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

It’s not a Meg. It’s a mess.

My female Danish friend got an interesting hair cut. In places it looks like a bird’s nest. In other places it looks like a sexy Meg Ryan-style “Sleepless in Seattle” hairdo. Definitely has to be combed carefully to prevent it from looking too unkempt. Of course, according to this hilarious blog by “Copenhannah” about “How to look like a Dane“, unkempt looking hair is the epitome of looking like a true Dane… 🙂
Now, in Danish we have the words:

Danish ==> English:
en redelighed –> a mess
en rede –> a nest
at rede hår–> to comb hair
at rede seng –> to make the bed
at redde–> to save
rødder –> roots
rød –>red

Which caused my friend to utter this unique sentence in Danish:

“Man kan jo se mine røde rødder. Det er en redelighed. Jeg bliver nødt til at rede mit hår for at redde det fra at se ud som en rede.”

(English: “You can see my red roots. This is mess. I have to comb my hair to save it from looking like a nest.”)

This is a good Meg Ryan do.

This is a good Meg Ryan do.

Some times you can overdo the do.

Some times you can overdo the do.


Don't do this Meg Ryan do. It's more of a doo-doo..

Don’t do this Meg Ryan do. It’s more of a doo-doo..





English is a Scandinavian language!

Interesting news swept the linguistic newswires at the end of 2012.
This is a direct copy from :
Linguist Makes Sensational Claim: English Is a Scandinavian Language

Nov. 27, 2012 — “Have you considered how easy it is for us Norwegians to learn English?” asks Jan Terje Faarlund, professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo. “Obviously there are many English words that resemble ours. But there is something more: its fundamental structure is strikingly similar to Norwegian. We avoid many of the usual mistakes because the grammar is more or less the same.

Faarlund and his colleague Joseph Emmonds, visiting professor from Palacký University in the Czech Republic, now believe they can prove that English is in reality a Scandinavian language, in other words it belongs to the Northern Germanic language group, just like Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic and Faroese. This is totally new and breaks with what other language researchers and the rest of the world believe, namely that English descends directly from Old English. Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, is a West Germanic language, which the Angles and Saxons brought with them from Northern Germany and Southern Jylland when they settled in the British Isles in the fifth century.

Old English died out
“Modern English is a direct descendant of the language of Scandinavians who settled in the British Isles in the course of many centuries, before the French-speaking Normans conquered the country in 1066,” says Faarlund. He points out that Old English and Modern English are two very different languages. Why?
“We believe it is because Old English quite simply died out while Scandinavian survived, albeit strongly influenced of course by Old English,” he says.
The ‘cohabitation’ between the British and the Scandinavians was largely hostile. Both fought for political hegemony. The descendants of the Vikings gained control of the eastern and northern parts of the country. The Danelaw was under the control of Scandinavian chiefs for half a century.
Like most colonists, the Scandinavian-speaking inhabitants found no reason to switch to the language of the country they had arrived in. “One especially important, geographic point in our study is that the East Midlands region, where the spoken language later developed into Modern English, coincides almost exactly with the densely populated, southern part of the Danelaw,” says the professor.
The language changed a great deal in the period after the Normans arrived. The miserable conditions people lived in at the time resulted in a complete merger of the two previously separate groups of people — the Old English speakers and the Scandinavian speakers — and out of this came Middle English — the predecessor of Modern English.

Adopted words they already had
The language adopted many words from the Danelaw’s inhabitants who were of Norwegian and Danish descent. For example, all the lexical words in this sentence are Scandinavian: He took the knife and cut the steak. Only he, the and and come from Old English.
“What is particularly interesting is that Old English adopted words for day-to-day things that were already in the language. Usually one borrows words and concepts for new things. In English almost the reverse is true — the day-to-day words are Scandinavian, and there are many of them,” says Faarlund.
Here are some examples: anger, awe, bag, band, big, birth, both, bull, cake, call, cast, cosy, cross, die, dirt, dream, egg, fellow, flat, gain, get, gift, give, guess, guest, hug, husband, ill, kid, law, leg, lift, likely, link, loan, loose, low, mistake, odd, race, raise, root, rotten, same, seat, seem, sister, skill, skin, skirt, sky, steak, though, thrive, Thursday, tight, till, trust, ugly, want, weak, window, wing, wrong.
The researchers believe that Old English already had 90 per cent of these concepts in its own vocabulary.

