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DANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Danish expression of the day: At tage en morfar

If it's about time for your afternoon nap, you'll be needing today's Danish expression.

What does ‘at tage en morfar’ mean?

Firstly, we need to explain morfar, which is one of six different Danish words that can be used to refer to a grandparent.

Unlike in English, the Danish language has different words for relations on the paternal and maternal side of one’s family. This applies to aunts and uncles as well as to grandparents, but we’ll stick to the task in hand here and just deal with the latter.

Grandparents, or bedsteforældre in Danish, can be called bedstemor (grandmother) or bedstefar (grandfather), but it’s probably more common to hear the slightly shorter, but more specific, combination of mor (mother) and far (father) used in four different variations, a unique one for each grandparent.

For example, because your maternal grandmother is your mother’s mother, she would be your mormor (literally, ‘mother-mother’) in Danish. Your grandad on that side would be morfar (mother-father).

On the paternal side, your grandma is your farmor (father-mother) and grandad is farfar (father-father).

Got it? Good.

At tage en morfar is to do something which the expression would suggest is common among maternal grandfathers: take a nap, have a snooze, grab forty winks, or doze off for a bit.

But why morfar?

We’re unsure where the origins of the expression come from, apart from the stereotype of seniors needing a bit of shuteye in the afternoon or being likely to snooze in a comfortable armchair for a while.

Danish dictionaries suggest the phrase has been around since at least 1999, but we think it’s likely to be longer. Get in touch if you know the origins of this phrase or have a story about it.

As for why a morfar is more likely to need some rest than a farfar, or even a bedstemor, we have no idea. But the other variants of ‘grandparent’ are never used in this expression, and attempting to do so (or doing it by mistake) is likely to result in some amusement.

How to use it

Jeg er helt smadret efter den lange cykeltur op ad bakken. Jeg tror lige, jeg tager mig en lille morfar.

I’m completely shattered after that long uphill bicycle ride. I think I’m going to have a little nap.

Hvor er Katrine? — Hun har vist taget sig en morfar. Jeg vækker hende om en halv time.

Where’s Katrine? — She seems to have gone for a nap. I’ll wake her up in half an hour.

Alternatives

An alternative, and more formal word for a short daytime sleep in Danish is lur. This is more likely to be used when talking about small children. You probably wouldn’t describe a toddler as ‘having a maternal grandfather’, but would go with the simpler lur in this scenario.

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DANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Danish expression of the day: Det ligner

It looks like an obvious choice for the word of the day. But is it?

Danish expression of the day: Det ligner

What is det ligner?

The verb at ligne is another example of a word that enables Danes to say something in fewer words than the equivalent sentence in English.

Meaning “to look like”, it normally has a straightforward use: han ligner sin mor, for example: “he looks like his mother”.

Arguably, there is an English verb directly equivalent to at ligne which would allow you to say the above sentence in neither more nor fewer words than the Danish version. “He resembles his mother” would also be an acceptable translation of han ligner sin mor. 

Despite this, I’d argue “looks like” is more accurate in most situations and contexts, because at ligne does not have the formal feel of written language that “resemble” conjures up.

Why do I need to know det ligner?

When you put the pronoun det (“it”) in front of the verb, making it “it looks like”, the use of at ligne can take on a different meaning.

In the sentence det ligner at det bliver regnvejr hele weekenden (“it looks like it will rain all weekend”), ligner drops its equivalence to “resemble” and, similar to “looks like”, can be used to make a prediction.

According to language regulator Dansk Sprognævn, this alternative use of det ligner has emerged in the last 20-25 years. That being the case, you could speculate that it has occurred as a result of an English phrase being adopted in Danish, even though it makes less sense in Danish in its original guise.

This is not necessarily true. Another way of talking about an uncertain future event in Danish is to say det ser ud til, approximately “it looks as though”. Det ser ud til at det bliver regnvejr is, in fact, probably closer to “it looks like it will rain” than any translation that uses det ligner.

Nevertheless, det ligner is a concise way of talking about something that looks likely to happen in the future. You would normally say it based on some form of evidence, rather than your own instinct: in the examples above, darkening grey clouds on the horizon would probably get people saying det ligner regnvejr.

Examples

Det lignede en sikker sejr for hjemmeholdet, men så lukkede de tre mål ind i anden halvleg.

It looked like a comfortable victory for the home team, but they conceded three goals in the second half.

Er du okay? Du ligner slet ikke dig selv.

Are you ok? You don’t look yourself at all.

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