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!

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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.


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.