Norwegian expression of the day: Å snakke rett fra leveren

Norwegian expression of the day: Å snakke rett fra leveren
This expression leads you to the core of an important Norwegian cultural ambivalence.

What does it mean?

In its most literal sense å snakke rett fra leveren means 'to speak directly from the liver’.

It's an expression to say that someone is speaking truthfully, without sugar-coating. Another way Norwegians say this is å si noe rett ut, 'to say something plainly'.

According to the Norwegian language guardian Språkrådetå snakke rett fra leveren is an old expression, dating back to a time when the liver was thought to be the magical place in the body where thoughts and feelings (like courage) originated. 

Fun-fact: the famous Norwegian Henrik Ibsen used the expression in his 1874 book De unges forbund – The Young People’s League. 

Why is å snakke rett fra leveren so Norwegian?

Well it isn't, really. When Norwegians say they are going to snakke rett fra leveren, they're branding this like the ultimate act of frankness. You say it with pride: Nå skal jeg snakke rett fra leveren! – I’m going to say it as it is!

In 1966, the Norwegian state channel NRK even made a TV series called Rett fra leveren (still available online), which they branded as an attempt to “giving a voice to the so-called 'grassroots'.”

Over the course of 12 episodes, 12 different people get to “say what they really mean about a topic of their own choosing.” 

But anyone who has lived in Norway for a while knows that this kind of frankness is a rarity. Norwegians actually very rarely say things 'as they are', especially if the 'thing' is unpleasant to say.

When confronted with a situation where something uncomfortable needs to be said to another person – like for instance that they have smudged some havregrøt (oatmeal) on their face during breakfast, or that they have been doing a less-than-average job on something work-related – Norwegians find it hard.

Usually, the Norwegian will choose to not snakke rett fra leveren, politely avoid the topic and stare at their phone instead.

READ ALSO: Do Swedes really need help being friendly?

So there is definitely a Norwegian ambivalence related to å snakke rett fra leveren. This is well illustrated in this Q&A exchange from 2005:

Borghild: Jeg er kjent for a som det så fint heter. Liker du folk som snakker rett fra levra eller syns du vi er litt for ærlige? 

– I'm known to do what is called saying it like it is. Do you like people who say it like it is, or do you reckon we're being a bit too honest? 

Several people responded to Borghild, but the perhaps most apt answer was this:

Jeg er for å si det en mener, men av og til lønner det seg til å tie stille også. Klarer man det er alt bra, men må en alltid si sin mening, da har en et stort problem.

– I support saying it like it is, but sometimes it's better to be quiet. If there's a balance, that's good. But if you always need to say what you really think, there's something very wrong with you.


Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.