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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.

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.

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Danish word of the day: Blækspruttearm

If you're about to head off on holiday, you might be needing one of these.

Danish word of the day: Blækspruttearm

What is blækspruttearm?

blækspruttearm is the bungee cable with metal hooks on each end, often used to lash suitcases to car roof racks.

That’s not their only use, of course.

A bungee cord, a strong elastic core surrounded by material, forms the cable, with two metal hooks fastened securely at each end. They are used to secure objects without the need of a knot and to absorb shock — most famously, of course, in bungee jumping.

The Danish word blækspruttearm is formed from blæksprutte (octopus or squid) and arm — arm. So, an “octopus arm”. This doesn’t really conjure up images of the taut, secure cable you need when doing daredevil sports or fixing luggage to your car, but there we have it.

Why do I need to know blækspruttearm?

It’s a word that has, on first glance, no relation to its English translation.

However, Australian English uses the term “occy”, from “octopus strap”, to refer to bungee cords. This term purportedly comes from the resemblance of the cord to an octopus tentacle, as tenuous as this appears to be. This would nevertheless suggest a similar explanation is likely for the Danish word.

Other words exist in Danish in which animal names form part of a noun that means something unrelated to the animal: gravko (literally: “digging cow”), meaning “digger” or “excavator” (as in the construction machinery) is a good example of this. Koben (“cow leg”) also uses an animal name but a different one to its English translation: crowbar.

The common Danish word for polystyrene packaging is flamingo. This is no relation to the large pink bird, though: it’s the name of the company which originally made the material widespread in Denmark.

There are other nouns with animal names in them, like tanketorskbut this is traceable to the animal, or at least to a characteristic of it. Flueben (“fly leg”), meaning tick (the symbol), probably also falls into this category.