The N word

Sweden – the land of a thousand mysteries. One of them concerns a word frowned upon in most of the western world. I can barely bring myself to write that word, but I will, just once, just to let you know which word I mean…it is the word…(whispers)…nigger.

the_n_word.jpg 

There, I’ve said it and you won’t get me to say it again, so don’t try, alright? OK…on with the article…

Many Swedes have a problem understanding that this word is offensive. Really, well-educated and widely traveled people will scratch their heads in amazement and wonder why anybody would take offense at them using this word in an ironic or friendly manner.

A note to Swedes – you CANNOT use this word in an ironic or friendly or any other manner unless you are a dark-skinned person addressing another dark skinned person and probably not even then. End of story. The word is offensive, a term connected to slavery and centuries of insult and derision. So don’t use it. EVER.

There is however a treat in Sweden, a sphere of compacted oatmeal, chocolate and sugar known as…ok, I’ll say it again then…deep breath…”negerbollar” or “niggerballs”.

chocolate_fucking_balls_and_nothing_else.jpg

Figure 1: Don’t blame me, I didn’t make it… 

Oh I squirm just to think it. Now many Swedes will convince you that it is fine to use this term since it is “harmless” and “not offensive” and a “traditional name” that means no harm.

Look here, for fuck’s sake, get a grip – you just can’t go around calling a fucking dessert “niggerballs”…no, you bloody well CAN’T! Just because the person who invented the name in the fifties was an ignorant inbred twat does not give you the right to compound his error for all time. It is an insult, just like if I were to bake a cake called “Stupid Fucking Swedish Redneck Retard” and sell it in the shops. Get it?

There is actually a serious discussion going on here about people being “forced” to use the phrase “chocolate balls” or “oat balls” instead, as if this is some kind on invasion upon the rights of the common Swede. Oh God, give me a chair, I need to sit down…

And other people say: “I used this word in my childhood and so it is OK to keep using it.” Well my grandfather used the word “gay” as a compliment to mean a person was cheerful, but he doesn’t anymore, does he?

You still see this name popping up in jolly old Sweden, the country that never had a war or revolution, especially if you travel outside the big cities. And if you want to make them yourself (or cannot quite bring yourself to believe me) then search for the phrase on Google or have a look here or here or even here.

And they wonder why immigrants don’t feel so welcome over here…

/ paddy

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28 thoughts on “The N word

  1. I know where you are coming from Mr. PK, but isn’t it all political correctness going mad? I remember seeing a survey on the most offensive words a while ago – a sort of top ten. About 20 years ago all the top places were sexually connected words, now they are all race related. Maybe its a reflection on societies values or taboos at certain times. What will the most offensive words be about in 20 years from now? Religion? Atheism? Science? Reality TV? Or maybe we’ll be back round to dirty sex again!

  2. Jag var på en marknadsundersökning om tuggummi häromdagen, och i listan över tänkbara smaker fanns “vit eller grön grapefrukt” och “svart eller blå grapefrukt” med. Vilket ju inte existerar. Druvor hade nog varit mer korrekt…
    Tror att det är lite samma fenomen.
    Svenskar tror att de är så gott som native speakers of English, men nä. Det är vi ju inte (som du vet!).
    Vi fattar helt enkelt inte vad saker betyder/kan betyda. Balls är helt enkelt bollar i våra sinnen.
    Hence, Negerbollar, vad kan vara fel med det? Svarta bollar bara ju…
    (Dessutom. Min egen bror hävdar på fullt allvar att det är bara är dumt att uppfatta ordet “neger” som stötande. Att ta illa vid sig av det. Jag har lite svårt att förstå ståndpunkten, men han är inte ensam….)

  3. I’m pretty sure “neger” started out as the Swedish version of “negro”, rather than the N-word. Not quite the same thing. Moreover, “boll” in Swedish has none of the testicular connotations of “ball”. So to translate “negerboll” as “niggerball” is to vastly exaggerate its offensiveness.

    That said, though, I too find the word rather less appealing than the pastries it denotes.

  4. Stu: But if a word is used ONLY to cause offence, then perhaps we should not use it. “Pussy” and “dick” do have other uses than swear-words…

    Karin: Juast send your brother to New York and tell him to wander into any cafe and ask for “Negro Balls” and see what reaction he will get. And while we are on the subject, when are Swedish people going to stop referring to a single muffin as a “muffins”..? As in: “One muffins please”.

