Danish word of the day: Skildpadde

Today's word of the day is a great example of one the more literal ways of naming animals in Danish.

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!

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.