Danish word of the day: Spektakel

Today's word of the day makes a noise but you might not want to look at it.

What is spektakel?

You might be forgiven for thinking a spektakel is a spectacle, but it’s not. At least, not any more.

The main modern use of the Danish word spektakel is to describe something loud or noisy. This could be anything from a car with a broken exhaust to local roadworks to the Distortion festival. Basically, anything so noisy as to disrupt your day.

spektakel may also be used to describe a noisy disturbance, like an argument in the apartment underneath yours, or a rowdy parliamentary exchange (more common in the United Kingdom than Denmark). The colloquial British English word “racket” for noise is perhaps a good equivalent for this use.

The above can also be extended to lean more or on the disturbance itself than on the noise it generates. For example, you might ask someone not to make a spektakel at a family event by getting into a heated discussion with a relative with opposing political views. It could also be used in relation to controversy — a divisive new law passed by the government could result in a spektakel in the form of public protests.

Why do I need to know spektakel?

Spektakel is a rare example of a Danish word that is a “false friend”: it looks like an English word but has a different meaning to its counterpart, potentially resulting in confusion. Another example of this is eventuel, which in Danish means a possible or potential outcome or decision — and not “eventually”.

It has, however, not always been the case that the English and Danish versions of spektakel/spectacular diverge so much.

In generations passed, the meaning still signified in the English “spectacular” of something that is eye-catching or worth seeing — which is descended from Latin — was also how spektakel would have been understood in Danish.

Its meaning has evolved from generation to generation, however, perhaps because of parents calling a memorable event a spektakel but children only remembering it for making so much noise. This leads us to the new meaning of spektakel in common use today.


Det var godt nok en spektakel, da alle vennerne kom op at skændes til Thanksgiving-middagen.

It was a bit of a riot when the group of friends all ended up arguing during their Thanksgiving dinner.

Kommunen har været i gang med at lægge nye rør til kloaksystemet i godt et halvt år. Der har bare været en spektakel hver dag.

The city has been laying new pipes for the sewage system for almost six months. There’s been a racket outside every day.

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Danish word of the day: Knallert

An onomatopoeic two-wheeled form of transport is the word of the day.

Danish word of the day: Knallert

What is knallert?

knallert is roughly the vehicle that you would generally call a “moped” in English — in other words, a small motorcycle with a low cc engine.

The word scooter is also used in Danish but it’s not exactly the same as the English “scooter”. This can be seen in the differences between scooter and knallert, and “moped” and “scooter” respectively.

Taking the Danish terms first, a scooter is smaller than a knallert. The difference is usually defined by the size of the wheels: if it’s 10-16 tommer or inches (the imperial unit is confusingly used in Denmark for wheel sizes), then it’s a scooter. Any larger and you have a knallert.

In English, meanwhile, a scooter and a moped can have the same appearance (with the platform on which you can rest your feet), but engine size matters more: under 50cc and it’s a moped (although this definition also applies to a knallert), more than that and it’s a scooter.

As such, “scooter” is the larger of the two in English but not in Danish. You might sometimes see a sign stating Knallert forbudt (“No mopeds”) on smaller Danish cycle paths such as country paths that don’t run alongside a road. This is because mopeds can sometimes share bicycle lanes with bicycles, but some cycle lanes don’t permit this.

While “scooter” can also be used in English to describe a child’s two-wheeled, pre-bicycle toy complete with handle bar, this has a different Danish name, løbehjul (literally “running wheels”).

Why do I need to know knallert?

The word knallert, to mean “moped” emerged in the 1950s as the small motorised bikes increased in popularity outside of their spiritual home in Italy.

It was originally a slang expression given to a bicycle that had a small motor fitted, meaning it emitted the “put-put-put” noise of such engines.

The verb at knalde (which later became slang for having sex, but that’s for another day) can be used to describe this sort of low-grade, repetitive banging noise.

Knallert thereby evolved from at knalde, before eventually become a word in its own right and not just a slang term: it is, as such, an example of “dead slang” that is no longer slang but has its own distinct meaning.