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Norwegian word of the day: Bjørnetjeneste

If someone tells you to reconsider doing something because it is a bjørnetjeneste, take a second to look at the bigger picture. 

Norwegian word of the day: Bjørnetjeneste
Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know this?

A tjeneste or, “service” is typically seen as a helpful act. But a bjørnetjeneste is a service that can do more bad than good. 

What does it mean?

Bjørnetjeneste is a compound word. Bjørne or, “bear” plus tjeneste or, “service”. A bear service. In English you would use the word disservice. 

A bear service, or disservice, is really a non-service that produces a negative result. 

A bjørnetjeneste is a Norwegian word that stems from an old French fable about a bear who wanted to chase a fly away from its master’s nose. Only to end up cruising his head while attempting to do so.

A bjørnetjeneste can be used for both small and large negative outcomes. For example, if you tie your child’s shoes everyday instead of letting them do it themselves, then you are committing a bjørnetjeneste because they will never learn how to tie their shoes. 

Or let’s say you’re the manager in a shop and it is necessary that your employees show up on time for their shifts. You would be doing a bjørnetjeneste if never reprimanded them when they constantly showed up late. 

Use it like this

Du gjør ham en bjørnetjeneste ved å ikke si det. – You’re doing him a disservice by not telling him.

Du bør ikke le med ham når han er slem. Å støtte ham ville være en bjørnetjeneste. – You shouldn’t laugh with him when he is mean. Supporting him would be a disservice. 

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For members


Norwegian expression of the day: Katta i sekken 

If you've bought something online that's completely different to what was advertised, this Norwegian saying should help sum things up. 

Norwegian expression of the day: Katta i sekken 

What does it mean?  

Katta i sekken means “cat in the bag”, unlike the English expression where having something in the bag is great, you don’t want to find a cat in your sack, metaphorically speaking. 

The expression describes a scenario or situation where you’ve bought something that is different to advertised, underwhelming, or if you’ve been ripped off and paid way more than the item is worth. 

It’s used as a verb, for example, Å kjøpe katta i sekken, (To buy a cat in the bag). Also, note that it’s typically the slang katta that’s used rather katt, or katten. 

The term dates back to the middle ages, and a possible origin of the phrase is the story of Till Eulenspiegel, where a cat is sewn into a rabbit skin and sold as a hare. 

Several languages use the term or have their own version of the expression. However, some languages will refer to a pig in the sack, like Swedish, while others use cats as metaphors for the unwanted item. In English, the closest expression is “A pig in a poke.” 

What about ‘letting the cat out of the bag’? 

This term can get confusing in its similarity to “letting the cat out of the bag, ” which means revealing a secret. In Norwegian this is: katta er ute av sekken. 

You may hear someone say something like Fikk du med deg det Vilde sa? Jeg antar katta er ute av sekken. This means: Did you hear what Vilde said? I guess the cat’s out of the bag.

Therefore, if you hear someone talking about cats in bags, it’s best to pay close attention to ensure you’ve listened to the expression correctly. 

Use it like this: 

Jeg kjøpte en telefon på Siden det ikke fungerer, kjøpte jeg katta i sekken.

(I bought a phone on Since it doesn’t work, I bought a cat in the bag).