    Tor: I see your point. However the N word also came from “negro” and “neger” is extrememly close to “nigger” and they are pronounced in almost the same way. And from my experience in Sweden they are also USED in almost the same way, which makes them very almost the same word.

  5. I have a feeling the word “neger” means different things to Swedes of different generations. I have no trouble imagining an enlightened academic using it forty years ago with no derisive intent whatsoever, thinking of himself as just translating “Negro”, as employed by, say, M. L. King. As a native speaker of English, Paddy, can you say the same of “nigger”?

    It is true that in recent decades respectful use of “neger” has been in decline, more or less abusive senses becoming dominant. Not all older people have noticed this, though; please bear that in mind when talking to them.

  6. As for “neger” and “nigger” having similar pronunciations, when seen against the background of the grammatical conventions of their respective languages, they’re actually quite different.

    In Swedish, the suffix “-er” (like “-ian” in English) is a standard instrument for forming words denoting people of various ethnicities or nationalities: “perser”, “albanier”, etc. So, from a purely grammatical perspective, “neger” would seem perfectly suitable for expressing the concept “black-skinned African”.

    By contrast, “nigger” — like “sucker”, “wanker”, or “stockbroker” — seems to signal engagement in some sort of activity; a person hearing the word for the first time might well ask, “what’s nigging?” To use that kind of word to denote an ethnically defined class of people is in itself careless in an insulting kind of way — even before you’ve started enslaving and lynching them.

    I’m not trying to argue for reintroducing “neger” into official Swedish; that word has by now been damaged beyond repair. I’m just trying to explain why a Swede might consider it noticeably less offensive than “nigger” without being an ignorant inbred twat.

    Love your blog, by the way!

  7. Tor: “Nigger” came from “negro” in the same way that the swedish “neger” did. Apparenetly the word “neger” was also used in the US during the early days. See here for lots of information I was not aware of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigger

    But the big difference is that the Swedes never had an underclass of black slaves to insult with the word “neger” in the same way as other countries did. Perhaps that explains the difference.

    If anybody Swedish reading this has any black-skinned friends (and I must admit that I don’t), it would be interesting if you could ask them and see what they feel about this question in Sweden.

    And thanks for reading Tor – tell your friends! ;-)

  8. Well, I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. For the first five years, we happily ate negerbollar, but after that, we were told we could not call them that any more because it was offensive. I had learned the word in the sense that Tor speaks of it, a dessert that was not the regular white colour desserts generally are. It was once very important in societal and cultural terms that sweets were white, because the white colour was produced with white sugar and white flour, more costly to produce than the darker versions. Hence, it was noted when things were not white. Anyhow, that’s beside the point. The way we meant it, it meant no offense, but once it had been pointed out that someone might take offence, as in “You just implied you’re eating a body part of a black person”, in the Swedish culture, there just was and is no excuse to continue doing so. So all of my friends and I immediately started calling these things Chocolate Balls. I don’t think that is taking political correctedness too far, even if the meaning of the Swedish word isn’t “nigger balls”, just as Tor rightly pointed out. Balls do not mean testicles in Swedish, and neger is not nigger. I certainly would never in my wildest dreams have called anyone a nigger in either of my native tongues. As I have been thinking about this for a while now, I have come up with one question: If we’re not supposed to call black people “neger” in Swedish, is there even another politically correct word? That’s an honest question – I’ve not lived in Sweden for close to 20 years now, and language changes. When I first arrived here in Canada, it was OK to call someone black. Now it is not. In the US, many say Afro-American, but nobody says Afro-Canadian, so I don’t even know what’s politically correct here. So what is the right word for a black Swedish person, if not “neger”? And, yes, as an archaeologist, I do know that the Norse used to call them Blue Men, but that’s a Vegas show act these days, so I can’t very well call them that, either… -T

  9. Do you know Paddy, when I was a little girl in Stockholm back in the 1950s ( born -46), I used to buy liquorice sweets in the shape of black babies. They were extremely cute, much more detailed than English jelly babies*. I loved them so much that I would always keep one in a match box (on a bed of cotton wool) for a while. It never occurd to me then to think it was wrong in any way to ‘eat black children’, they were just simply sweets made from liquorice.

