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

Number 9, number 9,- , number 9.0, number 9,00…

35 years ago, almost on the date (November 22, 1968), the Beatles released “The White Album”. On it there is a song called “Revolution 9“. It’s a bit of a stretch to call it “a song” because all it is is a series of sound effects, mumbling, backwards tape-loops and a monotonous male voice repeating the two words: “number 9, number 9, number 9”.

A classic ode to monotony? Definitely so. But when re-interpreted from the viewpoint of linguistics and localization, the song can be viewed as a hymn to the troubles posed on us by numbers. Let me count (albeit it’s not easy) some ways in which English and Danish differ on the matters of numbers….:

1. The comma versus period dilemma:

It is generally known that Europeans and Americans use commas and periods just the opposite of each other: In U.S. the commas separate the thousands and the periods separate the decimal fraction. For example the number “ten thousand and a half” would be written:

US/Australian/UK English: 10,000.5
European:                          10.000,5

There’s an interesting scientific paper describing the historical emergence of this difference between the continents. And Wikipedia has a lengthy article about the variety of ways in which the decimal points are applied around the World.

2. The ordinal:

In Danish a period is used to denominate an ordinal number. This confuses most spellcheckers because in Danish the word following the ordinal number should NOT be capitalized:

English ==> Danish
1st  –> 1.
2nd –> 2.
3rd base –> 3. base
4th birthday –> 4. fødselsdag

3. Thousand millions and above are different:

It has to do with disagreements between the continents regarding the prefix “bi-“. Europe uses the “Long Scale”, where “bi-” is a multiple of a million. USA, on the other hand, uses the “Short Scale” , with “bi-” describing multiples of a thousand. This is described in great detail in this Wikipedia article. The terrible thing for most financial or scientific writers is that the words “Billion” and “Trillion” appear exactly the same in both languages, but stand for quantities that are a factor of 1000 different!:

Number ==>                     English        ==> Danish
Million   –>                         Million           –> Million
Thousand Millions –>       Billion            –> Milliard
Million millions  –>           Trillion            –> Billion
Million million millions –> Quintillion      –> Trillion

So, one piece of good news is that, when translated into the Danish way of counting, the US federal deficit is only in the billions of dollars, not trillions. 🙂

4. The way we write dates:

Danish dates are separated by periods or dashes or slashes and the proper sequence is day.month.year . Also, the word “den” is used to specify a particular date (this one is really tough on any automated localization solutions). And month-names are NOT to be capitalized.

English ==> Danish
The 4th of July celebration   –> 4. juli fejringen
July 4th, 1990                        –> den 4. juli 1990
07/04/1990                            –> 4.07.1990
from 4th to 15th of July         –> 4.-15. juli

5. The way we describe time:

Americans use colon as separator between hours and seconds, Danes prefer the period. Most look-up solution for multilingual web sites can figure that one out quite easily. But then it falls apart: Predominantly Danes use the 24-hour clock. Americans generally prefer the 12 hour clock with AM and PM. The AM and PM monikers used in US with 12-hour time can not be localized in a simple manner into Danish, as Danes indeed do use the 12-hour time in everyday

speech, but with FOUR (not two) descriptors:  morning, before noon, afternoon and evening. Also Danish alarms do NOT go off at “6” or “7”, but at “o’clock 6” or “o’clock 7” (Danish: “klokken 7”). In other words, while in English a number mentioned in context of time is understood to mean “time”, -it is not so in Danish. Also, interestingly enough, Danish does not have a precise word for “Noon”. We have “noon-time” (Middag, middagstid), but that’s more of a meal-time description. (And to make it even more confusing the big meal of the day, which we used to eat in the midle of the day has in modern time crept up towards the evening, so when you mention “middag” to a Dane, he will most likely think that you’re talking about an evening-type dinner meal around 6 PM).
If you want to meet a Dane at High Noon, that’s simply “klokken 12” or “præcist klokken 12”. If you want to eat with a Dane around noon-time, the meal is called “Frokost” (=Lunch), NOT “Middag” or “Middagsmad”. That’s what a Dane eats around 6-7 PM.

English ==> Danish
7:00 AM  –> 7.00
7:00 AM  –> Klokken 7 om morgenen
7:00 PM –> 19.00
7:00 PM –> Klokken 19
7:00 PM –> Klokken 7 om aftenen
11:00 AM –> Klokken 11 om formiddagen
3:00 PM –> Klokken 3 om eftermiddagen, klokken 15.
12:00 AM –> Midnat, klokken 24
12:00 PM –> klokken 12.
(Around) noon –> Middag
Dinner      –>    Middag, middagsmåltid
Lunch    –> Frokost

6. The way we describe price:

I have yet to see a proper English-to-Danish localization that does this correctly. Which is odd, because in most cases the incentive to localize a US web site into Danish is to SELL something to the Danes, so, one would think, that some effort would be put into displaying the price correctly. But no… Usually it’s a dead-on-arrival cause because the engineers responsible for website design (wrongly! :-)) assumed that prices are numbers, so therefore only allow numerics in their price-databases. However, they or their colleagues responsible for displaying the prices should be made aware of the fact that a correct Danish price involves the use a “dash”.

