A brief history of a non-word

"Tja" is a Swedish casual greeting, one that I use more than any other. It could culturally be approximated to "'sup?" in American English.

I thought there wasn't much else to it but got curious one day and looked into it and found that this - what I believed - nonsensical greeting invented in the 90s by teenagers to be edgy and different (like I used to be) actually has some history to it.

I am but your humble servant

Letters of old, and I don't know quite how old but I will approximate it to a time when we wrote with quills on parchment and challenge each other to duels wearing metal suits, would sometimes begin with something along the lines of "I am your humble servant".

In Swedish this translates to "Jag är Er ödmjuke tjänare", "tjänare" meaning servant.

This then got shortened to "mjuke tjänare" (soft servant), "tjänare" (which was a greeting in the 70s), "tjenare" (which is the same but in a Stockholm accent) and then finally "tja" (as you (may) know pronounced "cha" as in "cha cha cha")


If we assume the expression "I am your humble servant" took a similar route of shortenings and regional accents, the same exact greeting in English would be "Serv" or "Ser" (pronounced the same as "sir" but not the same thing).

So "Tja" in Swedish would then be "Serv" [serve] in English.

Tja Tja!

Another phenomenon in Swedish is the use of repetition. We do like to say the same thing twice if it is short enough. Don't ask me why.

so "Tja tja" holds basically the same meaning but might sound a bit more easy-going.

Back to homepage