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… 🙂

Du kan få bank, kan du!…

Let’s talk banking, money. Always a touchy subject. Danish language may have it just right, as the word “bank” means both “getting beaten up” and “a banking institution”. Thus the title of this posting is actually saying “Do you want to get beaten up, do you!”, but it can ALSO mean “You are welcome to have a bank, yes you are!”. Unfortunately, I am not Rockefeller, so no banks shall be given away here. 🙂

Danish  ==>  English
At få bank —> To get a beating
En bank —>  A bank, a financial institution
Et bank —>    A beating, a knock

As is often the case in Danish, when you go plural an ‘a’ becomes an “æ” – and that would be that-, but not at all in this case:

Danish  ==>  English
Bænk —> A bench (to sit on), just one.
Banker —>  Banks (noun, plural of bank)
Banker —> Beats, hits (verb)
Flere bank —>  Several beatings
Flere banker —> Several banks
Bænke  —> Benches

In English, banks normally deal with “Finances” while “the Economy” is the larger underlying nationwide climate. For some reason, the Danes decided to use these two words differently. And English, of course, offers its own challenges with “economic” and “economical” meaning two different things:

English ==>  Danish
Economy —>  Økonomi
Personal finances —> Privatøkonomi
Secretary of Treasury —> Finansminister
Government Finances —-> Statsfinanserne
Economic trends —> Konjunkturer
Being economical–> At være sparsommelig

In Danish, as in English, an “institute” is usually a dedicated place of learning found at an university, while an “institution” is something else. On the surface the two languages seem in agreement, However, over the years, Danish has used the word “institution” to refer largely to places where you get “institutionalized” , such as orphanages or mental wards at hospitals. This may therefore explain why a bank, a “financial institution” is NOT an “institution” in modern day Danish, but an institute. Totally wrong, or…? After all, maybe you are not entirely crazy putting your money into a Danish bank, but as the old saying goes: “First you have the money and the bank has the experience. Then they invest it, and you gain the experience and they have your money”… So yes, in Denmark a bank is a “money institute”, a place where, I guess, the lessons will be repeated until they are learned….

English ==>  Danish
An institution—>  En institution
An institute —> Et institut
Financial institution —> Et pengeinstitut (NOT “en pengeinstitution”).

Of course, once you give your money to the bank, you expect something in return, like say regularly deposited interest payment on your money. The bank will give you some “small print” paperwork to sign and like many translators you may get very confused between these two very similar Danish words:

Danish  ==>  English
Forretningskrav —> Business requirements
Forrentningskrav —> “Interest requirements”, minimum rate of return on capital,

Speaking of one-letter differences: In English there is “Banking” and there is “Baking”. In a very strange way, the two were interchanged the other day, as I received a poorly translated Danish financial document to proofread. The English translation read: “You have bought 1000 ABC securities for  XY Danish kroner. The securities will be deposited into your custodial depot and XY kroner will be raised on your account on May 15, 2015″.

“Raised on your account”? What kind of strange English was that?… And then it dawned on me, that the same Danish word “at hæve” has both a baking and a banking meaning. These two have nothing at all to do with each other, but Google Translate did not see the difference. And also in Danish, you withdraw the money “on” the account and not “from” the account…:-)

Danish  ==>  English
At hæve —-> To rise (baking)
At hæve —-> To withdraw (banking)
Brøddejen hæver —> The bread dough rises (a baking term)
Vi hæver på kontoen—> We will withdraw from the account (a banking term)

In fact, Google Translate is blissfully unaware of the banking version of the word:

hævet på Google Transalte

And we won’t even talk here about translating the term “a money shot”…

Banking and investments present various risks of monetary loss to the uninitiated. Besides monetary losses, we can now also add the danger of being lost in translation… 🙂

The-Looney-Tunes-Show-Peel-of-Fortune-has-Daffy-strike-it-rich Money_Pink_Floyd maxresdefault

Number 9, number 9,- , number 9.0, number 9,00…

35 years ago, almost on the date (November 22, 1968), the Beatles released “The White Album”. On it there is a song called “Revolution 9“. It’s a bit of a stretch to call it “a song” because all it is is a series of sound effects, mumbling, backwards tape-loops and a monotonous male voice repeating the two words: “number 9, number 9, number 9”.

