12 Norwegian Crime Words You Need For Your Next Scandi Noir Binge

Are you a Nordic Noir fan? These words and expressions will have you holding your breath until the last moment… Here’s the forensic evidence.
Scandi noir represented by a view of Bergen, Norway, from the water at night.

Nordic Noir (also known as  Scandi Noir) is a type of Scandinavian crime fiction that’s typically narrated from a police point of view. Its success has been phenomenal in recent years, thanks to a unique set of elements that keeps us glued to our books and screens: a series of brutal crimes, a strong plot often criticizing the political system, a bleak Scandinavian setting and the most important thing of all: a tortured protagonist.

Norway, the land of fjords, colorful wooden houses, the northern lights and the Vikings celebrates Nordic Noir with a most curious tradition that takes place every Easter: Påskekrim, or “Easter crime.”

The Easter Crime Tradition

While Easter is generally a time for family, roast lamb and chocolate eggs, in Norway hundreds of thousands of people indulge in a far more guilty pleasure: they spend hours binging on crime fiction novels and Nordic Noir TV.  And you thought that biting the head of your chocolate bunny was the most daring thing you could do, ha?

The tradition goes back exactly 101 years when Norwegian authors Nordahl Grieg and Nils Lie came up with the cunning idea to write their first crime novel, a chilling story about a train burglary on the Oslo – Bergen line. To help them cash in on that thought, their publisher Gyldendal took out an ad on the first page of the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. The headline read: BERGENSTOGET PLYNDRET INAT! (“TRAIN TO BERGEN ROBBED LAST NIGHT!”), leading everyone to believe this was an actual train robbery when, in fact, it was the book title of Grieg and Lie’s crime novel. Most people fell for the “fake news” and within days the book became a sensation.

Since this publicity stunt took place only a few days before Easter, many believe that this was how Påskekrim started. Today, Påskekrim is as much part of the Easter tradition as taking a ski trip to a Norwegian hytte (“cabin”), eating oranges, drinking wine and enjoying a classic Kvikk Lunsj chocolate wafer, a candy that looks a bit like a Kit-Kat.  According to Gyldendal’s information manager Bjarne Buset, Norway is said to have some of the longest Easter holidays in the world so there’s plenty of time for Norwegians to indulge in their favorite pastime. 

And it’s not just everyday crime fiction fans who revel in this either. Bookstores make space in their shop windows for the latest crime book releases, the Crime Festival (Krimfestivalen) always takes place a few weeks before Easter, and even the dairy company Tine features crime comic strips on their milk cartons in the run-up to Easter. It seems if you’re a crime fiction lover, you can literally get away with murder!

Norwegian crime fiction has entered houses of crime fiction aficionados the world over thanks to the blood-curdling tales of Jo Nesbø, arguably the most famous of Norwegian crime writers, known for his Harry Hole series. There are 13 Harry Hole books available in English with The Snowman (his 7th book) being the most iconic. This was also the first book to be made into a film with Michael Fassbender in the lead character. Other noteworthy crime fiction writers include Anne Holt, a journalist, police lawyer and Norway’s ex Minister of Justice; Jørn Lier Horst, a former Senior Investigating Officer at Vestfold police district; and Karin Fossum, the “Norwegian Queen of Crime”, among others. By the way, if you are learning Norwegian right now, why not try some of Jørn Lier Horst’s crime fiction for children

If you like Scandi Noir and are learning Norwegian, you may want to check out these Norwegian crime dramas. And hey, don’t worry if you find them a bit too difficult to understand. Their vocabulary might be a bit more gory than the kind you’ll encounter in your A1 lessons. The important thing is to soak in the atmosphere!

  1. Wisting. The brainchild of Jørn Lier Horst, William Wisting is a weathered Norwegian detective with a tough case to crack. He’s investigating a murder that’s connected to an American serial killer who’s been on the run for more than 20 years.  Assisted by an FBI agent (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), he tries to track the killer down. More bodies turn up in the process.
  2. Okkupert (“Occupied”). A political thriller about Russia’s invasion in Norway. The story is set in a future where the E.U. is suffering from an energy crisis. In an act of defiance, Russia takes over Norway’s oil production and installs a shadow government.
  3. Outlier.  A young girl is killed and a man is arrested, but a criminal psychologist believes the police have the wrong man.
  4. Øyevitnet (“The eyewitness”). A TV crime drama about a multiple homicide witnessed by two teenagers. 

Norwegian Crime Vocabulary

So, are you in for a murderous treat? I’ve compiled 12 Norwegian words you need to know before your next Scandi Noir binge, all hand-picked from Norwegian crime dramas I’ve been watching. Enjoy!

1. Obduksjon — autopsy (also, obduksjonbordet “dissecting table”)
2. Lik — corpse (All good Scandi dramas open with the discovery of at least one dead body.)
3. Drepe — to kill (also, et kaldblodig drap “a cold-blooded murder”)
4. Krav om løsepenger — a ransom demand 

A real-life mystery: In 2018, the wife of one of Norway’s richest men was kidnapped under mysterious circumstances. The kidnappers left a ransom note demanding 9 million euros in cryptocurrency. To this day, we still don’t know what happened to the wife or who was behind the kidnapping. This real-life story was later immortalized in the Scandi Noir drama Forsvinningen (The Lørenskog Disappearance).

5. Hemmelig etterforskning — undercover investigation
6. Avlytte telefonene — to phone tap
7. Et åsted — a crime scene
8. Kriminelt rulleblad — criminal record

Norway is one of the few countries in the world where police officers don’t carry firearms. They keep them locked down in their patrol cars instead. Police training in Norway is notoriously rigorous. It takes 3 years to graduate from the Politihøgskolen (the Police University College), and only a very small percentage of candidates who apply to these schools ever gets accepted. The National Crime Investigation Service in Norway is commonly known as Kripos.

9. Blodspor — blood traces
10. Avhør — interrogation
11. Fingeravtrykk — fingerprints
12. En tilståelse — a confession 

Bonus Lesson

Finally, if you hear this on your next trip to Norway, it’s not good news: 

Det er politi! Hendene på ryggen, du er pågrepet. — This is the police! Hands behind your back, you are under arrest.

But you can always reply with  Jeg er ikke skyldig! (“I am not guilty!”)

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