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… 🙂

We appreciate your place of business!

Oh, the nuances and things that are left unsaid because we forgot that they were originally there (in a particular language), but today are just implied or “understood”.
Like the simple: “Meet me at 5!”. Of course we mean at 5 o’clock in English. But that’s a linguistic shortcut that the Danes do NOT take. If you say to a Dane “Mød mig på Femmeren”, he will think that you refer to a Café or a physical place called “The 5” or “Femmeren” (“The Fiver”). No, in Danish it must always be spelled out specifically that the 5 you refer to is a time, so “Mød mig klokken 5” is necessary. On the other hand, “Klokken 5” suffices in Danish without any preposition to specify the time. But in English, for some reason, an “at” has to be dragged into the picture:

Danish   ==> English:
Klokken   ==> O’Clock
Tid     ==> Time
Hvad tid? ==> What time?
Klokken 5   ==> At 5 O’clock

When we in English say “we appreciate your business”, we DON’T mean that we appreciate the way you’ve decorated the interior of your shop, or the beautiful view that we get by looking at your storefront. No, we mean “we appreciate OUR business WITH YOU”; the transaction, not the physical entity that is your business. For the physical entity where you conduct your business we have more specific words like shop, store, factory, corporation etc. –but we also often use the same word “business”.
Danish, of course, also has a number of words for various business entities, but only one word can be used exactly like “business” to mean BOTH the transaction and the place of transaction. That word is “forretning”. Therefore:

English: We appreciate your business and apologize for any inconvenience ==> NOT: Vi værdsætter din virksomhed og beklager ulejligheden (Means: ”We appreciate your business activity and apologize for any inconvenience”)
BUT: Vi værdsætter din forretning og beklager ulejligheden.

In the same vein:

English: Close the deal! ==>
NOT: ”Luk handlen!”, nor “Luk forretningen!” (“Close your shop!”)
BUT: “Få ordren!” (“Get the order”) or “Afslut forretningen (“Finish the deal”)

In English you can “conduct business” or “conduct a current” or “Conduct yourself appropriately”. Same word, different context. Not so in Danish:

English  ==> Danish:
To conduct business  ==> “At lave forretning” or “at gøre forretning” (“to make or do business”) or “at føre forretning” (this one means more to “run a (physical) store”).
To conduct a current  ==>  “At lede en strøm” or “at føre en strøm”.
To conduct yourself appropriately  ==> At opføre sig passende.

And which way does that “with” point again?

English  ==>  Danish:
Build trust with your customers ==>
NOT: Opbyg tillid til dine kunder (“Build more of your trust in your customers”)
BUT: Opbyg tillid hos dine kunder (“Build more of your customers’ trust in you”)

The word “with” has (at least) a double usage in English: “Do something together with someone” and “Leave something with someone”. In Danish, that would mean two different prepositions.
Vice versa: Danes commonly use the expression “Er du med?”, which means “Are you with me?” – but wit the “me” part left out. Because it’s just understood…
Are you with?

with or without you 12 spanish promo 1Lidt i fem