A price of 10 danish kroner and no øre (an øre is to the krone as a cent is to a dollar) should properly be shown as

10,-  kroner

NOT “10 kroner” and not “10,00 kroner”.

And if possible, an øre amount should be in smaller font and superscript. See the weekly circulars below fresh from Denmark with this week’s special offers.

7. The way Danes do singles before the tens:

While fellow Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden have converted to pronounce a count of, say, “twenty five” as “twenty” and “five”, the Danes, like the Germans, are sticking with the reverse order: “twenty five” is “five and twenty” in Danish . Furthermore, if written with words, then the combined number is smooshed into one word: “Femogtyve” (=25). Once we get above 100 then the sequence for Danish pronunciation is “hundreds, ones, tens” (125 =ethundredefemogtyve). This may seem highly illogical for an American reader, but don’t haste to throw any rocks, because the American preference for  “month-before-date” sequence for dates seems just as illogical to Danes… So there is some symmetry in trying to confuse each other 🙂
This small but significant divergence in expressing numbers between the Scandinavian countries has produced a very funny Norwegian sketch (in English of course – because THAT we all understand 🙂 ) implying that the Danes most likely don’t even understand each other.

8. The way we kind of still use base 20 for counting:

To make matters worse between the Scandinavian countries the Danish names for multiples of ten (above 40) are not, like English, Norwegian or Swedish, based on multiples of 10, but on multiples of 20! US used to be counting in 20s as well. Remember Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation…” A “score” is 20.

English ==> Danish:
Ten –> Ti
Twenty –> Tyve
(Old English) Score (i.e. 20 pieces) –> Snes (Old Danish)
Thirty   –> Tredive
Forty –> Fyrre
Fifty –> Halvtreds  (roughly: “Half of the third score”)
Sixty –> Tres (roughly: “three scores”)
Seventy –> Havfjerds
Eighty –> Firs
Ninety –> Halvfems

Another Norwegian sketch, in which a Norwegian short-wave radio operator refuses to save a Danish ship sending SOS – because he can’t grasp the Danish number system, totally nails the puzzlement of fellow Scandinavians when faced with both the reverse order of numbers and the strange Danish names for powers of ten: Fleksnes makes fun of Danish Number system…. 🙂

In conclusion: In general terms I have presented here  8 ways in which the treatment of numbers in Danish differs from English. It could easily take us another “8 Days a Week” to cover the peculiar differences between Danish and English numbers in further detail. Which brings to mind another Beatles song: “Digit, digit, digit”…. Oops, it’s actually called “Dig it” 🙂

Netto tilbudbeatlesrevolution9Beatles DigItKvickly reklame

eight days a week sheet music

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

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


The British are coming! The English is coming! Are you with?

“The British are coming!” is of course the famous line attributed to Paul Revere, one of the founding fathers of USA, best known for his “Midnight Ride” from Boston to Lexington on April 18, 1775. He was supposedly shouting “The British are coming!” to warn the rebel colonist forces of an impending attack by the British Redcoats. The line was immortalized, and apparently also made up, in a famous poem by Longfellow: “Paul Revere’s Ride“. “Made up” because historians are of the conviction that while the ride really occurred, the actual warning was most likely delivered in silence…

The “English is coming!” is my word-play on Paul Revere’s (or Longfellow’s) famous line. The English language and English words are of course sneaking their way into contemporary Danish vocabulary, both openly and silently. It’s no wonder in a country like Denmark, where upwards of 80% of Danes do, or think they do :-), speak fluent English. So, the English is coming inside Danish. Are you with?

“Are you with”: In Danish we often use the expression “Er du med?”, which correctly translated means “Do you follow me?”. Incorrect, verbatim translation is, however, “Are you with”. Yes, it is OK in Danish to end a sentence with a preposition. The trap, which many a Danish English-speaker has fallen into, is of course that the preposition rules are different in English and also that some times English has different words, when Danish has just one. In this case translating “med” with “along” rather than “with” would yield maybe not a 100% correct English, but at least something much closer to it. Are you along?

Any English-speaking visitor visiting Denmark today will be shocked by the prevalence of the fine English curse-word “F**ck”. It has sneaked its way in and it’s everywhere. Maybe you won’t see it written, but you’ll hear it used on TV, radio and pretty much everywhere interspersed into otherwise faultless Danish. This always reminds me of that general cultural observation that a curse in a foreign language is not really a curse. Even though most Danes speak and write English, it is NOT their primary language and therefore throwing in what just seems to be a funny-sounding foreign word, even though that word is not so nice in its original language, seems totally OK. I remember how in my youth in Denmark we used the funny sounding (to us) German word “gewesen” (=”has been”) to refer to anything we didn’t know the exact name of, sort of equivalent to the modern English slang words “do-hickey” and “whatchamacallit”…

So, some English words, like “f**ck”, silently sneak their way into Danish. Eventually some get accepted and become “official” Danish:

In my previous posting I mentioned the English word “to spend”, which does not have a direct equivalent in Danish. Well, a correction is needed and one that shows how it can be tricky when English words start appearing in Danish. “To spend” USED to NOT have a direct equivalent in Danish. Now it does have one. The official Danish vocabulary and spelling dictionary, Retskrivningsordbogen, now includes the word “spendere”, which is the “danish-ized” direct adaptation of “to spend”. Clearly, if we Danes know it exists in English and it covers an exact, useful concept, we want it too :-). The trickiness of “spendere” is that its meaning is ever so slightly, slightly different in Danish!:

  • “At bruge penge” means “to spend money” (in a serious way).
  • “At spendere penge”, however, has more of a wasteful connotation, closer to “to blow the money”.