Took over the grammar
But the Scandinavian element was not limited to the vocabulary, which is normal when languages come into contact with each other. Even though a massive number of new words are on their way into a language, it nevertheless retains its own grammar. This is almost a universal law.
“But in England grammatical words and morphemes — in other words the smallest abstract, meaningful linguistic unit — were also adopted from Scandinavian and survive in English to this day.”

Scandinavian syntax
The two researchers show that the sentence structure in Middle English — and thus also Modern English — is Scandinavian and not Western Germanic. “It is highly irregular to borrow the syntax and structure from one language and use it in another language. In our days the Norwegians are borrowing words from English, and many people are concerned about this. However, the Norwegian word structure is totally unaffected by English. It remains the same. The same goes for the structure in English: it is virtually unaffected by Old English.”

“How can you illustrate this?”
“We can show that wherever English differs syntactically from the other Western Germanic languages — German, Dutch, Frisian — it has the same structure as the Scandinavian languages.” Here are some examples:
* Word order: In English and Scandinavian the object is placed after the verb:
I have read the book.
Eg har lese boka.
German and Dutch (and Old English) put the verb at the end.
Ich habe das Buch gelesen.
* English and Scandinavian can have a preposition at the end of the sentence.
This we have talked about.
Dette har vi snakka om.
* English and Scandinavian can have a split infinitive, i.e. we can insert a word between the infinitive marker and the verb.
I promise to never do it again.
Eg lovar å ikkje gjera det igjen.
* Group genitive:
The Queen of England’s hat.
Dronninga av Englands hatt.
“All of this is impossible in German or Dutch, and these kinds of structures are very unlikely to change within a language. The only reasonable explanation then is that English is in fact a Scandinavian language, and a continuation of the Norwegian-Danish language which was used in England during the Middle Ages.”
“But why the inhabitants of the British Isles chose the Scandinavian grammar is something we can only speculate on,” says Jan Terje Faarlund.

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Oslo. The original article was written by Trine Nickelsen, APOLLON Research Magazine.

I suspected this all along!… This would then make USA also part of Scandinavia? it kind of makes sense given that formerly Danish Greenland straddles the no-man’s land between Europe and North America 🙂
And apparently the new discovery would also make this graphic depiction of language-evolution from slightly wrong:


That’s why he said “I have a dream” and not “I have vision”….

There’s a famous Danish sketch (in Danish) from 1964 called “Skolekammerater”, [English: “(High)school buddies”] in which two middle-aged men meet on the street, recognize each other as former high school mates and for about 5 minutes reminisce about their joint heroics in high school… Along the way they have slightly different recollections of the various events, which makes the whole sketch funny, until they finally realize, that while their high school experiences were similar, they actually weren’t joint, as they did not go to the same school and actually never met before… Or as they summarize it themselves in the final moments: “By Golly, then we aren’t even us!”… 🙂

I am reminded of this when I come across some words that are spelled the same or similarly in both English and Danish and look as if they came out of the same “school” – but yet have a different meaning in each language.

One such word is “Vision”. In English it is the ability of our eyes to see. In Danish that is called “Syn”. But the word “Vision” also exists in Danish and is equivalent to English “A vision”, i.e. an ability to see something that isn’t there.

English –> Danish:
Vision –> Syn
A vision –> En vision

“Refusion”  is another tricky one. Ask an English-speaking Dane, like me, to translate the meaning of “Refusion” into Danish and you’ll probably get that it either means something synonymous to “a Denial”, someone saying “No!”, or a repetition of a “fusion”-process in which metals or atoms are melted together. In Danish, however, “Refusion” actually means “a Refund (of your money)”.  But then it turns out trickier than even that: I looked up the English definition of the word “Refusion” and to my surprise it turns out that my Danish language-mind got the best of me. I thought “Refusion” was what happened in English when someone refused something. That is not correct. The act of refusing is called “A Refusal” in English… I wonder how many Danes reading this made the same mistake at first read-through?

Refusion–>Re-fusion or refusion

[Sorry, dear reader, you will not get a refund for the time we’ve spent together here. Hopefully none is needed. 🙂 ]

The reassuring thing is: A spade is still a spade in both languages!…well…mostly…unless you’re referring to the playing card color! 🙂

A Spade (digging utensil, not a shovel)–>En Spade
Spades (card color ) –> Spar
A Spade (a card of that color ) –> En Spar




Sex and drugs – but not Rock’n Roll… (have many synonyms)

On my most recent visit to Denmark a Danish friend, knowing my passion for languages, asked me the strange question: “have you ever seen a dictionary with comments?”. Then he proceeded to show me what he meant. He looked-up the word for “prostitute” in the Danish-Portuguese dictionary, he had on his book shelf. The Portuguese alternatives filled something like 4 columns and the plethora of synonyms was rounded off with a comment (in Danish) by the author: “Ja, det kære barn har mange navne…” (“Yes, the sweet child has many names…”).

