Why do Swedes pepper their Swedish with random English words?

Why do Swedes pepper their Swedish with random English words?
Det är really weird, liksom. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT
Why on earth do Swedes use English phrases so much, even while speaking Swedish? Native English speaker Oliver Gee is perplexed.

I've got a confession. I've been eavesdropping on the Swedes.

Yep, I've been doing it all week – ever since I read about the Anglicization of Swedish potentially being a threat.

You see, that story really hit a chord with me, because it's something I've thought about a lot. Sure, it's no secret that the Swedes love to speak English, never dub films, and have all their music in English – but one other thing has always perplexed me and it's this:

Why on earth do Swedes use such unusual English words and phrases while speaking Swedish?

Before we get to my eavesdropping, let me take you back to the first time I heard Swedes speaking to one another in casual Swedish. I'll never forget it.

I was at a student apartment in Uppsala and there were several Swedish students talking among themselves.

“Det var, liksom, the best day ever,” said one.

“Ja, det var fucking crazy,” responded the other.

What? What was I hearing? All I could think was how Swedish seemed to be basically English with a few extra Swedish words thrown in.

I asked a Swede about it at the time and she said that she didn't even notice she was doing it. After reflection, she and her friends said they figured it must have been an influence of the American TV and music.

But as my days in Sweden turned into months and then years, and as I learned Swedish myself, I realized with a growing intrigue and amusement that Swedes seem to have an obsession with peppering their Swedish with the weirdest choice of English words.

READ ALSO: Is Anglicization a threat to the Swedish language?

So, let's get this straight – they don't only drop in the occasional English word. It's more little filler phrases, especially ones that are absolutely ordinary in English.

Common ones are “oh my god” or “what the fuck”.

But whenever I try to explain this weird phenomenon to anyone, I can never think of examples of the more unusual filler phrases. Hence, I've been eavesdropping on Swedes all week for some cold hard proof – and they delivered.

Here are some of the examples of English words that were inserted into fluent Swedish spoken between Swedes:

“Service minded”, “On the road again”, “Take it easy”, “Mission completed”, “Wow factor” and “Go crazy”.

All these were dropped bang in the middle of fluent Swedish. And my favourite part is that they often say them with a Swedish accent, even if their English doesn't typically come with a Swedish accent.

“Jag sa till honom 'fake it til you make it' liksom, och han sa 'nej, men, in your dreams, typ'.”

And if you think this is just something young people do then think again. Most of those examples above were from over-fifties.

At a vernissage in Stockholm this week, I brought up the subject with a young university student. He said his own professor led the lessons in fluent Swenglish, even though he was a Swede teaching Swedes at a Swedish university.

I asked the student why he thought his teacher did it.

“He's a wannabe,” the Swede replied, using another notably odd English word.

At the same event, I confronted a Swedish woman in her thirties when she casually dropped a “go crazy” mid-Swedish sentence. Go crazy? Where did that even come from?

“It's strange, because I could have easily said 'gå galen', but it just seemed stronger in English,” she said.

“I do it without thinking. And it's not like I'm seeing more American movies or anything, it's just a trend. You see it a lot on social media comments and end up copying it, even if you don't mean to.”

If you think about it, we do a similarly unusual thing in English. We drop French words that are typically not even used by the French.

He has a certain je ne sais quoi, a joie de vivre, he's a real bon vivant. We think we're sophisticated when we do it, but the French think we're strange. Touché, am I right?

So what about the Swedes? They surely don't think they're sophisticated. Perhaps they think they're being cool? Perhaps it is cool.

But personally, as a native English speaker, this will have to go down as just another odd habit of the Swedes. And should they keep doing it? Yeah, why not. “Go crazy,” I say.

Oliver Gee has worked for The Local Sweden and The Local France. He currently hosts The Earful Tower podcast in Paris. Follow him on Twitter here.

Do you think the Swedes use English too much? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Member comments

  1. Random use of the words’ yes’, ‘sorry’, etc drives me mad! I appreciate the way Swedes generally try to speak good English, but this isn’t what it’s about. I think there is a mistaken belief that if you say English words in a Swedish accent in the middle of a sentence in Swedish, it automatically makes you cool. It doesn’t if the listener is a Brit.

  2. At one of my favorite konditori, I ordered tea in my typical really bad Swedish, which prompted the server to ask me excitedly if I were from the UK. No, I told her, the US. But you’re a native English speaker, right? she asked. Ha, indeed. She called a few workmates around her and told me they’d been wondering about how to say something in English. She held up a cup and asked, Do you have a word for “refill” in English?

  3. I have noticed that many British/English people now casually greet each other with”Hej” rather than Hi or Hello. Although they would probably spell it as Hey.

  4. Well well … the writer of the articles knows very well that there is absolutely no comparison whatsover between usage of correct French expressions that have been cited in literature, etc., and used by the educated classes for centuries, and the nonsense gibberish of badly-educated Swedish youngsters who have no respect for their mother tongue or any other language, for that matter. It´s quite laughable the way Swedes in general seriously believe they master the English language, when in effect their knowledge and understanding of the language is way under par compared to the Dutch and the Norwegians, for instance. I think Swedes should dig where they stand, i.e. learn, respect and develop their own language both in speech and in writing and put in effort to find the right expressions in Swedish instead of choosing the first vulgar expression in English that comes to mind from watching cheap American sit-coms on TV.

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