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Danish word of the day: Knallert

An onomatopoeic two-wheeled form of transport is the word of the day.

What is knallert?

knallert is roughly the vehicle that you would generally call a “moped” in English — in other words, a small motorcycle with a low cc engine.

The word scooter is also used in Danish but it’s not exactly the same as the English “scooter”. This can be seen in the differences between scooter and knallert, and “moped” and “scooter” respectively.

Taking the Danish terms first, a scooter is smaller than a knallert. The difference is usually defined by the size of the wheels: if it’s 10-16 tommer or inches (the imperial unit is confusingly used in Denmark for wheel sizes), then it’s a scooter. Any larger and you have a knallert.

In English, meanwhile, a scooter and a moped can have the same appearance (with the platform on which you can rest your feet), but engine size matters more: under 50cc and it’s a moped (although this definition also applies to a knallert), more than that and it’s a scooter.

As such, “scooter” is the larger of the two in English but not in Danish. You might sometimes see a sign stating Knallert forbudt (“No mopeds”) on smaller Danish cycle paths such as country paths that don’t run alongside a road. This is because mopeds can sometimes share bicycle lanes with bicycles, but some cycle lanes don’t permit this.

While “scooter” can also be used in English to describe a child’s two-wheeled, pre-bicycle toy complete with handle bar, this has a different Danish name, løbehjul (literally “running wheels”).

Why do I need to know knallert?

The word knallert, to mean “moped” emerged in the 1950s as the small motorised bikes increased in popularity outside of their spiritual home in Italy.

It was originally a slang expression given to a bicycle that had a small motor fitted, meaning it emitted the “put-put-put” noise of such engines.

The verb at knalde (which later became slang for having sex, but that’s for another day) can be used to describe this sort of low-grade, repetitive banging noise.

Knallert thereby evolved from at knalde, before eventually become a word in its own right and not just a slang term: it is, as such, an example of “dead slang” that is no longer slang but has its own distinct meaning.

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For members


Danish expression of the day: Det sejler

When things are falling to pieces all around you and you feel like sailing off into the breeze.

Danish expression of the day: Det sejler

What is det sejler?

The present tense form of the verb at sejle “to sail”.

At sejle can mean either “it is sailing” or “it sails” in English, with det being the pronoun. Birgitte sejler hver weekend og bruger mange kræfter på at vedligeholde båden: “Birgitte goes sailing every weekend and spends a lot of energy maintaining the boat”.

In noun form, a sejler can mean “a sailor”, although the more common term is probable sømand (“seaman”), with sejlere used for people who sail in sporting competitions. Confusingly, a sejler can also mean a boat (provided it has sails).

There are a collection of other ways at sejle can be used as a verb: it can mean to transport something using a ship (“sail the cargo”), to work on a ship (“I sailed for 45 years, man and boy”), to depart from a harbour (“she sailed from Esbjerg at 0800 hours”), or even to wade or float around at your leisure (“he sailed around the swimming pool on a foam mat all morning”).

Why do I need to know det sejler?

You may have noticed that all of the above examples have a personal pronoun (I, she, he etc.) rather than “it” (det) in front of the verb.

When you say det sejler, “it’s sailing”, things take on a different meaning: they are chaotic, out of control, a mess. This slang usage of sejle can be used to describe anything from a messy apartment, to a work project that is falling apart at the seams (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors), to dizzying or blurry surroundings.

At sejle in this sense can also describe people (so watch out for context if you see or hear it with personal pronouns): han sejler can variously mean “he is staggering”, “he is drunk”, or “he has lost control”.


Det sejler fuldstændig i det her hus. Vi trænger til en ordentlig forårsrengøring.

This house is a total mess. We need to have a proper spring clean.

Jeg fik alt for mange snaps i går. Da jeg kom hjem efter taxaturen, sejlede det fuldstændig for mig.

I had far too much schnapps last night. When I got home after the taxi journey, everything was spinning.