About this blog

My name is André Perman. This blog is a collection of quirks and amusing things which I’ve come across in my years of work as a Danish Linguist.

Working for generally English-speaking companies my title of “Danish Linguist” reflects what I am perceived to be adding to the mix. However, probably the most challenging aspect of my work is that of being an English linguist.

As we say in Danish: “the sweet child has many names”… Localization, L10n, Internationalization, i18n, translation… A linguist’s work (for a US company) usually involves text originally in English, translated into a target language and then reviewed for accuracy, appropriateness and tone. It is often not until we see the text in the target language (in my case Danish) that we realize that the original English could be misunderstood – and was.

So mostly this blog is about English sentences which I or my colleagues have rescued from being mistranslated. Usually not because of poor translation skills, but because the original English was ambigous. Or often internationalization professionals only see a sentence out of context, – and without a context strange things can happen. Hopefully the examples here will serve as educational anecdotes for those responsible for writing internationalizable, good English and for those responsible for localizing it. Typically the difficult sentences have words which can both be verbs and nouns in English, contain English grammar that is either correct, but not well known, or just incorrect, or words that sound or look similar to other words, -and if they can be misunderstood, they often are :-).

The art of localization could definitely benefit from a mark-up language which identified, in case of doubt, whether a particular word was a verb or a noun and allowed for marking up of other aspects of a sentence potentially causing ambiguity.

So, in spite of the name, this blog will be mostly about English, although occasionally quirky Danish will also be quoted. It’s all for fun.

And the name “Rotten Danish” was chosen of course partly because of my Danish affinities, but also exactly for all the ways in which it is ambigous:

Is it a Hamlet reference (“there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark…”)?
Is it talking about the Danish soccer players who beat your favorite team?
Are we talking about Grauballe Man, the 2000 years old mummified body of an Iron Age Dane found in a peat bog in 1953?
Or are we referring to some baked goods, aka. danishes, going bad?
Or is there a live rat involved some place?

Yes! Only two words, and so many possibilities…
Enjoy. And join the conversation.

Recent Posts

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… 🙂

  1. We appreciate your place of business! Leave a reply
  2. Du kan få bank, kan du!… Leave a reply
  3. Yes, it is my business. Leave a reply
  4. You can get “get”, if you really try… Leave a reply
  5. Is it hard to figure out what goes where and which does what? Well, it can be hard or hardly… Leave a reply
  6. Sounds like the same word in both languages — but it’s not. Leave a reply
  7. Number 9, number 9,- , number 9.0, number 9,00… 2 Replies
  8. Danish: Når skibet er i fart, så ved jeg, at jeg lever ≠ English: I fart, therefore I am. Leave a reply
  9. I am not making this stuff up! Nor down… Leave a reply