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Danish word of the day: Tanketorsk

Fish are famous for having short memories, but what has that got to do with today's word?

What is tanketorsk?

En tanke is a thought, and torsk is cod, the species of fish most famous in British culture for being the perfect takeaway accompaniment to chips.

Tanketorsk therefore literally translates as “think-cod” or “thought-cod”. This obviously doesn’t make any sense, but the figurative meaning of the word, according to the Danish dictionary, is a “foolish statement or act that is caused by a lack of thoughtfulness”.

Possible English equivalents might be a blunder, error, mistake or lapse. The French loan phrase faux pas may also be appropriate. My favourite translation, and the one I think comes closest in terms of context, is a British slang word: “clanger”.

Why do I need to know tanketorsk?

The expression tanketorsk has been around for a while: it appeared in 1836 in a book by an author named Bagge, according to a 2015 Kristeligt Dagblad column, which states the word came into use in the early 1800s.

Like another abstract animal-related noun, gåseøjneit appears to be less than complimentary about the creature from which it draws its inspiration. The cod is a symbol of foolishness, which according to the KD column, “probably emerged because the cod’s face, with its big mouth and staring eyes, was perceived as something that signalled stupidity”.

Similarly, an informal Danish synonym for “very stupid” or “very silly” is torskedumt, i.e. “cod-stupid”. So there’s plenty of evidence that the cod was not highly thought of when informal or slang phrases were formed in the 19th century.

Tanketorsk is not a word intended to have a lot of impact (at least, not in modern Danish). So if you were generally upset about an error you or someone else had made you probably wouldn’t call it a tanketorsk. On the other hand, it’s a good way to add some colour to your vocabulary when you want to own up to a mistake without getting too heavy.


Det var en rigtig tanketorsk, da dommeren viste et rødt kort til den forkerte spiller.

It was a real clanger when the referee gave a red card to the wrong player.

Jeg er virkelig ked af det, men jeg er kommet til at købe yoghurt i stedet for mælk. Det var simpelthen en tanketorsk.

I’m really sorry but I bought yoghurt instead of milk. It was just a lapse in concentration.

Altså, jeg mente det ikke, da jeg sagde at Rom er hovedstaden i Frankrig. Det var en tanketorsk.

Look, I didn’t mean it when I said Rome was the capital of France. It was an error.

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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.