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:

hævet på Google Transalte

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… 🙂

The-Looney-Tunes-Show-Peel-of-Fortune-has-Daffy-strike-it-rich Money_Pink_Floyd maxresdefault

You can get “get”, if you really try…

The strange and many meanings of the word “get”: Watching a movie on TV the other night, the plot involved someone saying something very true to someone who was not in the mood to listen to it, so the words  “get out!” got yelled out on the screen. Then some building fire ensued and this time what was uttered was “get Fluffy (the dog) and get out!!”. Nothing strange there, one would think. Unfortunately, with the linguistic mind turned on, rather than paying attention to the unfolding drama on the flickering screen, what I noticed was the peculiarity of the English language, as illustrated by these common “get <something>!” exuberances. “Get  out” seems to make no sense, when compared to “get Fluffy”. You “get” Fluffy the dog by catching the dog, -but how do you “get” or catch an “out”??… In the TV-drama, I think the disgruntled husband was a suspect regarding starting the fire that endangered Fluffy, but I really can’t tell you much more than that 🙂 The English word “Get” is generally understood to mean “acquire” or “bring”, especially when followed by a noun, like in

get a hammer
get Fluffy
get some money

Since the implied motion of the get-events above is towards me, so to speak (by getting the hammer, Fluffy or money I bring them towards me), it struck me as odd that “get out!” then means exactly the opposite, getting away from something or someone. I didn’t quite get it… Ha ha. The explanation is that “get” has this other very peculiar meaning or usage in English when followed by a adverb or an adjective: then it means “bring yourself into the state of being <adverb or adjective>: Very clever, that three letters G, E and T can replace all that!:

Get wealthy => Bring yourself into the state of being wealthy
Get happy ==> Bring yourself into the state of being happy
Get going ==> Bring yourself into the state of being in motion
Get out   ==> Bring yourself into the state of being OUT(side)

-and just when it all starts making logical sense, no language would be a human language if there weren’t a few exceptions*: *Actually there are many, many more. See Post Scriptum below.

Get lucky ==> Go have sex! Unless you’re on your way to Las Vegas, then indeed “bring yourself into the state of being lucky”
Get off ==> Slang: Finish having sex, orgasm.
Get it ==>    Understand
Get with it ==> Follow a trend
Get-go   ==> From the beginning
Get down  ==> In modern English: Get happy. Which strangely enough is the exact opposite of being down (and depressed).

And picking from the movie idea that inspired this post, if James Bond chased a villain named Out, then “Get Out” would mean “Bring her/him here”, while “Get out” (without the capitalization) would send Mr. Bond in the opposite direction… I can’t wait to see this idea brought out in the next Bond movie (all right reserved)… James Bond might have a thoughtful moment pondering: “Which Out, did Q mean?? Do I go right or go left now? Do I go in or do I go out?”… Ah, forGET it… 🙂

—————————————————————————————————– Post Scriptum (August 7, 2014): According to The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of the word “get”, it seems that I only scratched the surface in my blog regarding the multiple uses and varied meanings of “get”. There must be at least 30 more different meanings of “get”… Interestingly, from the Oxford Dictionary::

Usage of get
The verb get is in the top five of the most common verbs in the English language. Nevertheless, there is still a feeling that almost any use containing get is somewhat informal. No general informal label has been applied to this dictionary entry, but in formal writing it is worth bearing this reservation in mind.

Origins of get
Origins of the word: “Middle English: from Old Norse geta ‘obtain, beget, guess’; related to Old English gietan (in begietan ‘beget’, forgietan ‘forget’), from an Indo-European root shared by Latin praeda ‘booty, prey’, praehendere ‘get hold of, seize’, and Greek khandanein ‘hold, contain, be able’. Jimmy Cliff english-getout you-got-99-on-test-why-you-not-get-100-get-out Slade Get with it AnimalsWeGotta SATISFACTION

Is it hard to figure out what goes where and which does what? Well, it can be hard or hardly…

Take the simple word “Take”: The same English word is both a noun (“a take“, referring to recording a movie scene) and it is also a verb (“to take”). Simultaneously, the cousin-word “taken” doubles as both past tense of the verb, and an adjective, AND an adverb. Wow, English can be so concise! 🙂 The tendency of the English language to often use the same exact word for all grammatical variations can make it some times hard to understand the English at hand, not to mention the challenges of localizing to a different language. On one hand: you can have something absolutely correct because in English the noun, the verb, the adjective or the adverb are often the very same word. On the other hand: it can be absolutely wrong: the sameness of two English words can make the word(s) slip through the localization/translation machinery and appear at the other end in entirely wrong shape for the target language.


