An examination of Nordic culture through the lens of dubious lexis

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It could almost be considered a feat if one has managed thus far to avoid the plethora of existing blog articles listing supposed untranslatable words of Nordic origin.

The authors of such posts inevitably indicate in one way or another that the English language is sorely lacking some highly specific vocabulary which only the languages of Northern Europe had the forethought to include.

This topical trend is surely part of a broader wave of Scandiophilia which has manifested itself in everything from bland fad diets to dreary television series (i.e. Nordic Noir) to the normalisation of raiding and pillaging foreign coastal settlements.

Invariably this cultural fetishism is narrowly focused on a few specific desirable facets with the less agreeable aspects tending to be conveniently overlooked. We’ve regularly been bombarded with terms like Hygge (Danish/Norwegian; something having the quality of cosiness) or Fika (Swedish; drinking coffee and eating pastries in a social setting). So perhaps it’s time to take a view on some of the churlish elements within the Nordic lexicons that don’t often make the cut?

Olla / Snigla (Swedish)

The verb Olla approximately translates to dabbing something or someone with the end of one’s bellend (i.e. tip of the penis). Completing the action of Ollning is considered particularly successful if a physical mark or impression is left on whatever was touched.

Naturally as the Swedes rightly pride themselves in promoting gender equality, Snigla is essentially the corresponding female version of Olla where an object is instead smeared with a vagina.

Given that specific words exist for this precise utilisation of genitalia, it must be expected that this act is beyond widespread across Sweden. It should therefore be considered mandatory that disposable gloves of a medical grade be included on any packing list prior to visiting this country.

Surströmmingspremiär (Swedish)

Particularly in recent times, the Nordic diet has been among the top fad diets garnering significant attention and hype for its purported health benefits. The core idea of this food régime is a strong emphasis on plant-based fare and seafood.

On this note, when most people imagine seafood from the Nordic cuisine, they likely do not have Surströmming, a horridly smelling fermented herring, in mind. This however is more likely what you could expect to encounter with an authentic Swedish menu. So much so that the populace in Sweden have gone so far as to declare a specific day of the year where it becomes acceptable to eat this dish, hence Surströmmingspremiär.

Poronkusema (Finnish)

Apparently, the Finns have long been using an alternate system of measurement units to the rest of the civilised world. An example of this being Poronkusema, which means ‘the distance a reindeer is able to travel before needing to urinate’. It can only be assumed that the decision to base such a fundamental metric on an animal’s bladder system is a result of the extreme isolation and winters of complete darkness that comes with living north of the Arctic Circle.

And before you ask, the distance a reindeer can walk before requiring a piss break is approximately seven and a half kilometres.

Kalsarikannit (Finnish)

Continuing with the topic of questionable decisions made by Finns during the dead of winter, Kalsarikannit is certainly also one to examine. With the literal translation being ‘pants drunk’, this Finnish national pastime can be candidly defined as ‘getting plastered alone at home in one’s underwear’.

The utter lack of pretension of the word in some ways should be admired, but nevertheless it still stands in opposition to the carefully crafted wholesome and clean-living image that Finland and the other Nordic nations are commonly depicted as having.

Bagstiv (Danish)

Awakening in the morning, while still feeling noticeably inebriated is seemingly enough of a frequent occurrence for Danes that the word Bagstiv exists. That being said, a more concise translation for the rest of us may just be ‘Sunday’.

Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúrslyklakippuhringurinn (Icelandic)

Ostensibly, the famed Nordic minimalism does not extend to the Icelandic language. The above word, which shall not be retyped lest my fingers develop arthritis, can be translated as ‘the key ring to the tool work shed in the road works of Vaðlaheiði’. This exhausting string of letters only existed as the theoretically longest word until recently when the described scenario became reality.

It’s safe to say, this term will not be present in our own dictionaries anytime soon.

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