    I used to make ” negerbollar” with my friends back in the 1950s. The word neger had no bad connotations for us.

    Now, while we are about it, what do you think of the fact that ‘ the Swedish turnip’ is known as a Swede here in England, and probably in Ireland as well? How do you think it feels to see signs along country roads here in Cornwall advertising ‘ Swedes 80p per kg’? :)

    * Jelly babies come in all colours and nobody has complained…yet.

  10. I was surprised at the reaction of English friends when I said “immigrant”. They winced and said “keep it down, fer chrissakes”, I wanted to say “person of foreign extraction recently settled in this country” in a neutral manner. Apparently, the I-word is now as taboo in the UK as the N-word.

  11. This is a hilarious conversation over a word….I have been for the past week emailing and asking “balcks” whether they prefer to be referred to black, African American or Negro and does the word also offend.? Most prefer black but have no issues with Negro only if is seen to be offensive to those particulalry who are of the younger generation. Frankly I find Negro to be a beautiful word rather than calling someone black…since it did come out from a radical angry Black Panther movement..Hopefully there has been some transcendence. Frankly too many egos and insecurities and personal issues lie behind this word…People need to move on..Negro is a good word. Nigger is awful awful and breeds more negativity..African American seems pretentious.
    From I understand most Africans do not even associate with American Negro’s..However I can understand the need for the American’s to have something to identify with other than being a slave. only it exists in Africa with black African’s..Look at the whole picture not just the romanticized one. .Interesting how one word can have so much power over an individual besides a society. Ok Negro gets my vote.It is beautiful sounding word. Blacks ought to not be ashamed of what they are. Besides negro is black in
    Spanish..So go figure.

  12. texglam: I don’t know if the word “neger” in Swedish refers to the mild N-word (Negro) or the other one. Personally I also think Negro is OK, but then again it’s not up to me to decide, since I will not be the one it refers to.

    And I agree – African American does seem pretentious, since how many generations back are we supposed to be looking here? Why should black families in the US, after having been there for maybe 200 years, be insulted by having it pointed out that they are still in some way “immigrants”?

  13. I still get sometimes confused about the N-word, because I am from Portugal and we don’t have that word there. In Portugal, ‘Negro’ is the acceptable word. Calling someone ‘black’ (preto) is frowned upon. It is only used when white people tell jokes about African immigrants from our former colonies behind their back.

    Here in the Netherlands, however, they have something that to me seems more offensive than ‘Negerbolls”. Every year, our Sinterklaas comes to town surrounded by his ‘little helpers’, the Piets. Thing is, the Piets are always, always, white people with curly wigs and black face paint. And it baffles me that this is acceptable, when the symbolism strongly suggests that the Piets are Santa’s slaves. And especially if you consider the dutch history of slavery.

  14. Alina: Now that’s a little bit unsettling. And of course it makes perfect sense that Santa would have slaves – I never believed all this “helpful little elves” stuff.

  15. Neger is negro in swedish. I asked my father, (a swedish man of 56 years who has casually enjoyed eating negerbollar and referring to as negerbollar).
    It does mean negro, and all the swedes here in Malmö, think the same, including arabs and blacks that i asked in my school.
    Also, Sweden is more accepting to foreigners then compared to other Scadninavian countries. The government use our tax money (which is alot!) to help give to new foreigners arriving here help with overly higher then normal amounts of money.
    Check up on the country more modernly before making an article.
    And the picture, they cost 5 now at local stores…

  16. Christopher: I did ask a few people before writing this, but nobody could agree on the actual meaning of the word. I understand now that it probaly means “negro” which is basically like saying “black person” – but it is still shocking for an English-speaker to hear it.

  17. Interestingly enough, many people here in America have petitioned that the word not be used; illegalized even. These people happen to be black- and feel that the word blows “fuck” off the Rictor scale of vulgarity. It’s just to red-neck to be allowed.

  18. The first and most important point to make is that people have the right to self-define. For too long labels have been put upon us, while (sometimes well-meaning) white people discuss what they think we should be called and what they think we may be allowed to feel offended at. It is for the people affected by a certain word to decide whether or not they find it offensive and others ought to listen and respect.