A web site button labelled “Pay” —> This is an order to pay for merchandise, which in Danish would have the correct translation: “Betal”. Database-based “translation systems” that hold single words and sentences of a web site in different languages can some times be too simplistic in their approach… So, next time these systems encounter the word “Pay” they often would go: “Aha! “Pay”, we’ve seen that before, we have a match, let’s insert the Danish word “Betal” then”. And that would be incorrect.
While English uses the same word in a request to pay and in a sentence about payments, in Danish they would be two words with different endings:

English ==> Danish
To pay –> At betale
Would you like to pay? –> Vil du gerne betale? (loses prefix “at”)
Please pay! –> Betal venligst! (loses -e at the end)

Danish generally has two forms of a verb: the passive one ends with an -e and in the active version the ending -e is omitted. Things get much worse for Slavic languages where you can have up to 7 different endings of a verb depending on inflection.

And just when one thinks one has figured it out, one hasn’t:

The English adjective “hard” has two different adverbs, -which mean exactly the opposite of each other!

English ==> Danish
He works hard –> Han arbejder hårdt
He hardly works –> Han arbejder knapt nok

Puzzling and mysterious indeed… :-) Work Hard2wurkkitteh

Danish: Når skibet er i fart, så ved jeg, at jeg lever ≠ English: I fart, therefore I am.

Danish city names… Many of them are funny-sounding even in Danish. Behold this little poem, I found on the web, sharing the wonder of Danish city names with English speakers:

Do you come from Dog-place (Hundested)?
Or maybe Newcastlle (Nyborg)?
Could it be from Get-castle (Fåborg)?
No, I am certain you are from the city of Medium-speed (Middelfart).
Or is that Medium-velocity???

Ah, the Danish word “Fart”… It means nothing naughty in Danish. Just the same as the German word for “Speed”, “Fahrt” – except the Danes made it even faster by omitting the anyway silent “h”. The legend has it that when Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain visited Denmark, the signs on Danish elevators saying “I fart” (“In motion”) were discreetly covered up in order not to offend Her Majesty.

Yes, it’s true:

Middelfart Yes

 Danish ==> English:
Fart   –>  Speed, Velocity
I fart –> In motion. moving
Middelfart –> The city of Middelfart
Middel fart  –> Middle speed
Fartplan –> (Train, bus) schedule
Fartkontrol –> Speed check
Turistfart –> Tourist coach, tourist bus
Himmelfart –> (Divine) Ascension
Kristi Himmelfart –> (Christ’s) Ascension
Kristi Himmelfartsdag –> Ascension Day, Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter resurrection)
Overfart –> (Ferry) crossing
God overfart –> Have a good crossing, a safe trip

Here is a couple of bi-lingual signs on the ferry between Branden and Fur, near Skive in Jutland. The Danish sign wishes you “God overfart”. Do not be alarmed. We’re not talking about divine flatulence in Danish. but merely a wish for a pleasant crossing. All 3 minutes of it. Yes, that’s how long it takes for the ferry to cross the waters between Branden and Fur.
And let me mention that the island of Fur is definitely worth a visit (unique fossils in layers millions of years old):.