And so it seems, that every language is particularly fond of synonyms for sex and drugs -(but for some reason not for Rock’n Roll… 🙂 ). The Danish language is no exception.

The common expression for being drunk in DANISH is “at være fuld”, which actually literally means “to be full”. So, when Danes are “full”, they are full of liquor, and when the English-speakers are “full”, they are full with food. This has caused many a translation SNAFU 🙂

English ==> Danish:
To be full (e.g. a container) ==> at være fuld (for eksempel en beholder)
To be full (from eating food) ==> at være mæt
To be drunk ==> at være fuld.

Here’s another one: An English synonym for being drunk is “to be intoxicated”. Danes use the more innocuous word “påvirket”, which literally means “affected”. So, it was funny today, when a computer-service related English message about “affected users” was translated using the word “påvirket”, which unfortunately made it sound like those users were intoxicated:

English ==> Danish:
“The backup service was under maintenance. 40% of users were affected” ==>
Not the best: “Sikkerhedskopieringstjenesten blev vedligeholdt. 40% af brugerne påvirkedes/var påvirkede” (Can be mis-understood in Danish as “40% of users were intoxicated” 🙂 )
Better: “Sikkerhedskopieringstjenesten blev vedligeholdt. 40% af brugerne blev berørt”.

Lastly, when referring to drugs, Danes use the word “stoffer”, which in Danish is also synonymous with “fabrics”, like the ones used to sew a coat or make a quilt. My Danish girlfriend fondly remembered the time when, going on a longer trip with her mother, both were happy that they were going to be “stoffri” for a while. What they meant was that, being dedicated quilters, they were going to be away from cutting and sawing fabrics for a while. This was funny in Danish, because the expression “stoffri” generally means that someone is “drug-free”, fresh out of rehab…

And by the way, I also learned that both in English and in Danish a “quilt” and a “kilt” are NOT the same thing. It’s a Quilt on the left and a Kilt on the right. You’re welcome!…:

A Quilt and a KiltQuilting!!

You got your uppers, your downers…


Don’t get me started… No, wait… do!

Behold these two straightforward English sentences describing a system status:

“Maintenance – started at 9:30…”
“A problem – started at 9:30…”

Nothing seemingly “wrong” there… And yet there is a hidden issue which became apparent once the Danish translation surfaced.

You see the two English “started”-words are not 100% the same and the difference is best seen when switching to past tense: while we can say both “Maintenance – WAS started at 9:00” and “Maintenance – HAS started at 9:00”, the same symmetry does not apply to “an Error”: we can NOT say in English “Error – WAS Started at 9:00”, we can only say “Error – HAS started at 9:00”. This has to do with the strange nature of an error, we can not say about it that it actively “was started” (here “started” is practically an adverb, describing “was”). An error will typically occur by itself and we can just note a time when it has started (this “started” is a verb, past tense).

In Danish the difference between the two meanings is more visible, as the various cases actually get different word-endings:

English ==> Danish:
was started                 ==> blev startet, startedes
has started                  ==> har startet
started (verb)              ==> startede
started (adverb)          ==> startet

So, in Danish we can not use the (original) translation-pair:

Wrong Danish:
“Vedligeholdelse – startet kl. 9.00…”
“En fejl – startet kl. 9.00…”

The correct translation is:

Correct Danish:
“Vedligeholdelse – startede kl. 9.00…”
“En fejl – startede kl. 9.00…”

funny-pictures-the-dog-started-it1 imagesCAYRGLFF

No more money? No, just empty cardboard.

The English statement “The box was empty” was translated into Danish as “Kassen var tom”. While “Kasse” indeed means “a Box” in Danish, unfortunately the same word is also the word for a “Cash Register”. The Danish word for “Packaging” (Danish: “Emballage”) would be a more fortunate choice.

English ==> Danish
The box was empty ==>                 Kassen var tom
The cash register was empty ==>  Kassen var tom     (<== yes, it’s the same as above! 🙂 )
The packaging was empty ==>      Emballagen var tom