21 Danish words we’ve learned during the coronavirus outbreak

21 Danish words we've learned during the coronavirus outbreak
A sign in Romø South Jutland reminding visitors to keep their distance from one another. Photo: Scanpix
For beginners in Danish, the coronavirus crisis has been a crash-course in bureaucratic and scientific language as well as political rhetoric. Here are some words we've picked up.

Nedlukning — lockdown

Nedlukning’ reverses the English lockdown, and means literally 'downlocking'. It perhaps hasn’t been as omnipresent in Denmark as its English counterpart has been, but it remains a word you will probably never forget. 
 
Smitte — infection
 
Over the past two months, Danish learners have been exposed to a near endless variety compound words involving the Danish word smitte, meaning infection. 
 
There’s been smittespredning (the spread of infection), and smitteopsporing (contact tracing), smittetrykket (the reproduction rate),  and smittetallet (the total number of recorded cases). 
 
As the Danish learners among you will already have realised, compound words like this are extremely common in Danish, particularly for scientific terms where some other languages would use a Latin term. 
 
Karantæne — quarantine
 
‘Karantæne', meaning ‘quarantine’, is what you are supposed to do to yourself if you feel that you have coronavirus-like symptoms, or if you have been exposed to coronavirus.  

 
Infektionsberedskab — Infection preparedness 
 
One of the key departments at Statens Serum Institut, the Danish infectious diseases agency, has been Infektionsberedskab, or 'infection preparedness’. Beredskab, or preparedness, can also refer to increased emergency level, as in this headline Sundhedsstyrelsen skærper beredskabet, 'the board of health is increasing its alarm level’, when it was still unclear if the pandemic would hit Denmark. 
 

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen tells Danes to “stick together by holding our distance” at a press conference on March 14. Photo: Phillip Davali/Scanpix
 
At holde afstand — to hold your distance 
 
Perhaps the most memorable of the many slogans Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has come up with during the crisis is this paradoxical formulation: Vi står sammen ved at holde afstand, or ‘we stick together by holding our distance’. You will also have seen Hold afstand signs around all over the country. 
 
When it’s all over, you can still use ‘at holde afstand’ if you ever have a driving lesson.
 
Særligt sårbare — especially vulnerable 
 
Given that the virus only tends to be deadly for the elderly, or those with preexisting medical conditions, this phrase særligt sårbare, 'especially vulnerable’, comes up frequently. But when all this is over, you will still see it used to describe, for instance, children in poverty.  

 
Risiko — risk
 

Risiko, meaning ‘risk’, 'hazard’ or ‘peril’, has come up frequently in discussions of reopening. It has also been used in compound words like risikogrupper, ‘risk groups’, or risikovurdering, risk assessment.  
 
At hamstre — to stockpile 
 
When Denmark announced its first lockdown measures, supermarkets like Netto, Fakta and Super Brugsen were hit by panic-buying, with toilet paper, alcohol gel, and pasta and yeast particularly sought after.
 
It was nothing on the scale of what was seen in countries like the UK (This is Denmark, after all). But for language lovers, it was an introduction to the wonderful verb 'at hamstre’. 
 
Literally this means 'to hamster', or to stockpile food in a way similar to that with which a hamster crams its cheeks with seeds. The word is also common in the form of a gerund or verbal noun, hamstring, meaning 'stockpiling'.
 
 
Ansvarlighed — responsibility
 
While Denmark’s government imposed many restrictions as part of the lockdown, it has also relied on Danes behaving with responsibility, or with ansvarlighed. It’s a word which has cropped up often in speeches enjoining Danes to keep social distance. 
 
Bærer byrden — to bear a burden 

 

Everyone is suffering, but it is the elderly, or those working in old people’s homes, or doctors and nurses, who 'bear the toughest burden’. At bære de tungeste byrden is a phrase that comes up a lot in articles about coronavirus in Denmark. 
 
Retningslinjer — guidelines
 

One of the main ways, Denmark’s authorities have managed the pandemic is by issuing retningslinjer or ‘guidelines’ to just about everyone, from retail chains to kindergartens. Remember to wash your hands!  

 
Dødsfald — fatality 
 
Dødsfald functions either as the official term for an individual death, translating as something like ‘fatality’, or as an abstract term meaning ‘bereavement’. 
 
 
Inlagte — admitted
 
Perhaps the key piece of data for tracking the coronavirus infection has been the number of people  
inlagte, or ‘admitted’ to hospital. You will also see the word indlæggelser, meaning ‘admissions’. 
 
Intensivafdeling — intensive care ward
 

The intensivafdeling is the intensive care ward in a Danish hospital, which so far have not come close to being overwhelmed by the number of coronavirus patients.  

 
Sundhedsvæsen — health system
 

Denmark’s lockdown was put in place originally to slow the pandemic so it wouldn’t overwhelm the health system. Det danske sundhedsvæsen, or 'the Danish health system', is a phrase that has come up again and again. It’s a compound word combining sundhet, or ‘health’, with væsen, which can mean ‘being', ‘creature' or ‘entity'.  

 
Genåbning — reopening 
 
The last few weeks have all been about genåbning, or 'reopening' Denmark. Danish words pre-fixed with -gen, are fairly common. Examples are genbrug/genbrugning, 'recycling', genstart, a reboot, genfødsel, a rebirth. 
 
Gradvist — gradual 
 
The lifting of restrictions in Denmark has arguably progressed faster than anywhere else in the world, but the government’s rhetoric has been that it will progress gradvist or ‘gradually’. 
 
Liberale erhverv — independent service businesses
 
When Denmark’s political parties were debating which part of the economy to open up first, one of the immediate suggestions were the businesses classed as liberale erherv, literally 'liberal industry’. This somewhat vague term covers any small, independent business which does not sell a product, and includes lawyers, architects, doctors, dentists, accountants, consultants and more.  
 
Plejehjem — care home 

 

Sadly, the word for 'care home’, plejehjem has been coming up ever more frequently in Denmark, as it emerges that more than a third of those who have died with coronavirus in Denmark have been residents.
 
But the quality of and funding for old people’s homes is a perennial political issue in Denmark, so its a word you will hear again once the pandemic is over.  
 
Prøveresultat — test result 
 
Prøveresultat, meaning 'test result'is a word you are likely to see more and more often as Denmark increasingly relies on testing to identify and trace outbreaks over the coming months. May yours be negative.  
 
At gå på en line — to walk a tightrope 
 
In her well-received speech announcing Denmark’s reopening, she said the process would be like 'at gå på en line, literally 'to walk on a line’, but perhaps better translated as ‘walking on a tightrope’.  

 

 


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