Doing “number” on you

Not just the handling of numbers themselves, but also translation between English and Danish of the very word Number can do a number on any unsuspecting bi-linguist.

In English, the word Number has at least three distinct possible meanings. Since it remains the same word, this is not always apparent to an English-speaker. In Danish, each of those three meanings must be addressed by its own DIFFERENT word: nummer, antal or tal. And there are further complications (and an English-language idiom mystery explained)… But more about those later.

In Danish, “nummer” must be used when English number is approximately synonymous to “a number/label displayed on something” or “a ranking achieved“, “antal” is used when English a number (of) is approximately synonymous to “a count of“, and lastly “tal” is used when number is approximately synonymous to digit.

English ==> Danish:

The number of solutions to this equation is three ==> Antallet af løsninger til denne ligning er tre

The number 2 is one of the solutions ==> Tallet 2 er en af løsningerne

Replace batteries with the same number and type of batteries as originally installed in the equipment ==> WRONG!: Udskift batterier med batterier af samme nummer og type som de oprindeligt installerede i udstyret (this is correct Danish, but the wrong meaning “use batteries with the same number printed on them”) CORRECT!: Udskift batterier med samme antal og type af batterier som de oprindeligt installerede i udstyret (this is the correct meaning: “use the same number of batteries”)

He lives on Baker Street, in number 221B ==> Han bor på Baker Street i nummer 221B.

He finished the triathlon bike race in second place ==> Han kom ind i triathlon cykelløbet som nummer 2

You could not see his number on his bike racing shirt ==> Man kunne ikke se hans nummer på hans cykeltrøje

Paint by numbers ==> Paint-by-numbers, mal med tal

Strength in numbers ==> Styrke i tal

There’s a fourth possible translation for number: When English number refers to an unknown amount of (somethings), Danish often prefers to use the Danish word for a row: række instead:

English ==> Danish:

This equation has a number of solutions ==> Denne ligning har en række løsninger

That happened a number of years ago ==> Det skete for en række år siden

It should also be noted that the abbreviation of “number” is DIFFERENT in Danish and in English:
Danish: nr.
English: no.

But wait, there’s more very interesting “number theory”:  the word nummer has two further meanings in Danish that it does not in (current) English. Et nummer is also an act that a performer performs. Typically a short second-rate act, like a magician’s trick or a circus act. Or an encore at a concert is “an extra number”: et ekstranummer.

English ==> Danish:

And then he did this stupid thing ==> Og så lavede han det her dumme nummer

So, in Danish the expression “do a number on someone” makes perfect sense! You’ve been exposed to a cheap magical trick, you’ve been duped, cheated. This is interesting because, a simple Google search for “origins of “did a number on me”” reveals that English-speakers and language specialists are generally very puzzled by the origins of this expression and can’t offer a logical explanation. In (current) English it makes no sense. Could it be that the expression has been actually adopted from Danish? I would venture to postulate that. 🙂

The other Danish meaning of nummer is not what you’d expect: the cute name for the behind that we sit on is en numse. This often gets made further cute by referring to it as et nummer. So, visiting ladies: when a Danish man on the street tells you in passing that you have an excellent number, “sikke et fint nummer!”, he is most likely NOT referring to your height or your bank account… 🙂

Du kan få bank, kan du!…

Let’s talk banking, money. Always a touchy subject. Danish language may have it just right, as the word “bank” means both “getting beaten up” and “a banking institution”. Thus the title of this posting is actually saying “Do you want to get beaten up, do you!”, but it can ALSO mean “You are welcome to have a bank, yes you are!”. Unfortunately, I am not Rockefeller, so no banks shall be given away here. 🙂

Danish  ==>  English
At få bank —> To get a beating
En bank —>  A bank, a financial institution
Et bank —>    A beating, a knock

As is often the case in Danish, when you go plural an ‘a’ becomes an “æ” – and that would be that-, but not at all in this case:

Danish  ==>  English
Bænk —> A bench (to sit on), just one.
Banker —>  Banks (noun, plural of bank)
Banker —> Beats, hits (verb)
Flere bank —>  Several beatings
Flere banker —> Several banks
Bænke  —> Benches

In English, banks normally deal with “Finances” while “the Economy” is the larger underlying nationwide climate. For some reason, the Danes decided to use these two words differently. And English, of course, offers its own challenges with “economic” and “economical” meaning two different things:

English ==>  Danish
Economy —>  Økonomi
Personal finances —> Privatøkonomi
Secretary of Treasury —> Finansminister
Government Finances —-> Statsfinanserne
Economic trends —> Konjunkturer
Being economical–> At være sparsommelig

In Danish, as in English, an “institute” is usually a dedicated place of learning found at an university, while an “institution” is something else. On the surface the two languages seem in agreement, However, over the years, Danish has used the word “institution” to refer largely to places where you get “institutionalized” , such as orphanages or mental wards at hospitals. This may therefore explain why a bank, a “financial institution” is NOT an “institution” in modern day Danish, but an institute. Totally wrong, or…? After all, maybe you are not entirely crazy putting your money into a Danish bank, but as the old saying goes: “First you have the money and the bank has the experience. Then they invest it, and you gain the experience and they have your money”… So yes, in Denmark a bank is a “money institute”, a place where, I guess, the lessons will be repeated until they are learned….

English ==>  Danish
An institution—>  En institution
An institute —> Et institut
Financial institution —> Et pengeinstitut (NOT “en pengeinstitution”).

Of course, once you give your money to the bank, you expect something in return, like say regularly deposited interest payment on your money. The bank will give you some “small print” paperwork to sign and like many translators you may get very confused between these two very similar Danish words:

Danish  ==>  English
Forretningskrav —> Business requirements
Forrentningskrav —> “Interest requirements”, minimum rate of return on capital,

Speaking of one-letter differences: In English there is “Banking” and there is “Baking”. In a very strange way, the two were interchanged the other day, as I received a poorly translated Danish financial document to proofread. The English translation read: “You have bought 1000 ABC securities for  XY Danish kroner. The securities will be deposited into your custodial depot and XY kroner will be raised on your account on May 15, 2015″.

“Raised on your account”? What kind of strange English was that?… And then it dawned on me, that the same Danish word “at hæve” has both a baking and a banking meaning. These two have nothing at all to do with each other, but Google Translate did not see the difference. And also in Danish, you withdraw the money “on” the account and not “from” the account…:-)

Danish  ==>  English
At hæve —-> To rise (baking)
At hæve —-> To withdraw (banking)
Brøddejen hæver —> The bread dough rises (a baking term)
Vi hæver på kontoen—> We will withdraw from the account (a banking term)

In fact, Google Translate is blissfully unaware of the banking version of the word:

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And we won’t even talk here about translating the term “a money shot”…

Banking and investments present various risks of monetary loss to the uninitiated. Besides monetary losses, we can now also add the danger of being lost in translation… 🙂

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