What is skildpadde?
Skildpadde is the Danish word for turtle and is also also used for the turtle’s non-amphibious cousin, a tortoise.
Not only does it signify two different creatures, skildpadde also demonstrates the Danish language’s more literal way of naming many animals, when compared with English.
The literal translation of skildpadde is “shield toad”, with skild coming from the Low German word Schilt, meaning shield, and padde, a Danish word for “toad” (although tudse is more commonly used for “toad” and at the risk of getting sidetracked, we also love the Danish word for “tadpole”, haletudse).
Getting back on track, “shield toad” is a pretty accurate description of a tortoise’s appearance.
Why do I need to know skildpadde?
Other entertaining – and very literal – Danish animal names include næbdyr or “beaked animal” for a duck-billed platypus, and flagermus or “flap mouse” for a bat.
The Danish word for sloth is dovendyr, which literally translates to the almost-insulting “lazy animal”. This reflects the sloth’s relaxed attitude to getting anywhere – some sloths move so slowly that green moss has been known to grow in their fur.
Similarly, a bæltedyr – “belt animal” – is the Danish term for an armadillo. Although the word used in English is originally from Spanish, meaning “small armoured animal” – also pretty literal.
Another Nordic animal with a literal name is an isbjørn or an “ice bear” – a slightly more literal translation than English’s “polar bear”.
Visitors to aquariums may have come across a blæksprutte or squid, the marine creature’s Danish name derived from blæk, ink, and the verb at sprude, meaning “to sprout”.
A næsehorn or “nose-horn” is the Danish word for a rhinocerous, and a flodhest or “river horse” is a hippopotamus – although technically these animals’ English names are also literal descriptions – English just never got around to translating them from ancient Greek, where hippos means “horse”, and potamós means “river”. Similarly, the original Greek rhinokerōs comes from rhis “nose” and keras, “horn”.
Are there any literal Danish animal names we’ve missed? Let us know!