Denmark 2013 707 DanskDenmark 2013 708 Eng Circled

Anyway, good-bye for now. I am off to the beautiful city of Assens!:

Denmark 2013 491 Assens 20

I am not making this stuff up! Nor down…

This morning my Danish-American better half uttered in Danish: “Så han blev beskyldt for at lave ting op”. This is a word-by-word, “I am not quite awake”-type direct translation of English that she and I catch ourselves doing and which amuses us tremendously whenever we do catch these “Danglish” slip-ups. -And puzzles our Danish friends whenever the internal language filters don’t go in effect in time… 🙂

What she meant to say (in English) was: “So, he was accused of making things up”, i.e. conjuring things, letting his fantasy run. One can see that English and Danish share similar roots in that the preposition “up” also appears in Danish in the translation of this particular meaning of “making up”, however in Danish it goes in front of the word and in Danish you “up-find” things, not “up-make” things.

So far so good, but when one realizes how many meanings “Make up” has in English, things get really, really dicey. If you want to see confusing machine translations, try these:

English ==> Danish:
Make things up (invent)                          –> Opfinde ting
Make up (reconcile, forgive someone)   –>  Tilgive, forsones
Make-up (cosmetics)                              –> Make-up, makeup, sminke
Make up for lost time                              –> Indhente den tabte tid, indhente det forsømte
Make up one’s mind                                –> Beslutte sig
I’ll make it up to you (I’ll fix the wrongs)  –> Jeg vil kompensere dig, jeg vil gøre det godt igen
Make out with you (passionate kissing)   –> Omfavne og kysse dig
Make (verb: to manufacture)                     –> Lave
Make (noun: a brand name)                      –> Varemærke, fabrikat
“Make my Day!” (Dirty Harry)                   –> ?? (Forskøn min dag ?)
Make my bed!                                           –> Red min seng!

Sounds like it’s time for me to make like a tree and leave… 🙂

94LEj8cP93-10 make my day Make up to you yeah-so-if

My baby just sent me a letter. And the letter is an S?

A letter (i.e. correspondence)  that I write to you is of course made out of single letters (i.e. characters). English has the funny duality of calling these two somewhat different things the same: a Letter.

English ==> Danish
A letter, a character => et bogstav
A letter (correspondence) ==> et brev
A letter (one who rents out an apartment) ==> en udlejer

According to this duality between the first two meanings of “Letter” is another remnant of the old Norman/Saxon intermixing of French and Saxon (and Latin and Greek and other…) words, which through perturbation of centuries have become the same in modern English. So, in old French a single character of the alphabet was Lettre and in Latin it was Littera. (A large collection of letters is of course Literature in Latin – an expression well known in English and most other languages today). There is a verb in French pertaining to a person combining multiple characters: lettré (~to spell out, transliterate). That is probably the origin of the other meaning of the English “Letter”, as when writing correspondence. Because one is indeed combining letters when writing a letter (“On lettré” in French)…

But that was not the intended topic of this blog-post… Funny things happen when a single letter sneaks its way into or out of a sentence:

English ==> Danish
0% interest ==> rentefrit
0 interest    ==> ingen interesse

Danish ==>English
Hr. Jensens kridtholder ==> Mr. (teacher) Jensen’s chalk holder
Hr. Jensens skridtholder ==> Mr. (teacher) Jensen’s jock strap

Positionspil ==> An arrow showing your position (on a map)
Positionsspil ==> A game based on position (like chess)

Klik på flisen ==> Click on a tile (like in Windows 8)
Klik på fissen ==> Click on female genitalia….

Motivational-poster  Anal tvthe-box-tops-the-letter-ricordi-internationalerrorists




“Hellere ramme ved siden af end slet ikke at ramme…”

The title of this posting is one of those untranslatable sayings that makes it fun to study languages and ponder their subtle differences. The simple English word “to miss”, like in “I missed the target” or “I missed the deadline”, does not exist in Danish! Danes either “don’t hit the target” or “hit next to it” or “hit past it”:

English ==> Danish:
I missed the target ==> Jeg ramte ved siden af målet (~I hit next to the target)
I missed the target ==> Jeg ramte forbi målet (~I hit past the target)
I missed the target ==> Jeg ramte ikke målet (~I didn’t hit the target)

