Now, now… you can relax, but not now

If the Danish prince Hamlet gave the English language the immortal sentence: “To be or not to be?”, so does modern-day English give us the wonder of “Now, know that first now is not the same as the last now, you know?”. Behold now, honored reader:

In the English sentence “Now, follow these steps to confirm your bank account” the word “now” actually does not mean “now” as in “this very instance”. It’s a filler-word more meant as a gentle nudge, or pause in speech, and synonymous (in this context only) with words as “next” or “please”. Or, another way to look at the uniqueness of this “now” is to realize that while the sentence above sounds pleasant and non-alarming, removing the comma and moving the “now” couple of places to the right results in the sentence “Follow these steps now to confirm your bank account”, which obviously expresses more of an urgency and somewhat of an alarm. And, interestingly enough, placing the “now” at the very end of the sentence further enhances the sense of urgency: “Follow these steps to confirm your bank account, now”.

And, of course, we have to note then in this context that in Danish, “now” does not have a double-life as as a filler-word. For Danes “now” means -ahem- now. Starting a sentence with “now” causes a sense of urgency in a Danish reader, so a direct translation of the original sentence with a leading “now”, would convey in this case the meaning but not exactly the spirit of it. In Danish, we have two words at our disposal: “Nu” means “now” (as in “this moment in time”). “Nuvel” is the Danish word we use, when we need a filler-word to let our mouth continue, while our brain pauses. It more or less is equivalent to the English “well, now..”.

And a propos, there was a very famous Danish radio- and tv-personality who so abused the word “now” in his live radio transmissions starting with the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and all the way through 40s, 50, 60s, 70 and 80s, that the Danish word for “now” (Nu) was forever ‘added’ to his name as little gentle mockery and a Danish sign of respect (Danes, being generally reserved and easygoing people, are not very good at direct praise 🙂 ). Gunnar “Nu” Hansen (1905-1993).
And since he could talk and talk (which of course you had to be able to do as a sportsradio reporter) also a line of licorice flavored throat lozenges was named in his honor: Nu Sportspastiller. His picture was on the outside and a collectable picture of a Danish soccer-star was always inside. The line of lozenges was discontinued in 1977.

2 thoughts on “Now, now… you can relax, but not now

  1. But “nu” does have different meanings in Danish too… It does not only refer to “this moment in time”. For example, if you say “nu skal du ikke være fræk” the “nu” in this sentence doesn’t really have anything to do with time although it may sound like that. Its reference to time is very weak here. It’s more like a filler word that emphasises that you really mean what you say (and you can nearly see the raised finger!)

  2. Excellent point. Just as one tries to generalize – one can’t do it 100%. Every language then adds its own exceptions and peculiar ways to diverge. I think you make the correct adjustment to my observation that a Danish sentence starting with “Nu” raises the IMPORTANCE of the following action (and not necessarily the timing). While in English the leading “now” is like “eh…”, while the ENDING now is like “I mean it seriously, now!”….

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