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Danish expression of the day: Hård hund

You’ll have a dogged determination to use this Danish phrase.

What is hård hund? 

Literally a “hard dog”, this expression is used figuratively to describe a person who is either insensitive or exceptionally tough, demanding or, dare we say, ‘dogged’.

Its dictionary definition is closer to the first of the meanings above, i.e. insensitive. However, it’s arguably more common to see it used to mean “tough”, for example in this quiz on broadcaster DR’s website, which asks if you are a hård hund and therefore capable of surviving in the Stone Age.

It may have started out as a phrase for “insensitive”, but because this can be conflated with “tough”, it evolved into the latter meaning.

This can be seen in the example sentence used on the Danish Dictionary’s website:

Hun var en hård hund, der nådeløst slæbte mig til papirbunkerne, når de blev for høje. 

She was a hård hund who mercilessly dragged me to the stacks of paper if they got too tall”.

This sentence (taken from a 1989 memoirs) is apparently a description of a demanding mentor, but whether the mentor is being insensitive, demanding or tough in this passage is open to interpretation.

Why do I need to know hård hund?

You can use hård hund for either “tough” or “insensitive” without being misunderstood, provided you have the right the context.

There are some alternative expressions which are similar to hård hund. Hård banan (“hard banana”) and hård negl (“hard nail”) could similarly be interpreted as either insensitive or tough, but I’d probably go with hård negl for “tough” and hård banan for “insensitive”.

This is perhaps due to mother-tongue bias: the English phrase “as hard as nails” means someone who is physically tough, sometimes to the point of being intimidating. It is similar but not identical to hård negl.


The ‘d’ in hård is silent, so it is a homophone with the Danish word for “hair”, hår. This is pronounced as “hoor”.

In hund (“dog”), the ‘d’ is also silent but requires you to put a glottal stop at the end of the word (like how the ‘t’ in “water” is dropped in the British cockney accent, making “wa-er”). The ‘u’ sounds like the ‘oo’ in “book” or “hood”. So hund is pronounced “hun-”.


Han er en hård hund og kan klar en fysisk belastende arbejdsuge på 40 timer uden at blive træt.

He’s a tough cookie and can get through a physically demanding 40-hour week without getting tired.

Jeg forsøgte at forklare, at jeg var ked af det, men hun var en hård hund og sagde bare, at jeg skulle mande mig op.

I tried to explain that I was upset, but she was harsh and just said I should ‘man up’.

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For members


Danish word of the day: Uoverskuelig

For when you just can't deal.

Danish word of the day: Uoverskuelig

What is uoverskuelig? 

This word contains skuelig, a substantive from of the verb at skue, which means “to view” but is not common in spoke Danish, where at se på or at kigge på (“to look at” in both cases) are more likely to be used to refer to looking at or viewing something.

At skue is often used in a more literary sense and can be compared to saying “consider” or “regard” when talking about looking at something. If you “cast your eyes upon” an object or landscape, you skuer it.

With the prefix over- , overskuelig means something that is possible to get a clear view of, to comprehend its full extent. Figuratively, this means to fully understand, master and be in control of something – not just to look at it.

The negation particle u reverses this meaning, giving you something that is hard to comprehend or deal with, so much so that you don’t really know where to start.

Why do I need to know uoverskuelig? 

It’s a curious and very commonly used word but one that is notoriously difficult to translate accurately into English.

As a side point, I think the double vowel at the start gives it a nice aesthetic. Lots of negated words are like this – uuholdelig (“unbearable”) and uafbrudt (“uninterrupted”) to name a couple of examples.

If you have a task – or more broadly, a day – ahead of you that you just don’t feel you have the energy or knowledge to deal with, you can say it’s uoverskuelig. In verb form, jeg kan ikke overskue means the same thing – approximately, “I can’t deal/cope with”.

Not being able to overskue something can be related to its size or complexity, but can also reflect your own condition – if you are feeling extremely tired, even a trip to the supermarket can be uoverskuelig.

It is also commonly used without the negation: Kan du stå for aftensmaden i dag? – Ja, det kan jeg godt overskue (“Can you take care of dinner today? – Yes, I can handle it”).


Jeg skal have kigget min forskudsopgørelse igennem, men det er lidt uoverskueligt.

I need to look through my tax return, but it’s quite complex.

Jeg kan aldrig overskue at tage på arbejde om mandagen.

I never feel like going to work on Mondays.