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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 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.

Examples

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.

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