Researcher: Why Danes love irony and sarcasm

Danish humour is loaded with irony and sarcasm, at least according to Danes themselves. Mette Møller, a phD student and humour researcher at the University of Copenhagen looked into why. The answer seems quite British, really, because it's about trying to avoid awkward and embarrassing situations.

Møller contends that Danish irony often appears in the form of ambiguous or contradictory observations and indirect jokes, such as when they say 'well done' when someone performs poorly at something.

According to Møller, Danes don't directly say that someone has performed poorly, because using irony actually underlines their actual opinions, while making it difficult for the person the comment is aimed at to answer back. Awkward moments are thus diffused as the person is ridiculed without being able to defend themselves. The same goes, sort of, for making fun of themselves.

”When the irony is aimed at ourselves, it is often done so to signal that we are not perfect or take ourselves too seriously,” Møller told Vidensskab.dk.

”If a teacher, for example, is unable to complete what the students are expected to do, then the teacher could say 'Yes, you see, I'm brilliant at doing this'.” Potentially awkward moment avoided. It's also a figment of 'jantelov', a way of signalling that 'I am not better than you'.

An example of this was when the prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said in a 2012 speech that ”Venstre [opposition party] talks a lot about taxes – and no, it's not my tax issues that they are talking about.” Thorning-Schmidt was having a dig at her own tax issues involving her husband Stephen Kinnock.

READ MORE: Corporate comedy: facilitating workplace integration through humour

Dansk Sort Hugorm
Møller argues that Danish humour resembles British and Latin American humour, in the way they like to tease each other, drag one another down and challenge political correctness, which can be a risky affair, as the Mohammed cartoons revealed in 2005.

The Danish sense of humour is also different from their Scandinavian brethren, Møller said, with Swedish humour often being more politically correct.

Research concerning advertisement opinions from 2013 showed that Danes were more relaxed when it came to the use of rough-edged and dead-pan jokes in adverts, while the Swedes were more serious and were more fond of a more sophisticated form of humour.

So, to sum up: We did a good job back in the day to keep Skåne (and Zlatan) in Danish hands. But hey, the Swedes were brilliant in Euro 92. Hosting the tournament.

Stefan, Valter and Nils… ta det lugnt!