Justin Cremer

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Ten Danish words the world should start using now

Hils your farmor. Photo: Colourbox

Originally published in The Local - January 22, 2015

To the vast majority of the world, Danish just sounds like a bunch of garbled gobbledygook.

But hidden inside the tough-to-master language are some terrific words that, once learnt, seem to actually be better than their English equivalents. In some cases, no one-word English equivalent even exists and in today's busy world who wants to say four words when you could just get by with one!

With that in mind, I put together a list of ten Danish words that we think should be incorporated into the English language. One of them already seems well on its way even though no one (not even the Danes) can seem to agree on what it really means.

So, gather up your overskud and go through the list. Don't wait until overmorgen! And when you're done, remember to share it with your mormor so we all can start using these fun Danish words.

1. Overskud/overskue

Overskud and its derivatives are terrific and widely used Danish words. In a financial context overskud means profit, but most Danes use it to describe an excess of energy or the lack thereof. If a Dane isn’t up to coping with a particular challenge, they will say they cannot overskue it. If it’s really daunting, they may even call it uoverskueligt. But going above and beyond the call of duty? That’s really showing some overskud.

How to use it: “Hey man, can you help me move some boxes on Saturday?” “Hmmm, I’ve got to take the kids swimming and get groceries, so I don’t think I’ll have the overskud. In fact, it sounds downright uoverskueligt.”

2. Overmorgen/forgårs

Danish is often simply more effective when it comes to talking about time. What takes an English speaker four words (the day after tomorrow), a Danish speaker can accomplish with one: overmorgen. Same thing with ‘the day before yesterday’. That’s simply forgårs.

How to use it: “Hey, we never heard from Linda - weren’t we supposed to go out with her and Peter i forgårs?” “No silly, our double date isn't until i overmorgen.”

3. Mormor/farmor, etc

Describing family members is another area where the Danes have got it down. When an English speaker talks about his/her grandmother, they may be asked: “Now, is that on your mother or your father’s side?” No such confusion in Danish. A maternal grandmother is mormor (literally mum mum), a paternal grandmother is farmor (dad mum), your mom’s dad is morfar and your dad’s dad is farfar.

How to use it: “Did I ever tell you that my farfar fought in WW2?”

4. Hyggelig

I should just go ahead and admit this now: every list I do on the Danish language will probably include some variation of hygge, perhaps the most famous of all Danish words. Some say it’s untranslatable, other say it just basically means ‘cosy’. Whatever. It’s a good word and once you learn Danish, you’ll use it a lot.

How to use it: “I tell you, Sam, that was one hyggelig evening.” “Yes indeed, Steve. I must say that you really know how to hygge.”

5. Hils

This short little word is a great and effective replacement for “give my regards to so-and-so” or “say hello to so-and-so for me”. A lot of Danish conversations end with both people telling the other to hils someone else. Or if you’re a third party to a conversation (your wife is going to call her sister, for example), you can simply say ‘hils’ to show (or give the illusion) that you care.

How to use it: “Hey, I’m heading over to Susan’s house this evening.” “OK, hils.”

6. Orke

This is another word that Danes use a lot. It basically means that you can’t be bothered to do something or that you don’t have the strength for it. Strangely enough, most Danes use it in the exact same phrasing: “Jeg orker det simpelthen ikke” (I simply can’t be bothered).

How to use it: “The baby is crying again – are you going to go in there and check on him?” “I’ve been in there ten times already and I don’t orker going in again!”

7. Politikerleden

You’ve got to love this: a word to describe disgust in politics and politicians.

How to use it: “Hey, did you catch the State of the Union address the other night?” “Nah man, I couldn’t orke seeing John Boehner in the background. I’ve got serious politikerlede.”

8. Stemmesluger

Another political term, but this one in a good way. A stemmesluger is literally translated as a “vote swallower”, i.e. a politician who receives a lot of votes in an election. In the European elections last year, Morten Messerschmidt of the Danish People’s Party was a true stemmesluger, receiving the highest number of personal votes in Danish history.

How to use it: “Obama sure was a stemmesluger in 2008.”

9. Velbekomme

English has always lacked a good term for telling someone to enjoy their meal. English speakers have adopted ‘bon appetit’, but that’s French. The Danish equivalent is surely just as good.

How to use it: “Here’s your pizza. Velbekomme!

10. Tanketorsk

Literally translated as a “thought cod”, this is a term to describe an inadvertent mistake or gaffe. 

How to use it: “Yikes dude, sorry I told your girlfriend that you were out with Marie, that was a real tanketorsk.”

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