Danish word of the day: Gækkebrev

Children across Denmark will be sending fun Easter-themed letters to each other in the coming days, but what exactly is a gækkebrev?

What is gækkebrev?

Gækkebrev is formed of the Danish word for letter (correspondence), brev, and the verb at gække, which is no longer in common use but means to “mislead” or “trick”. You may have heard the word in the phrase at drive gæk med, meaning to trick or kid someone.

Sending a gækkebrev is an Easter tradition which emerged in Denmark in the 1700s and continues to this day, and involves playing a trick on the recipient of the letter. According to the tradition, they are always anonymous, though you may give the target of your trick a helpful hint by writing a dot for each letter of your name.

Gækkebreve, sent at Easter, are meanwhile made to look like snowflakes by cutting pieces out of the paper. This is thought to be due to centuries-old folklore which states that when the vintergække (winter teases) peak out from under the snow, it’s time to send a greeting to someone you care about.

Why do I need to know gækkebrev?

Making a gækkebrev (or several) is a popular Easter activity for children in Denmark. The idea is to design a letter in the basic shape of a snowflake that includes a rhyming riddle. This means plenty of time spent on klippe og klistre (cutting out and glueing, although it’s mainly just the former in this case) to make the letters.

Children do not sign their names on the letter, but will instead put one dot for every letter in their name.

A gækkebrev. Photo: Bjarne Lüthcke/Ritzau Scanpix

Recipients then have to guess who sent them the letter. If they guess right, the sender has to give them a chocolate egg. If they don’t guess the sender’s identity, then the recipient has to give the egg.

Although adults might be able to deduce which child sent their gækkebrev, most play along and let them win the chocolate. 

Examples (of rhyming gække riddles)

Gæk gæk gæk
Mit navn er blevet væk
Mit navn det står med prikker
Pas på det ikke stikker

Gæk gæk gæk
My name has run away
Write it on the dots
But mind you don’t get stung

Digtet i Vejle
af 24 snegle
skrevet i Rom
af kaptajn Vom
gæt så, hvorfra brevet kom

Written in Vejle
by 24 snails
written in Rome
by Captain Vome
Guess from where this letter has come

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Danish word of the day: Overordnet

We'll try to give you an overarching explanation of today's word of the day.

Danish word of the day: Overordnet

What is overordnet?

While we covered the meaning of over previously (spoiler: it means “over”), you’ll also need the translation of the verb at ordne to get a sense of how to use overordnet.

Because it has its roots in Latin, at ordne (from the Latin “ordinare”) is easy enough to understand for an English speaker. When used in Danish, it signifies to sort, place in a correct order, tidy or fix something. It can also mean to take care of a problem, conflict or situation: Lejligheden sejlede da jeg kom hjem, så jeg ordnede den lige hurtigt (“the apartment was a mess when I came home, so I gave it a quick sort-out”).

Getting back to overordnet, which is an adjective in the form of a past-tense verb, the prefix suggests something ahead in a certain order. In other words, overordnet can be someone of a higher rank, such as in the military or at a work place.

It can also mean a higher meaning or context, similar to how you might use “overall” in English — an overordnet strategi, for example, can be a company’s long-term business model, around which it builds its more immediate aims.

Why do I need to know overordnet?

While it’s a good example of an adjective that is formed from a rarely-used verb (at overordne), it’s also a word that will help you to convey nuance and give sentences in spoken Danish a sense of articulacy (provided you don’t overuse it, then you might end up sounding like a proponent of ‘management speak‘).

You can some up your thoughts on a certain subject by saying overordnet set (approximately, “generally speaking”) or say that you have been thinking up an overordnet plan (“overall plan”).

Like all good “over” words, overordnet has and “under”-based antonym. Underordnet is an even more expressive word than its superior (in a literal sense) opposite, and is usually used to dismiss something as irrelevant: det er underordnet, om det tager fem minutter eller en time, bare jeg får tid til en gåtur hver dag (“it doesn’t matter whether it takes five minutes or an hour, as long as I get a chance to take a walk every day”).


Jeg forstår ikke, den overordnede betydning med universet.

I don’t understand the overall meaning of the universe.

Jeg kan desværre ikke svare på dit spørgsmål, inden jeg har talt med min overordnede.

I’m afraid I can’t answer your question until I’ve spoken with my superior.