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”.


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