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DANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Danish expression of the day: Der er ingen ko på isen

There's no immediate danger of seeing today's expression of the day play out in real life.

What is ingen ko på isen?

Literally, “no cow on the ice”, this phrase would normally be prefaced with der er (“there is”) to make it grammatically complete, i.e. “there is no cow on the ice”.

However, it’s common to hear it with the der er dropped (but still included implicitly), so someone might respond by just saying the four words on their own: ingen ko på isen. Occasionally, and if they’re feeling particularly informal (and are perhaps of an older generation), they might throw a du on the end: ingen ko på isen, du! 

Du literally means “you” but in the above sentence is like putting a word like “pal” or “mate” on the end for emphasis in US or UK English: “No cows on the ice, pal.”

Why do I need to know ingen ko på isen?

So what on earth does this odd Danish idiom mean? The answer is “there’s no danger” or “there are no ill effects”, so you’re most likely to hear it if you ask someone about or mention a potential problem, but your conversation partner has more information than you and responds by saying there’s no immediate concern.

As for its origin: According to Den Danske Ordbog, the phrase was once Der er ingen ko på isen så længe rumpen er i land (“There are no cows in the ice as long as the rump is on land”).

This makes the idiomatic meaning, “nothing to worry about”, a bit easier to understand: you don’t have to worry about your cow wandering onto the ice and falling through it if its buttocks are still on land.

Ingen ko på isen is one of a number of Danish expressions that make reference to animals. Som katten om den varme grød (“like the cat going around the warm porridge”) and ugler i mosen (“owls in the bog”) are two other examples. We’ll save their explanations for another day.

Examples

Åh nej, vi er løbet tør for kaffe! – Ingen ko på isen, jeg købte en ny pose i går.

Oh no, we’ve run out of coffee! – No stress, I bought a new bag yesterday.

Jeg hældte håndsæbe i opvaskemaskinen i stedet for opvaskemiddel, men der var ingen ko på isen.

I put hand soap in the dishwasher instead of washing liquid, but there were no ill effects.

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DANISH WORD OF THE DAY

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”).

Examples

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.

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