Swedish terms for genitalia "neutral"?
September 13, 2009 1:50 AM   Subscribe

Which are the words that refer to the genital organs in Swedish? I've been told that Swedish has a "neutral" sexual/anatomic terminology that is neither vulgar, nor childish, nor medical/technical. "They call it like we call a nose a nose, and a leg a leg".

What are these terms, how do they sound, what do they connotate, how do they feel to the ear, to which sociolect do they belong? In which way and degree are they "neutral", and are they at all?
I am not thinking about word like "penis" and the like, as they belong to the technical/medical kind. I am not interested in Swedish sexual slang either, or in any personal habit of denominating these body parts. I just wonder if it's true that there is an established "unbiased" terminology from a linguistic point of view the Swedes can happily make use of. (Similar question was asked here for English, but no appropriate answer found.)
No competent Swedish speaker at hand, so can you help? And: any online resources on the subject?
posted by megob to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There's a whole lot of words with different flavors of course. The best fit for you is probably "könsorgan"; that's what you'd most likely see in a newspaper. "Underliv" can be used similarly, but although it should be sex-neutral you only ever see it in reference to female genitalia.
posted by springload at 2:11 AM on September 13, 2009

In english the word "genitals" is not vulgar, childish or medical/technical. Which is what könsorgan means.
posted by rokusan at 2:13 AM on September 13, 2009

Response by poster: thanks so far.
I will have to specify: I was looking for the actual word for the actual part, not a generic term. So the whole bunch like vagina, penis, scrotum, anus will be appreciated, as well as breast, buttocks etc.
posted by megob at 2:18 AM on September 13, 2009

The thing is, though: in English, if "penis" is medical-technical, then "leg" is equally medical-technical. It's just that "leg" is also used commonly while people have hang-ups about talking about penises and so have created multiple terms for the same part of the body to circumvent those hang-ups. Same with the other sexual parts of the anatomy.

The thing is that words don't have any sort of a priori "kind" in the sense that you're describing. There's nothing about "leg" or "penis" or "breasts" or "table" that make them in any way common or vulgar or sexual or neuter or whatever. Any of that additional baggage is the cultural norms surrounding the words. If the Swedes use one neutral term for a given piece of genitalia, it's not the word that matters; it's that the Swedes are comfortable using one word in multiple contexts.
posted by The Michael The at 4:57 AM on September 13, 2009

True and not true, there is a huge span of words for things. I would say that most kids fr example know the "proper" words for all their parts, but use more kid-style words.

For the (mainly) outer workings, "underliv" is as spingload says mainly used for women, and "könsorgan" while working for both, gives a slightly more male-tone when I hear it.

Despite popular belief even among the swedes themselves, there's a little less laidbackness about these things now, I have run into swedish parents using the equivalent of "front-bottom" with little girls, unironically.

I am not sure if underlivet</em is the answer to your question, but if you have any more follow-up info or examples of what you are looking for let us know.
posted by Iteki at 5:31 AM on September 13, 2009

Best answer: Sorry, just now read your addition. Let's kick off so!

Bröst - breast(s)
Tuttar - boobs
Pattar - tits
There are of course more, but these would be for me the equivelants to the "three degrees" of boobicity in english.

Framstjärt - front bottom
Snippa - hoohoo or whatever you would say in us english (fanny in uk english perhaps)
Mus - Pussy
Fitta, mutta, cutta - cunt (in rising order of harshness imho)
Slida - vagina
Underlivet - vulva +
There isn't too much slang for clit and labia, klitoris/klitta and blygdläpparna.
Or rather, there isn't too much that I know of in common use, but then I am a prude!

Will give one of the lads a chance to do the boy bits, but this should get you started?
posted by Iteki at 5:45 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: rokusan: English "genitals" are for sure less medical than Swedish "genitalier", but though "genitals" is common, it's also the preferred medical term and has its roots there. "Könsorgan" is obsolete in medical contexts, so I'd argue that it's even further from the "medical/technical" category.

The words that fit your criteria are mostly sub-parts of body parts:

"Slida" means vagina (not female genitals as a whole). The head of the penis is called "ollon", same as the fruit of the oak tree. Scrotum is "pung", labia are "blygdläppar" which come as "innre" and "yttre" (inner and outer), buttock is "skinka" (same word as ham), breast is "bröst", nipple is "bröstvårta", areola is "vårtgård" and mons pubis is "venusberg".