Why? Here I have a theory: I think it’s because “at spendere” ends up sounding very close to the Danish verb “at spilde”, which means “to waste”. We store things in our brain by similarities, so that’s probably what colors the meaning of “at spendere” in Danish.

And of course one has to be careful with word-combinations and abstractization. Take the previously mentioned  “Spending Power”: the direct translation “Spenderingskraft” would still be meaningless in Danish. “Købekraft” is still correct.





Americans spend money, Danes use it

When you have money in your bank account, you have “Spending Power”. That is a power to spend (your money). Often used these days synonymously with “Account Balance”. On the other hand “The Power of Spending” is something else: it brings up a vision of the head-rush and ecstatic joy you feel, when you find exactly what you’ve been shopping for and are happy spending money on it.
Some times mistranslations are almost profound… In these economically challenging times we are of course all trying to save a dime or two, -and resist the power that a good shopping excursion has over us :-).

The English expression “Spending Power” was mistranslated as “Udgifternes Magt”, which means “The Power of Expenses” or “The Power of Spending”. The correct translation should be:

  • “Spending Power” ==> “Købekraft” (=Buying Power)

Also, as Americans are stereotyped as the #1 consumers in the world. while the Nordic Danes have more of a reputation for saving their dimes, it is interesting (profound?) to note that the English verb “to spend” has no direct equivalent in Danish!

When it comes to money we “use” it:

  • Spend Money ==> Bruge penge (=use money).

When it comes to days we spend them by using the (time-related) verb “Tilbringe”:

  • Spend the day ==> Tilbringe dagen (close to “Pass the day”).

But, of course, it is also possible to “use time” (=bruge tid).

Which all together, of course, is why sentences involving “spending” are difficult to get correct in Danish. We don’t have the word. Although I am sure we get the concept just fine 🙂

Danish translation: Exact: “Lad os tilbringe en times frokost sammen og bruge flere penge på frokost end vi tjener på en time”. Re-creating a wordplay: “Lad os bruge en times frokost på at bruge flere penge end vi tjener på en time”.

One word different. One is a classic. The other one, not so much. Neither one could have been written as well in Danish… 🙂 :


Your stream of money has just been turned into a drip, drip, drip.

The correct Danish translation of “amount of money” is “beløb”. Some times a typo sneaks its way into the Danish target side and the ‘e’ gets ommitted , in which case we get “bløb” in Danish, which is more or less the sound a dripping water faucet makes. Bløb, bløb, bløb….. That’s kind of profound in regards to today’s economy!…  🙂

Custom number, customer number, customs number, customary number

The English words “Custom number” were meant to refer to the ability of the customer to put his own custom, internal (identification) numbers inside a PayPal invoice. Without the whole context the translations came out as “Customer Number” and “Customs Number”. And strangely enough, “customary number” is the exact opposite of “custom number”… One has to get accustomed… 😉

In Danish:
Custom number  ==> Tilpasset nummer
Customer number ==> Kundenummer
Customs number ==> Toldnummer
Customary number ==> Sædvanlige nummer

The comma before “which” can make a lot of difference. Or is it: The comma before, which can make a lot of difference?

The original English sentence was:

“When you receive an upgrade notification on your mobile device, install it immediately. With every upgrade, providers are closing security gaps which can make your device more vulnerable to security breaches.”

It sounds to me as if the upgrades are making the device more vulnerable to security breaches!

A better formulated English for the purpose of internationalization (and common understanding) probably could have read something like this:

 “When you receive an upgrade notification on your mobile device, install it immediately. With every upgrade, providers are closing security gaps. Not-closed security gaps make your device vulnerable to security breaches.”

This puts the security breaches in the past. I translated into Danish accordingly, although in Danish we benefit from the fact that we have two different words, “som” and “hvilket”, depending on whether “which” refers to the noun before (“som”) or to the whole sentence before (“hvilket”). In English language that is accomplished by the far more subtle comma before the word “which”: if it’s there, we are referring to the whole preceding sentence, if it’s NOT there, then “which” just refers to the previous word. Who knew? So, in fact, the first quoted English sentence is abolutely correct, as the word “which” (without a comma) refers to the word before it, i.e. “security gaps”. The security gaps are the ones “making your device vulnerable to security breaches”, -and not the “every upgrade” of the previous sentence.
And if you now do know, try to avoid using it that way, because it’s almost guaranteed to get lost in translation.

You can read more about the English rules for “comma before Which” at: