Scandinavian – same word, different meaning

Across the Scandinavian languages similar words can have some very different meanings. The technical term for these words is a “false cognate”, though “false friends” is also often used. These false cognates can cause quite humorous situations and on the other hand can be very dangerous.

The similarity between Scandinavian languages stems back to the languages’ commons origins. Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are all considered mutually intelligible with each other. But don’t let this fool you. Below we’ve outlined some examples that demonstrate how certain words can have very different meanings within these languages.

  • Lide – In Norwegian it means “to suffer”, while in Danish it means “to like”.
  • Rar – For Norwegians it means “weird”, but Swedes know it as “cute”.
  • Rolig – Both Norwegian and Danish use it for “quiet”, though Swedish see it as “fun”.
  • Grine – The Danish may “laugh” but the Norwegians will “weep”.

As you can imagine, if these words were to be used inappropriately within the incorrect language it may create some very funny, awkward and even embarrassing situations. The examples outlined above are all quite light-hearted, but this isn’t always the case as some similarities between words can be very dangerous.

To place one of these examples in a real world situation we’ve created the story of the Swedish nurse working in Norway who wrote (in Swedish) in the patient’s records that it was necessary to remove “glasögon” before bed, which in Swedish means “glasses” but in Norwegian means “artificial glass eye”. Obviously this would have been very painful for the patient if the Norwegian nurse tried to follow the instructions!

These very similar languages with such crucial differences demonstrate the importance of sourcing experienced and above all native linguists when developing communications.

At The Language Factory we only ever use qualified linguists who work into their mother tongue and have at least five years’ experience in their chosen specialism. Not only that but they have to be a member of an industry body, pass our in-house test and provide two professional references before they begin working with us. Whether you require translations into Norwegian, Danish or Swedish you can rest assured we can provide you with high quality translations. If you would like more information on our services give us a call on +44 1727 862722 or send us your project details using the form below for a quick, no-obligation quote.


“I have been using The Language Factory for all my translation work since I first came into contact with them four years ago. As a language graduate myself I am impressed with the accuracy of their work and their ability to handle specialist and technical subject matter in a variety of languages. As a PR company we are all delighted with the prompt and professional service we receive. Work is always delivered on the day promised, questions are asked if there is a difficulty of interpretation and there is always a follow-up to check that everything has gone smoothly. A terrific service I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.”

Account Manager PR Agency

Get in touch

To gain access to our qualified, experienced translators submit your details below for a free quote.

Get a quote

We will help save you time by using our online quote form. We can provide you with a quick quote via email after you fill in a few short details about your project. To find the best cost for your translation, fill in the quick form below.

Job details

Upload a file:

captcha Input this code below

The data you enter in this form will be used to provide you with information you have requested about our services. We will not send you marketing communications unless you consent to it and we will never pass your details on to any third parties. Agree

Related Articles