarcastic.

Tomat på loftet — Gnomes in the attic — if someone has them, it means that they’re a little… cuckoo. 

Ful som stryk — If you ask a Swede to translate this, they’d probably say something like ugly as a beating but the original meaning wasn’t stryk as in being beaten up, but as in kringstrykare, meaning vagrant or hobo. And well yes, going from place to place without a home might mean that you have other things on your mind than fulfilling common beauty standards. Interestingly, the shift in meaning of stryk is probably the reason this saying is still very common and “official” (as far as insults go) — very few people these days would feel comfortable saying “ugly as a hobo”.

Skitstövel — Literally translated as shit boot, this Swedish insult is not targeting the intelligence, but the morals and behavior of someone. They’re an asshole, in proper English — by the way a popular insult in Swedish in itself: rövhål.

Dumjävel — Feeling creative? Then just mix and match your own unique insult, using jävel or fan, both meaning devil. They’re, by the way, the most common swear words in Swedish; we haven’t really jumped on that trend of references to someone’s mother just yet. Dumjävel, idiotjävel, and dumfan could all very well be translated to “stupid bastard.” You can add any kind of definition or characteristic as the first part of the composite word, but common ones are bondjävel (directed to farmers), gubbjävel (about old men, especially sexist ones), kärringjävel (old hag) or, as canonized by the Swedish doctor in the Lars von Trier series Riget: danskjävel (fucking Dane).

Pucko — Apart from being a popular cocoa drink with a vintage feel, pucko is yet another word for someone stupid. Its origin is most likely in Romani, one of Sweden’s five minority languages  and a language that has given Swedish lots of slang words. Another note for the grammar nerds is that pucko is an ett-word (neuter gender), unlike the absolute majority of nouns for people, which tend to be of common gender (en-words). Even insults are usually of common gender (en idiot, en dumjävel, en tjockskalle (a thick head), en hönshjärna (a chicken brain), en knasboll (a goofball) etc.) Adding -o is a way of forming new words in Swedish, and some of them are certainly insulting, like fetto (fatso), pervo (perv) or miffo, which is short for missfoster (freak of nature). Being a neuter word, in fact, adds a subtle layer of inanimateness, or even objectification, to the insult.

Rövhatt — Asshat — simple as that.

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