Whether you've mastered the Danish language or are still struggling to tell a skov from a sko (a forest from a shoe), there's a good chance that, the longer you stay in Denmark, the more Danish words will begin to creep into your English vernacular.
There are several reasons you might do this after moving to Denmark, or indeed any new country. Concepts or things that are specifically Danish might feel odd to translate, particularly if you are speaking to another Denmark-based international who knows the Danish terms.
For example, internationals might say CPR number (a mix of Danish and English) rather than 'personal registration number' or refer to the ‘kommune’ instead of the city council or municipality.
For people are more used to hearing technical or political terms in Danish, it's much easier to sub in words like a-kasse (unemployment insurance provider) or ordfører (parliamentary spokesperson) than to remember the correct, sometimes convoluted, English term.
There is also the matter of avoiding confusion in the case of false friends. For example, a højskole would literally be translated as 'high school' in English, but refers to a completely different form of education, so using the Danish word becomes necessary to prevent misunderstanding.
Another form of Danglish is speaking English words but with Danish grammar or word order. Have you ever spent so much energy mastering ‘inversion’ of verb-subject order in Danish sentences that you find yourself doing it in English — and sounding like Yoda? Yes, that have we done many times.
For some internationals living in Denmark, using the language is an important way of showing respect for their adopted country and to signify that they are making an effort to integrate, even when speaking English. That could mean saying hej and tak in shops and restaurants, even if the rest of the interaction has to be in English, or slipping in the occasional noun or adjective to show appreciation and understanding of the language and, by extension, the Danish way of life.
Photo: Sophia Juliane Lydolph/Ritzau Scanpix
Sometimes, Danish just has a snappier word for something, and before you know it, haps, you’ve taken it and dropped it straight into your English sentence.
So for a whole range of reasons, Danish words are likely to start infiltrating your vocabulary, which might result in blank faces and awkward moments if you use them with friends or family back home. Here are a few of our top personal culprits.
Okay, this one doesn’t really fit into any of the above categories, but we find it almost unavoidable to say as a sentence filler, even when being extra conscious about not using Danglish. It somehow just rolls off the tongue more easily than ‘er…’, despite having more syllables.
“I’m going to the supermarket, altså. Do you need anything?”
“Hi, I’m altså, calling to make a, er, altså, reservation.”
Danish has a way of saying “over there” in one word: derover (or derovre, depending on grammar). Not only is this easy to say, it sounds so much like the English “over there” in reverse, that you’ll end up saying it by accident and coming across like a bad Shakespeare audition.
“My phone is on the table, will you pass it to me? It’s just thereover.”
“Look at him, thereover, his attire is verily absurd.”
Denmark has a deposit scheme for cans and bottles whereby you get a small amount of money back if you return empties to be recycled. This recycling arrangement is known as the pant system, and the word pant is therefore used to refer to empty bottles and cans, and also to the money earned by returning them. It can even be used as a verb. Meanwhile, people who gather bottles and cans (for example, at music festivals) are referred to as pantsamlere (pant collectors).
“That was a great party last night, now we have loads of pant.”
“I didn’t have enough money at the supermarket, I forgot to take my pant with me.”
Photo: Erik Refner/Scanpix 2011
Vuggestue, børnehave, dagpleje
These terms all refer to different forms of pre-school childcare, but because of the way daycare is organised and partly state-funded, there are no precise English words for the various forms available to parents in Denmark. So the only way to be completely accurate is in the local language – provided your conversation partner knows what you mean.
“I dropped little Christian off at børnehave this morning with an extra pair of gloves”.
“The office was like a børnehave today.”
No self-respecting article on Danglish words would be complete without hygge, the feeling of conviviality, security and comfort to be gained from being in good company or having a nice time. But does it even count? It’s in the English dictionary, after all.
“Thanks for the last! It was totes hygge.”
“That party really bombed. Very un-hyggelig.”
Did we miss any good ones? Let us know.
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