Why Are Swedish People Called Squareheads?

Those who have heard the term “squarehead” probably know its association with Swedish or Scandinavian people.

However, people who use this outdated term may not know its origin or meaning. 

Swedish people are sometimes called squareheads as an insult. Squarehead is a derogatory term meant to highlight their differences.

Not only does squarehead refer to the physical features of the Swedish, but it is also an attempt to insult their intelligence. 

This article will discuss this word and why it’s a good idea for people to avoid using it. 

Also, see Why Do Swedes Learn English? to learn more.

Where Did the Term Squarehead Come From?

While the exact origin of the word is unclear, Americans used it as a derogatory way to refer to Swedish immigrants.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a massive time for immigration.

During this time, about 1.3 million Swedes made their way to the US, seeking reprieve from Sweden’s social and economic climate. [1]

Some Americans weren’t happy that many Swedish immigrants sought refuge in the US. So, they fought back by pointing out their differences, referring to them as squareheads. 

This term can have a double meaning. First, it can mean exactly what it sounds like.

When the Swedish immigrants came to the US to escape the problems in Sweden, people created this term for them as they perceived the Swedes to have a more square-shaped head. 

This is the most popular reason for using the term when referring to Swedes.

However, it can be challenging to understand how the name came about, given that their heads look pretty normal.

Still, there are rarely logical reasons behind hateful slurs. 

The second possible meaning for squarehead is a stupid person. [2]

When someone calls another a squarehead, they imply that they’re ignorant.

Those who used the phrase at the time wanted to put down Swedish immigrants, so they would insult their intelligence. 

During mass immigration, it is common for those already living in the country to face concerns about how it may affect them.

This could have been why some Americans chose to coin the term and elevate themselves when they felt they didn’t have control of the situation. 

Do Swedes Like Being Called Squareheads?

While it is impossible to speak for every Swedish person, squarehead is not a term most Swedes like being called.

Like any ethnic slur, many people over the years used this word to draw attention to the perceived differences between the Swedish people and themselves.

It was commonly used for Swedish immigrants when they came to America. 

Not every Swedish person has been on the receiving end of this insulting term. However, the negative association with the word is not easy to overlook.

Swedes do not like this term any more than anyone likes others calling them something hurtful. 

Most Swedes won’t want to be called the term “Squarehead” because it has a negative connotation and comes from a place of trying to make someone feel inferior. So, it’s better if people never use it.

Is Squarehead a Derogatory Term?

While it is not hugely popular today, some still use Squarehead despite the negative connotations associated with the word.

Unfortunately, squarehead is a derogatory term directed at Swedish and other Scandinavian immigrants.

It is a word that intends to point out the perceived differences between one ethnic group and another. [3]

The word’s meaning has changed with time, as people sometimes use it to mean that someone is naive or follows the rules too closely today.

However, since it has a background as an ethnic slur, many people believe it’s best not to use the word. 

Even when the meaning of a word changes, that doesn’t make it appropriate for everyone to use due to its origin.

People can also interpret the word differently since it has multiple meanings.

One person might find it offensive, while another person doesn’t.

In short, it’s still a derogatory word, even if the meaning has shifted slightly over time.

While it can mean someone is naive, the original meaning was much more hurtful and was meant to bring down a particular group of people. 

What Are the Other Uses for the Word Squarehead?

People can use this word about another person in a few different ways. Swedes see it most often as a derogatory term

However, while these instances are less popular, people may also use the slang to commonly describe anyone from Scandinavia or any Germanic person. 

Alternatively, French Canadians may use this term to describe English Canadians who cannot speak French. Squarehead is a translation of the phrase they use in French: “tete carree.”

People who use this term question the intelligence of Canadians who speak English and do not speak French. 

The most popular modern use of this term comes without ethnic implications.

In this context, “squareheads” refers to those who seem dull or follow the rules of society too closely.

When used this way, it is less of a slur and more of a way to call out a friend in good fun when they don’t want to break the rules. 

Is It Appropriate To Use the Term Squarehead?

While “Squarehead” has different meanings, it can still hurt Swedish people due to its background. So, it is not appropriate to use this term.

While there may be room for use with friends when referring to someone who follows the rules a little too much, people should still be careful. 

Everyone should be wary of using this term even if they aren’t speaking to a Swedish or Scandinavian person.

While some Swedish people are recognizable by their accents, this is not always the case.

Anyone who doesn’t want to offend someone by saying this term should avoid using it to be safe. This phrase has multiple meanings, some of which are more harmful than others.

The word can be viewed as an ethnic slur depending on the context, so there aren’t many situations where it’s appropriate to use it.

However, friends might say it to each other occasionally.

[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source

Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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