Danes, indeed, do say ‘neger’

The use of the word ‘neger’ is not just reserved amongst the lower classes, uneducated and old. Personally, I have heard it from university educated people, young people, people I thought were friends and colleagues. Every time I call them on it, they are universally shocked that anyone has anything to say on the matter.

Friends of mine report that a similar cross-section of Danish society use the word.

Here are some internet comments from people I don’t know, talking about the frequency of hearing ‘neger’ in Denmark

growing up
Never happened in the old days
White student shocked at the frequency of its use
White student shocked

Here is an article in English about it:-

Winnon Brunson Jr: Racist insult provoked me

Here is an article in Danish about it:-

Mary Consolata Namagambe: The quiet racism in Denmark

This educated, young guy in Venstre publicly announced he would use ‘neger’ in place of ‘sort’ as a protest against Haribo removing crude racial stereotypes from bags of sweets.

Here is a Dane saying he, and everyone he knows, uses the word ‘neger’. He is either a student or a graduate of a university. Someone likes this.

Everyone I know says 'neger'
Everyone I know says ‘neger’

As for the prevalence of Danes saying ‘neger’ is closer to ‘negro’, so it is actually a neutral word. This is what I could find on the internet. There are also articles online which mirror the reasoning given in comments. There are several posts about how Martin Luther King called himself a negro, so therefore, a corruption of the word ‘negro’ is acceptable in modern day Denmark. Several articles note that since ‘neger’ is derived from the Spanish word ‘negro’, and not from the English word ‘nigger’, then the word is neutral.

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Here is a screenshot from an article from videnskab.dk where a linguist or ‘negerekspert’ as they call him, says it is not politically incorrect to use the word ‘neger’ in Denmark.

Word is acceptable here in Denmark
Word is acceptable here in Denmark


16 thoughts on “Danes, indeed, do say ‘neger’

  1. I commented on your post yesterday as well, but I wanted to add to that. I actually spoke with my (Danish) boyfriend about this and he was kinda saying the same thing as the professor in your last article – while it might not be perfect, there’s simply no better word, e.g. saying “sort” has a much worse connotation to it. (In his defense, he wasn’t defending the use of the word “neger”!) I find it so strange that there doesn’t seem to be a “politically correct” word at all! The fact that “black” has such a bad ring to it is an entirely different discussion… Now I’m wondering, what would be an appropriate word?


    1. I guess you just find out the family background of the person you are talking about? Or just refer to the person by name… or if it’s a description thing actually be descriptive?
      It’s not often we need to worry about what to call white people because they are so rarely called white people at all.


      1. I didn’t mean to suggest that you always need to or should refer to people by their skin color, and of course if you know their name or where they’re from, you should use that (and not “neger xxx”, obviously!). I was just wondering if you had come across any other suggestions, since you seem to have done some research on the subject. It seems like the debate in DK is pretty much limited to people saying “it’s not bad so we can use it!”


      2. Oh I know… :) but I think that’s the way forward until the black people of Denmark say which word they want to be used, I guess.


  2. Thank you so much for posting all of these articles. I think it really helps to flesh out the issue at hand. And it’s imperative to hear what people of color in Denmark think about the issue and about the words used to define and describe them. I was astounded by some of the comments on UniversityPost.com article by Winnon Brunson Jr., though I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by comments left on the internet. One of the commenters tried to defend the use of the term by saying this:

    “To me personally, the neger/sort linguistical question is an unsolved issue. I do understand the connotations with slave trade and the historical oppresion of Africans in America and elsewhere, and the whole European racism emerging in the 19th century, but I think I can assure you that common Danes do NOT put all these connotations in the word. To many, many Danes it is simply the word they have always used to describe a person with black skin color.”

    But that is exactly the problem. It is the word they have always used, and no one is saying, hmm, maybe we shouldn’t use this word that offends people and has all this historical baggage. They just continue using it.


    1. Right?! “We never thought of it like that. Therefore: we will continue doing it!”
      I think a lot of the time this argument boils down to
      “My intent was not to offend,” but instead of converting that into “so I will stop doing it from now on”, it converts to “so I will continue doing it FOREVER”.
      Egos, man. Egos.


      1. I haven’t been here that long, so I’m still getting used to the attitude that you’re silly if you’re easily offended, that free speech means not taking others’ feelings into consideration at all. It’s new for me coming from the US and the land of PC. I get how it could be better sometimes to just say what you mean (i.e. don’t say “yes” when you have no intention of following through), but I *like* when people are polite and considerate.


  3. I’d say this is a question to be solved by Danish native speakers, I can’t think of much good that comes out of non-natives telling natives how to speak.

    If you’re neither black nor a native speaker of Danish I’m not clear what dog you have in the fight.

    Unless or until there are enough black native speakers of Danish who are bothered by neger and think of a better term it’s probably not a fight worth waging.


    1. Like I said, I’ve been called this word as a verbal assault.
      So, even though I’m not black, I’m still a ‘neger’ in some eyes.

      There are, in fact, ‘enough’ black native speakers who are bothered by the term ‘neger’.
      Furthermore, many native speakers of Danish, of all colours, have decided the word has too much baggage.

      This isn’t cultural imperialism, as we noted upthread, hearing “polaker” was a shock to the system until we realised it wasn’t bothering anyone and was *the* word for Poles here…


      1. “There are, in fact, ‘enough’ black native speakers who are bothered by the term ‘neger’.”
        I’d be very interested in knowing what they propose instead. Other people’s proposals – not so much.

        There are similar problems with murzyn in Polish (derived from ‘moor’) though Poland had nothing to do with the slave trade (or systematic repression of black people). It has (some) bad connotations but there is no good alternative. The Polish word ‘black’ (czarny) is way worse (and reminiscent of a really vicious insult far worse than murzyn) czarnoskórny (black-skinned) is weird and awkward in extended use and one proposed alternative ‘Afropolak’ just sounds ridiculous.


    2. I’m bothered enough.. but not bothered enough to go through conversations of “Oh.. it’s because you’re too dumb to understand that ‘neger’ in Danish doesn’t have a negative connotation… that’s just our word for you.. actually it’s just a WORD.. lighten UP!” , then have idiotic folks seeking to ‘enlighten’ me about why they’re ‘not wrong’, and I’m ‘not right’ to be pretty pissed off! (Token person-of-African-descent in this convo :D )


      1. You know what..? I’d much prefer to be referred to by my region/country of origin, than my physical features. So… you find out where I come from, then refer to me as the West-Indian girl, or the Caribbean girl, or the Island girl. Mainly because where -I- come from, people are SO mixed, that you can have 3 (or more kids) coming from the SAME two parents, and looking VERY; VERY different. It’s common for the offspring of ethnically-mixed couples (“African”+”East Indian”, or “East Indian” + “Chinese”, or “African mixed with Portuguese and Irish and East Indian” + “Chinese”) to have kids that fall anywhere along the spectrum/continuum of shades and features.. and why would you describe me and ‘neger’, but my light-skinned brother as ‘mulatto’, when we came from the same parents? etc..


  4. “it’s lovely that you’re so invested in what goes on in my adopted country”

    What can I say? I’ve got broad horizons. I’m interested in what goes on in any number of european countries. And of coure it’s always interesting to see how many local issues have parallels in different places and how similar issues play out in different cultural and linguistic environments.


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