By the Great Pharaoh

When annoyed, my dad (born in ’43) will sometimes use a pretty awesome expletive that has largely fallen out of fashion. Men då får han väl se till och ordna det då, för höge farao! “So he’d better make sure to get it done then, by the Great Pharaoh!”

This expression belongs to a common category of mild Swedish curses where a word similar to something nastier is used. Farao is similar to fan, “devil”. Likewise, we’ll say jösses (Jesus), tusan (a thousand [devils]) and sjutton (seventeen [thousand devils]) . Meanwhile, Swedish doesn’t even have a word for “bugger” and the activity seems not to have been spoken much of until recently.


  1. #1 nick
    September 9, 2011

    On the subject of buggery, have you heard this Cockney rhyming slang?

    Up the Gary

    Gary Glitter / shitter.

  2. #2 Martin R
    September 9, 2011

    Scary, Gary!

  3. #3 Deborah
    September 9, 2011

    Well, I hesitate to publicize this over the Internet but … as many of your readers will know “fudge” is an old style euphemism for the (gasp) notorious f-word. However, many people, understanding this, will not go so far as to sully their vocabularies even with “fudge.” Including my dear sweet little old Grandmother (god rest her soul), who had her own unique expression: “Oh, fuzz!” This made us laugh as children, but not till I was a bit older did I realize what her euphemism was a euphemism of, and I have come to the present day wondering if she even knew it.

  4. #4 Martin R
    September 9, 2011

    In my house, we sometimes swear KNÜRRÄ, which is the f-word with some röck döts and a Chinese mispronunciation of L.

    Maybe your granny was invoking the UK police?

  5. #5 HP
    September 9, 2011

    Interestingly, the Swedish-to-English Hyperwords translator gives:

    fan = damn
    jösses = good heavens

    So it looks like they’re being translated idiomatically rather than literally, in order to get the appropriately moderate level of swear-harshness.

  6. #6 Kaleberg
    September 9, 2011

    The Swedes must have led fairly sheltered lives. The Eddas, produced by their Norse neighbors, used the word “warger” (if I remember correctly) to describe a man who enjoys receiving anal sex. I think Thor used it in the episode where he disguised himself as Freya in one of the gods’ hare brained schemes involving marrying her off to some frost giant. He didn’t want people to think he was a warger just because he was dressed as a girl. Buggery was definitely not unheard of old Norse.

  7. #7 Lassi Hippeläinen
    September 10, 2011

    Your dad’s expletive might also be related to the English “for Christ’s sake!”, but works around the Third Commandment.

    @3 I didn’t know about “fudge” in that sense. We engineers use quite routinely the term “fudge factor” for … eh… accuracy management.

    BTW, the Swedish-speaking minority here in Finland uses Finnish cusswords, because the Swedish expletives are so piss poor.

  8. #8 Martin R
    September 10, 2011

    Seth, the noun ergi and the adjective argr don’t refer specifically to buggery, but to general effeminate unmanliness. I don’t think there’s a cognate verb in Old Norse. But ergi does seem to have implied pretty strongly a willingness to get penetrated.

    In Blekinge are two Vendel Period runestones that warn the reader that if he damages the monument, he will “always be plagued by ergi“.

    See Preben Meulengracht Sørensen’s 1983 book The unmanly man. Concepts of sexual defamation in early Northern society.

  9. #9 Theres
    September 10, 2011

    I miss the expression “Krockhasses moder” (the devil’s mother) …it seems to have died out recently, but I sometimes heard it as a child.

  10. #10 Jonathan Jarrett
    September 15, 2011

    See Preben Meulengracht Sørensen’s 1983 book The unmanly man. Concepts of sexual defamation in early Northern society.

    That’s a very useful reference there, thank you; I’ve been after somewhere to point people interested in such things for a while now, without, you know, getting as far as actually looking…

  11. #11 Bill Poser
    September 17, 2011

    Old Norse ergi is cognate to the word for “testicle” in a number of Indo-European languages, such as Albanian herdhe and Greek ὄρχις orkhis. English “orchid” is derived from the Greek.

  12. #12 Martin R
    September 17, 2011

    That’s amazing! How could the senses of the word diverge like that? “That guy sure has huge cast-iron balls.” “No, I’d say he’s just an ergi man.” “Wasn’t that what I said?”

  13. #13 Tomas Helander
    September 21, 2011

    Hi all
    How about the heathen/christian relic expletive “GötaPetter!” made famous by the swedish kid television series “Teskedsgumman”(Teaspoonelady).
    Göta (Gaut) is a regional name for Oden, Petter(Svarte-Petter, Horn-Per)an euphemism for the devil.
    Götapetter would translate to “darn” or sutch but I´m sure it was quite to the point at the time and uttered with some apprehension.
    (Please note the above is my theory, which is mine.)

    Tomas Helander

  14. #14 Martin R
    September 22, 2011

    Haha, yeah, Göta Petter is an excellent expression too!

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