It is not easy to give and receive. A receipt without a receipt is still a receipt.

The English word “receipt” can cause confusion because both the act of receiving something, as well as the piece of paper which you sign, and get to keep a copy of, as proof of you receiving something, are both called the same: “a receipt”. We have two words for that in Danish: “kvittering” is the piece of paper, and “modtagelse” is the act of receiving.

The sentence “Thank you for contacting us about your non-receipt claim”  was translated as if it was a matter of not having a receipt, when actually it was referring to not receiving an ordered item. [Was: ”Tak, fordi du kontaktede PayPal om dit krav uden kvittering.” Should be: ”Tak, fordi du kontaktede PayPal ang. dit krav om ikke-modtagelse.”]

The English word ”distribution” can both refer to a scattered pattern in a geometrical space, as well as the act of paying out dividends and such, or transporting goods from a central storage location to a number of smaller locations. We largely use the same word, “distribution”, in the very same way in Danish, however, we also have a Danish word “fordeling”, which should only be used for describing a (distribution) pattern. Similarly, a “return” can in English both mean a dividend or a profit made, -or an item simply being returned.

The sentence “The statement shows the part of the distribution that is nontaxable because it is a return of your cost (or other basis)” was translated as if it was a static pattern yielding a dividend, when in fact it talks about a monetary payout which simply returns money that you originally put in yourself: Was translated into Danish: ”Opgørelsen viser den del af fordelingen, der ikke er skattepligtig, fordi det er et afkast af dine omkostninger (eller andet grundlag)”. It should be: ”Opgørelsen viser den del af distributionen, der ikke er skattepligtig, fordi det er en tilbagebetaling af dine omkostninger (eller andet grundlag)”.

The English word ”disbursement” is old fashioned. Of course, a localization effort always strives to keep the language tone modern and contemporary. The difficulty arose when we had to differentiate in Danish between “disbursement”, “payout”, “distribution”, “withdrawal”. We run out of “contemporary” Danish equvalents… Many Danes will not be familiar with the word “udlodning”, but that seems to be the proper 1:1 translation of “disbursement”. It’s old fashioned, too.



Three little words in English often become two (little bigger) words in Danish. Thankfully, “I love you” is still “Jeg elsker dig”.

A wonderful thing about Danish language is how we make two words that belong together into one word. Some times we don’t even hesitate to smoosh three of them together.

That means that three-word constructions which can seem ambigous in English, are not at all ambigous in Danish – assuming, that is, that it’s the correct two words that are paired together! 🙂

So, for example, a “Mobile Snow Plow” should become the equivalent of “Mobile SnowPlow” in Danish. Obviously, a “MobileSnow Plow” is the incorrect and quirky cousin of that.

Here are some of such wrongful two-out-of-three word-pairings that came across my desk in recent weeks:

Recurring Payment Profile ==> was translated as if the “Recurring” was referring to the “Profile” and not the “Payment”. I corrected in Danish to “Profile for Recurring Payments”. So: (wrong) Tibagevendende betalingsprofil ==> (correct) Profil for tilbagevendende betalinger, or (also correct, but clunky) Tilbagevendendebetalingsprofil.

“Pending Payment Balance ” was translated as if Pending was referring to Balance and not Payment: (wrong) Afventende betalingssaldo ==> (correct) Saldo for afventende betalinger.

“Mobile Shopping Cart Payment Received” was translated as if the Payment was the one being mobile and not the Shopping Cart: (wrong) Mobil indkøbskurvsbetaling modtaget ==> (correct) Mobil-indkøbskurvsbetaling modtaget, or (better) Betaling for mobil indkøbskurv er modtaget.

“Redemption Code Reversal” was mistranslated as if Redemption was synonymous with Reversal: (wrong) Tilbageførsel af tilbagekøbskode ==> (correct) Tilbageførsel af indløsningskode.

“Canceled Sales Report” was translated as if the Report was cancelled, rather than as “a report about canceled sales”: (wrong) Annuleret salgsrapport ==> (correct) Rapport over annulerede salg.

Did I mention that Google Translate gets many of these 3-word puzzles wrong?

The meaning of life?… no deal. But a great deal of Saxons and Normans. Deal with it.

“Are you looking for a great deal?”, (i.e. “Are you looking for a bargain”), was translated as “Leder du efter en hel del?” which means “are you looking for a lot (of things)?”, which turns a simple sentence about a possible bargain to an almost profound-sounding quest for the meaning of a life.  [Should have been translated as: Leder du efter et godt tilbud?].
In this context it is interesting how “deal” in English can both mean “an amount” and “a bargain” leaving “a great deal” utterly ambigous, unless put in context. I have a theory about how this came about!
Most of us have seen Robin Hood in one incarnation or another on a TV or a movie screen. What is not clear from pretty much all adaption of the tale is that the Normans and the Saxons, the two parties to the pivotal 13th century conflict at the center of Robin Hood’s saga, did NOT both speak the same language, English, as the movies will have us believe. The conquering Normans, in fact, spoke French!
England remained a bi-lingual place for centuries thereafter with the commoners speaking Anglo-Saxon and the ruling classes Norman-French. The great impact of this, which we still carry with us in English to this day, is that in legal English we have the tradition of carrying both the Saxon and and the Norman words. Things like “Cease and desist”, “Null and void”, “Devise and bequeath”, “Last will and testament” are actually nothing else than repetitions of the same meaning, two synonyms, with two different words: one Saxon word (closest to German today), and one Norman word (closest to French today).
“And how does this relate to the two meanings of  the word “deal”, then?”, you might ask. Well, here’s my theory: another effect of the Saxon-Norman duality is that two entirely different-meaning, but similar-sounding, words from the two origins have become the same word (with dual meanings) in modern English. I think that “deal”, when meaning “amount, part”, is the English-spelled version of the modern German word “Teil”, meaning “Part, divide”. This meaning of “Deal” is also present in the verb “to deal” when it refers to cards in  a poker game. On the other hand, “deal”, when it means “trade, commerce”, comes from the French “commerce de détail”, which also has been twisted into “retail” in English. This meaning of deal is present in the verb “to deal (with it)” when it refers to a setback in life, i.e. try to make commerce out of something bad.
Now, wasn’t that interesting? Suddenly lingustics is like historical detective work…. 🙂

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