If you know Swedish, the world is funnier


As I was driving through Seattle the other day, I saw a sign for a personal storage company called "Stor-More".

I then had to laugh because in Swedish, "Stor-Mor" means "Big Momma".

It's not restricted to Swedish. On my trip to Germany last year, my travelling companions found several German signs amusing:

  • "Ausfahrt" ("highway exit")
  • "Schmuck" ("jewelry")
  • "Bad Kissing" (a town's name; more accurately, "Bad Kissingen", but never let the truth get in the way of a good joke. "Bad" in German means "bath" or "spa")

When he told some German colleagues about this hilarious town name, they just looked at him as if to say, "What about Bad Kissingen? It's a nice town. What's so funny about it?" Only when he suggested that they look at it in English did they see the joke.

For some reason I love multilingual jokes.

Comments (31)
  1. Jeroen says:

    In dutch, "del" (pronounced as "Dell") means something like slut. So always when someone has a new PC from Dell people ask things like: "How do you like your new Dell? *snicker*"

  2. Phil Jollans says:

    I once saw a van in Munich with large text on the side announcing "Bad Design".

    In this case it meant Bathroom Design.

  3. Raymond Chen says:

    What goes around comes around: My friend who was so amused by "Ausfahrt" in Germany was also puzzled by all the stores in Denmark that appeared to be having a "slut sale". Until he figured out that "slut" means "closing".

    I myself always get nervous when I have to use the past tense of the Swedish "få", which happens to be the F-word in German. And in Taiwanese, the word for "Thank you" sounds like the English S-word.

  4. DotFrandsen says:

    In Denmark God has his own lifts. You’ll often see signs saying "Godselevator" [1]. And when you call God’s elevator, the little service lamp says "I fart" [2].

    [1] "Gods" means goods or cargo.

    [2] "I fart" means in service (lit: in motion)

  5. Hehe, there are more words in Swedish that sounds like English cursing. The Swedish word for edge and for compartment are popular choices.

    Another funny thing is that "Hello" in Mandarin sound close to "I have lice" in Thai.

  6. That should be sounds (with an s). And "(I) have lice".

    Of late I’ve found myself in the strange habit of losing the last letter in some words…

  7. Sherrod says:

    In England, my brain would always see a missing "i" in the "To let" signs.

    When I lived in Japan, I enjoyed seeing "Flesh Meat" written on a delivery truck (I suppose the sign was literally true).

    Then there’s "suwaru" and "sawaru," or sit and touch in Japanese. I knew an Australian lady who got these mixed up on the train, and instead of asking "May [I] sit here?", ended up asking a young man "May [I] touch [you] here?" At the time she didn’t know why all the teenagers in the car burst out laughing.

    Off topic: I love Windows XP’s multilingual features. But oddly, I can only get ClearType to work for western text, and not for Japanese characters.

  8. a small village near my home in austria is named "Fucking".

    The bigest problem of them is that the Sign with the name on it is often stolen

  9. MilesArcher says:

    I knew a guy in Germany by the name of Peter Schmuck. His name suited him, if you know from yiddish.

    Spanish speakers often get a kick out of some of the town names in California. Eg:

    Los Banos (the bathroom. It has a ~ over the a)

    El Sobrante (the leftovers)

    Vacaville (cowtown)

  10. Marc Scheuner says:

    Well, there’s more:

    1) A Swiss village called "Bitsch"

    2) A street in my town called "Friedeggstrasse"

    (fried egg street :-)

    3) A place a few minutes away called "Moosegg"

    (no, moose don’t do eggs ;-)

    4) A section of Berne is called "Wankdorf"

    On the other hand, some of the English is funny/strange for us, too:

    5) "Gift" isn’t something you want to have in German – it’s poison

    6) Johnny Depp has a rather unfortunate last name – in German, it means "idiot" or "moron" ;-)

    The list could be potentially be endless….

    ;-)

  11. Greg says:

    My favorite is the Chevy Nova story – they couldn’t figure out why it just didn’t sell in some parts of the world…

    Turns out that No va means "doesn’t go" in a bunch of romance (latin based) languages.