    Secondly, in response to texglam, the words Negro and Black are not the same. In the English language Black is an adjective and Negro is a noun. E.g. ‘He is a Negro.’ But no, he is not ‘a Negro’ he is a man – and his colour is Black. The equivalent adjective would be negroid – a pretty word? I don’t think so. Would Europeans like to be universally referred to as Caucasoid? I think not. The term Negro was used by race theorists whose opinions have long fallen out of favour. They sought to categorise the human race into only five classifications, including Negro, Caucasian and Mongol. However, it is now widely recognised that human diversity is a lot more complex, so to refer to someone by any of the above terms is simply inaccurate and wrong.

    Finally, it is interesting that it is only people of African descent who seem to have lost the right to be known by their geographic region of origin. South East Asians are not called the Yellows; Arabs are called Arab, Europeans are European, and Hispanics are Hispanic. Black often turns into a blanket term for very diverse people. Personally I define myself as Jamaican, without colour specificity. However, I accept that in some circumstances it may be relevant to refer to someone’s colour. In which case Black will do. And I am certainly not ashamed of ‘what’ I am.

  19. Well, personally, as an african American, I take no offense to negro, unless it is used in a malicious way. Although, I totally oppose the words, nigger and faggot. But the f- word is not involved here so…. Anyway what shilan said is right. My Paternal greatgrand mother and my maternal grandmother were both living in the West indies after africa. I actually don’t think any of my ancestors were slaves in the US or the CS (Confederate States that broke away from the US but then after the American Civil War, came back.) anyway, in that case thereaforementioned context, i dont take offense from negerbollar (some are covered in white anyway) but i do take offense in niggerball. I think i made a kind of neggerbollar in Cooking Mama: Cook Off!….

    • No one is not. Balls in Swedish refer to spheric shapes only, not to any part of the male reproductive organs. Just incorrect translation. I learned that the name originated from the use of Dutch processed cocoa which is dark almost black (black = negro in Portuguese). Having said that I grew up with the old name but now call them chocolate balls. Why not?

  20. who gives. så dom kallar en bulle för negerbulle?. det stör mig inte det minsta . hur ska det störa mig? att sverige är ett smaklöst bögland stör mig. att det inte finns någon tv till oss ingen mat till oss..bara tv inriktat till vita och homosexuella. INGEN fritetad kyckling någonstans. du kan bara köpa alkohol på dagen (vem fan dricker mitt på dan?), ingen musik nånstans såvida du inte har mp3. allt är så smaklöst grått och tråkigt. man blir som en zombie av att bo här för länge. vit , svart, brun whatever . är en en person som tycker om god mat, bra musik, och underhållande saker är sverige verkligen inget land för dig. men om du är bög, hatar kryddad mat, musik och allt annat som för ens själ att må bra men äslkar fega fittiga människor. du kommer du att älska sverige. fuck sverige och allt sverige står för. ni äcklar mig mer ert bullshit. folk med dåligt självförtroende som snackar skit om folk bakom ryggen.

  21. and all you white insecure rat soup eatin mufuckas thatd dont know what to call a another man because your afraid he is gonna get offended. kill yourself

    i dont give a fuck what you call me. i am what i am and cant nobody change that. why would i care what some punk muthafucka calls me, that dont make no kinda sense. nad i wish you punks all the best so that maybe one day you cann see the light and start making some sense.

  22. KILLA: Maybe, since you don’t care what I call you, I will call you this: you sad, bitter little homophobe. If you hate Sweden that much then just piss off and live somewhere else; I can see from your IP that you live here. Maybe somewhere they don’t have gays, since you feel yourself so threatened by gays. Like – oh, I don’t know, the moon? Good luck.

  23. I would like to see these people, who claim that the word nigger is offensive all over just because it’s infected in former colonial areas, try to adapt to all other taboos in varies cultures and religions that isn’t as Americanized in their political correctness. These taboos are just as provoking, and you wouldn’t be able to speak or move without offending someone greatly if you acted equally. It’s kind of sad to see someone who sees their own culture, and expect everyone else to reform. Sweden haven’t had the slavery issue on home turf for over 600yers, and the slaves back then were mainly white. Before the US/UK PC-movement invaded, and said that a word used in a derogatory manner in other country’s has to mean the same all over, the word was clinical/neutral in its meaning(in Sweden). I agree that it’s sad to see those who just like to provoke in malice, but it goes both ways.
    You adapt to the situation you’re in and/or the people you are with, as long as it’s done with good intent.

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