There are many gaps though where medical or vulgar words have to fill in, and Swedish might be worse off than English in that the medical terms don't blend in with common language all that well. As an example of the poor vocabulary, the quest of getting young girls' genitalia a name has been going on for a good twenty years. A newspaper contest some years ago yielded "snippa", as a feminized version of the male "snopp". It seems to be catching on, but both "snopp" and "snippa" are distinctly childish.
posted by springload at 5:46 AM on September 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Iteki, springload - thanks for sharing your competence, this is the kind information I am looking for.
Now, may I inquire a bit further? I noticed the possible advantages of the "Swedish discourse" by a comment in russian livejournal here. It says:
"... Now, what concerns scandinavian literature, with which I deal professionally, it has a tradition of valorizing and positively appreciating this sphere, which is here (in Russia) considered vulgar. For a translator, this means a problem: How are you supposed to call "the hidden parts" in Russian, in a way that does not remind you of stinky archways in hidden courtyards, or of the hospital? - Now, there is no way, all we have is either vulgar words, or medical terms. In Swedish, for example, there are normal words for this. Neutral ones, like nose or cheek. Why it is like this, I do not know..."

Do you think the author (a translator from Swedish, I suppose) is right? Is "slida" or "snippa" something in the same linguistic register as "nose", "cheek", "leg"? Or, to put in in an other way: Imagine a woman saying to an man: "Put your arm around my shoulder..." - sounds ok, more or less neutral, with a warm flavour in it maybe. Now: "Put your penis into my vagina" - either overtly technical or quite funny. Or: "Put your dick into my cunt" - OK, vulgar, can be appropriate, but depends.
Would "Put your ollon into my slida" - be any close to "put your arm around my shoulders"? Any close at least than the other examples were? Does Swedish really offer the advantage this poster was speaking about, or is there too much romanticizing of "swedish liberality" in her statement, which maybe got reflected on her picture of swedish linguistic behaviour?
"Slida", besides, seems a great expression to my. Reminds me of "slider"... is this where is comes from?
posted by megob at 6:17 AM on September 13, 2009

"Slida" is the same word as the sheath of a knife, to much hilarity in the school crafts lessons. It's ancient. You could use the word "sköte" as a soft/romantic name for the female parts, but it's more a literary word than something you'd say. There is no equivalent man-word. Lots of vulgar synonyms are available for both though.

"Put your penis into my vagina" ~ "Stick in din penis i min slida". No way, it's worse in Swedish than in English. The lack of a nondescriptive "put" doesn't make it any better. You have to use a construction like "stick in" or, even worse, "för in".

"Put your dick into my cunt" ~ "Stick in kuken i min fitta". Yeah, it's vulgar but works. Probably the most appropriate phrase in that context.

"Put your ollon into my slida" - this has never been spoken out loud by anyone, for good reason.

In conclusion, no, I disagree with the russian blogger. Swedish isn't better than English in this regard.
posted by springload at 6:43 AM on September 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: springload:
"Slida" is the same word as the sheath of a knife, to much hilarity in the school crafts lessons. It's ancient.
seems to be the equivalent of German "Scheide" then. And "ollon" should be the german "Eichel". (russian equivalents don't work the same way)

"Put your ollon into my slida" - this has never been spoken out loud by anyone, for good reason. ; ) well...

I disagree with the russian blogger. Swedish isn't better than English in this regard.
that is a pity.

I don't need these expressions for a specific situation in fact (no swedish lover around), the question is a more general one, arising in written more than in spoken use of language. Within the situation, you can mostly communicate the non-verbal way. Writing about the subject, you have to replace gestures with descriptions. I just hoped that Swedish was more advanced in making this possible than the two other languages in question (RU and GER). I will have to continue my quest then...
Thanks once more for taking your time and sharing your vocabulary!
posted by megob at 6:57 AM on September 13, 2009

I think you are working with a fallacy. From the answers given above, it sounds like the Swedes have the same problem that the English speakers do: words for sexual organs are either clinical or somewhat slangy/vulgar.

That's because they are.....*sex organs,* not legs, arms or shoulders, and they are not allowed out in 'polite' society. They are covered up by fig leaves and swimsuits.

The only way to skew them to the middle/neutral area of language is through the skill of the writer and that context that they are used in.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:05 AM on September 13, 2009

I agree with those saying there are no gender neutral words for genitalia in Swedish beyond könsorgan (literally gender organs). In fact, English seems more expressive in this regard because the word "privates" actually does fit the bill by being gender neutral, non-vulgar, and not strictly childish.

To address the idea that Swedish is exceptional in expressing such ideas, I think what you've read may relate to the Swedish view of vulgarity. The difference is more in attitude than vocabulary. Words like stjärt (used for ass or vagina, but framstjärt is specifically for lady bits), "skit" (shit) and "fan" (an exclamation like damn or fuck) are not inherently vulgar words. The words lack any shock value and may be acceptable in polite discussion. The opposite of what SLC Mom suggests seems to be true - in general Swedes do not view sexuality or body parts as inherently vulgar. It takes a bit of effort to be vulgar (fitta, kuk, and rövhål [asshole] all sound vulgar and are unaccepted in polite society).
posted by McGuillicuddy at 11:10 AM on September 13, 2009

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