Thus the popular Danish saying in the title is really a piece of nonsense that says “it’s better to miss the target by hitting next to it than not to hit it at all”. Danes use it congenially as meaning “Better luck next time!”. Of course, one could also put on a pseudo-cultural hat on and “deduce” that, just like Eskimos and native Greenlanders have about 20 different words for “Snow”, so it is also that Danes have at least 3 different degrees of “Missing a target”…. I don’t know what it says about the Danes if it were so… Along those lines, knowing the Danish weather, one would think that it really would be more useful for Danes to have about 20 words for “Rain”. They do. In essence there’s only word for rain (“regn”), but because of the Danish love of compound words you can get a lot of mileage out of that:

Rain ==> Regn
Drizzle==> Finregn
Heavy rain==> Styrtregn
Very heavy rain ==> Skybrud (~broken clouds 🙂 )
and efterårsregn   forårsregn   gaveregn  helårsregn   kugleregn   slagregn   småregn   sommerregn  støvregn   vinterregn…etc…

A symmetrical problem occurs when trying to translate the popular English saying “Hit or miss”, like in “In June the weather in London can be hit or miss”, into Danish. You basically can’t do it literally, because in Danish “hit or miss” would become “hit or don’t hit”, which really doesn’t sound like anything worth saying. Instead we have the Danish version of it, which mimics the rhythm with two made-up words: “hip som hap”.




The Gene Genie

The English sentence said “To generate a one-time passcode, please follow these steps…”, which was translated as “For at genere en engangsadgangskode følg venligst følgende trin…” . The problem here is a simple typographical error. Two Danish words look very much alike, but do not mean the same.

Danish ==> English:
At genere ==> To annoy
At generere => To generate

So the Danish sentence above means something to the extent of “In order to annoy a one-time passcode, please follow these steps…” 🙂

But that’s not the only problem with Danish “gene”…

English has the antonyms “Advantage” and “Disadvantage”. In German there is “Voorteil” and “Nachteil”. Basically, just from looking at these words, it is obvious that they are somehow related. Danish is, however, quirky in this department. Even Danes scratch their heads about this one ( . Funny!). You see, in Danish the word for Advantage is “Fordel”, which, like in German, is a combination of “for” (English: for, in favor)  and “del” (English: part). The opposite of “Fordel” in Danish is “Gene” or “Ulempe” . There is a fine word “Bagdel”, but that, -to the bemusement and puzzlement of Danes-, means “buttocks, the behind”… Drumroll, please!…. 🙂

Shape up your butt! :) The Jean Genie


A story about history

The web brings with it many changes. Some times new words have appeared and entered the mainstream. In Danish the noun “Historik” (English: list of historical events, activity record) is such a relatively new addition to the vocabulary. While English has not chosen to distinguish between “History”, as taught in school, and “History”, as a record of your, say, historical activity on the web, Danes have.
In Danish your online history is “Historik”.

If a translation between English and Danish misses the correct word, things can quickly become funny, as both in English and Danish “History” has different double meanings:

In English there’s “History” (without a pronoun, or maybe with a “the” in front), which is what we learn about the Romans and the Incas in school, and there’s also “a history” which is what you get when you’ve been dating the wrong people.

In Danish “Historie” (without a pronoun) is what we learn in school. “En historie”, on the other hand, is a story. Often used to describe an unbelievable tale that your kid or lover may use to explain some strange coincidences of facts…

Thus I laughed when the following came across my desk:

Addition of a selection of payment methods also allows you to establish a successful selling history at the same time as you conduct business.  ==> Tilføjelse af flere betaligsmetoder giver dig også mulighed  for at etablere positive salgshistorier medens du sælger.

In English the Danish translation above means that you can establish some positive tales about your sales :-). The correct translation should have been: “Tilføjelse af flere betalingsmetoder giver dig samtidig mulighed for at opbygge en positiv salgshistorik medens du sælger.”

English ==> Danish:
(The) History  ==> Historie(n)
(A) History   ==> (En) Fortid, Ry, Omdømme
A Story   ==> En Historie
Online History   ==> Historik

4162010103910AM_history History Titanic