  12. Tim Marman says:

    Anyone else think it’s particularly humorous that "schmuck" means "jewelry"?? :)

  13. Eric Lippert says:

    "Schmuck" means "ornament" in German and "penis" in Yiddish.

    I don’t normally think of male genitalia as "ornamental", but apparently early Yiddish speakers did. (A perhaps more sensible etymology for the Yiddish sense would be from the Polish word for "snake".)

  14. Ill Chaocid says:

    ahahaha, so funny :>

  15. Florian says:

    Since we’re on the subject of German and Swedish: When I visited Sweden I was rather puzzled by the fact that people seemed to drink "Öl". Until I found out that means beer. In German it means oil.

  16. keithmo says:

    There is a (German, I think) brand of household light bulb sold in Poland called Osram.

    "Srac" (with an accent above the ‘c’ that appears to get stripped on this blog) is the infinitive form of the Polish verb "to shit". "Osram" is future tense, perfective, first person singular: "I will shit on you completely."

    Just the thing you want to see in the lamp over your dinner table…

    There is also a brand of bicycle components called "SRAM", which translates into Polish as "I shit now".

  17. Gernot says:

    While traveling in France back in 1987 my favorite example of this was when McDonald’s was starting to advertise Happy Meals in Europe. All of the signage in the McDonald’s in France were advertising the price of one Happy Meal and what you received with the product. All of the marketing material had the following heading of “UN-HAPPY MEAL” So of course I had to get a picture looking very unhappy under the sign with my un-happy meal.

  18. Mat Hall says:

    Another "amusing" car name was the Pinto, which in Brazil takes on a whole new meaning… (And of course, who can forget the various possible translations of "Coca Cola" in Chinese?)

  19. Oliver Anhuth says:

    My wife works for a danish company where the email addresses are are assigned by the computing center in danmark. The custom was to use the first two letters of the first name followed by the first two letters of the last name. One of her colleagues had the first name "Doris" and a last name starting with "fi", so they gave her "dofi" with sounds like "silly" in German.

    She complained and got another email address.

  20. Moi says:

    This one goes back to the use of English in German advertising. I once saw a sign advertising warehouse space – "Lager 4 Rent" ("das Lager" is German for warehouse). Since lager is English for a type of beer I thought the pubs had finally given up all pretence of them not recycling the urine from their toilets.

  21. Andreas Häber says:

    Florian: the bier/öl(øl) goes the other way too. I wonder how many German bartenders have wondered if their Norwegian customer is way to drunk when (s)he orders øl (pronounced like öl) on visit in Germany :)

    Another funny German/Norwegian word is the German word "superknüller". This translates to "super offer" in English. In Norwegian this becomes a superf*cker :)

  22. eric says:

    I was in south america for a while when a really popular song broke out – played to death in the microbuses and blasted from neighborhood shops and bars – it had a female vocalist singing the words "se fue" ("he left") through what must have been 80% of the song. It was an odd type of dissonance for an English speaker like me since until the other words of the song came on it sounded just like some sort of never-ending advertisement for "Safeway" supermarkets!

  23. Corey Haines says:

    I like the SAR system at work, as szar (pronounced the same) means shit in hungarian. I used to chuckle to myself quite a bit in meetings when people would mention this, as though it was some great system.

  24. Raymond Chen says:

    The English word "wheat" sounds like the Swedish word for "crap", so if you ask for something "wheat-free", you may get strange looks.

    Oh, who am I kidding. Nobody will look at you funny at all, because everybody in Sweden already speaks English. It’s embarrassing.

  25. I live in Denmark in a town named Middelfart.

    God also has his own trains in Denmark ( http://hjem.get2net.dk/Ole.Madsen/Dsc11678.jpg )

  26. MilesArcher says:

    Hey, I think i’ve been to Middlefart. It’s near Odense? My 5 year old daughter got a good laugh from it.

  27. Andreas Häber says:

    haha I haven’t thought about Middelfart yet :)

    In Norway there is a big company named Midelfart (see http://www.midelfart.no) selling health and cosmetic-products. The owners are the Midelfart-family.

  28. Middelfart is a 30 min. drive from Odense, so I guess you could say it’s close.

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