A classic ode to monotony? Definitely so. But when re-interpreted from the viewpoint of linguistics and localization, the song can be viewed as a hymn to the troubles posed on us by numbers. Let me count (albeit it’s not easy) some ways in which English and Danish differ on the matters of numbers….:

1. The comma versus period dilemma:

It is generally known that Europeans and Americans use commas and periods just the opposite of each other: In U.S. the commas separate the thousands and the periods separate the decimal fraction. For example the number “ten thousand and a half” would be written:

US/Australian/UK English: 10,000.5
European:                          10.000,5

There’s an interesting scientific paper describing the historical emergence of this difference between the continents. And Wikipedia has a lengthy article about the variety of ways in which the decimal points are applied around the World.

2. The ordinal:

In Danish a period is used to denominate an ordinal number. This confuses most spellcheckers because in Danish the word following the ordinal number should NOT be capitalized:

English ==> Danish
1st  –> 1.
2nd –> 2.
3rd base –> 3. base
4th birthday –> 4. fødselsdag

3. Thousand millions and above are different:

It has to do with disagreements between the continents regarding the prefix “bi-“. Europe uses the “Long Scale”, where “bi-” is a multiple of a million. USA, on the other hand, uses the “Short Scale” , with “bi-” describing multiples of a thousand. This is described in great detail in this Wikipedia article. The terrible thing for most financial or scientific writers is that the words “Billion” and “Trillion” appear exactly the same in both languages, but stand for quantities that are a factor of 1000 different!:

Number ==>                     English        ==> Danish
Million   –>                         Million           –> Million
Thousand Millions –>       Billion            –> Milliard
Million millions  –>           Trillion            –> Billion
Million million millions –> Quintillion      –> Trillion

So, one piece of good news is that, when translated into the Danish way of counting, the US federal deficit is only in the billions of dollars, not trillions. 🙂

4. The way we write dates:

Danish dates are separated by periods or dashes or slashes and the proper sequence is day.month.year . Also, the word “den” is used to specify a particular date (this one is really tough on any automated localization solutions). And month-names are NOT to be capitalized.

English ==> Danish
The 4th of July celebration   –> 4. juli fejringen
July 4th, 1990                        –> den 4. juli 1990
07/04/1990                            –> 4.07.1990
from 4th to 15th of July         –> 4.-15. juli

5. The way we describe time:

Americans use colon as separator between hours and seconds, Danes prefer the period. Most look-up solution for multilingual web sites can figure that one out quite easily. But then it falls apart: Predominantly Danes use the 24-hour clock. Americans generally prefer the 12 hour clock with AM and PM. The AM and PM monikers used in US with 12-hour time can not be localized in a simple manner into Danish, as Danes indeed do use the 12-hour time in everyday speech, but with FOUR (not two) descriptors:  morning, before noon, afternoon and evening. Also Danish alarms do NOT go off at “6” or “7”, but at “o’clock 6” or “o’clock 7” (Danish: “klokken 7”). In other words, while in English a number mentioned in context of time is understood to mean “time”, -it is not so in Danish. Also, interestingly enough, Danish does not have a precise word for “Noon”. We have “noon-time” (Middag, middagstid), but that’s more of a meal-time description. (And to make it even more confusing the big meal of the day, which we used to eat in the midle of the day has in modern time crept up towards the evening, so when you mention “middag” to a Dane, he will most likely think that you’re talking about an evening-type dinner meal around 6 PM).
If you want to meet a Dane at High Noon, that’s simply “klokken 12” or “præcist klokken 12”. If you want to eat with a Dane around noon-time, the meal is called “Frokost” (=Lunch), NOT “Middag” or “Middagsmad”. That’s what a Dane eats around 6-7 PM.

English ==> Danish
7:00 AM  –> 7.00
7:00 AM  –> Klokken 7 om morgenen
7:00 PM –> 19.00
7:00 PM –> Klokken 19
7:00 PM –> Klokken 7 om aftenen
11:00 AM –> Klokken 11 om formiddagen
3:00 PM –> Klokken 3 om eftermiddagen, klokken 15.
12:00 AM –> Midnat, klokken 24
12:00 PM –> klokken 12.
(Around) noon –> Middag
Dinner      –>    Middag, middagsmåltid
Lunch    –> Frokost

6. The way we describe price:

I have yet to see a proper English-to-Danish localization that does this correctly. Which is odd, because in most cases the incentive to localize a US web site into Danish is to SELL something to the Danes, so, one would think, that some effort would be put into displaying the price correctly. But no… Usually it’s a dead-on-arrival cause because the engineers responsible for website design (wrongly! :-)) assumed that prices are numbers, so therefore only allow numerics in their price-databases. However, they or their colleagues responsible for displaying the prices should be made aware of the fact that a correct Danish price involves the use a “dash”.

A price of 10 danish kroner and no øre (an øre is to the krone as a cent is to a dollar) should properly be shown as

10,-  kroner

NOT “10 kroner” and not “10,00 kroner”.

And if possible, an øre amount should be in smaller font and superscript. See the weekly circulars below fresh from Denmark with this week’s special offers.

7. The way Danes do singles before the tens:

While fellow Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden have converted to pronounce a count of, say, “twenty five” as “twenty” and “five”, the Danes, like the Germans, are sticking with the reverse order: “twenty five” is “five and twenty” in Danish . Furthermore, if written with words, then the combined number is smooshed into one word: “Femogtyve” (=25). Once we get above 100 then the sequence for Danish pronunciation is “hundreds, ones, tens” (125 =ethundredefemogtyve). This may seem highly illogical for an American reader, but don’t haste to throw any rocks, because the American preference for  “month-before-date” sequence for dates seems just as illogical to Danes… So there is some symmetry in trying to confuse each other 🙂
This small but significant divergence in expressing numbers between the Scandinavian countries has produced a very funny Norwegian sketch (in English of course – because THAT we all understand 🙂 ) implying that the Danes most likely don’t even understand each other.

8. The way we kind of still use base 20 for counting:

To make matters worse between the Scandinavian countries the Danish names for multiples of ten (above 40) are not, like English, Norwegian or Swedish, based on multiples of 10, but on multiples of 20! US used to be counting in 20s as well. Remember Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation…” A “score” is 20.

English ==> Danish:
Ten –> Ti
Twenty –> Tyve
(Old English) Score (i.e. 20 pieces) –> Snes (Old Danish)
Thirty   –> Tredive
Forty –> Fyrre
Fifty –> Halvtreds  (roughly: “Half of the third score”)
Sixty –> Tres (roughly: “three scores”)
Seventy –> Havfjerds
Eighty –> Firs
Ninety –> Halvfems

Another Norwegian sketch, in which a Norwegian short-wave radio operator refuses to save a Danish ship sending SOS – because he can’t grasp the Danish number system, totally nails the puzzlement of fellow Scandinavians when faced with both the reverse order of numbers and the strange Danish names for powers of ten: Fleksnes makes fun of Danish Number system…. 🙂

In conclusion: In general terms I have presented here  8 ways in which the treatment of numbers in Danish differs from English. It could easily take us another “8 Days a Week” to cover the peculiar differences between Danish and English numbers in further detail. Which brings to mind another Beatles song: “Digit, digit, digit”…. Oops, it’s actually called “Dig it” 🙂

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