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Danish expression of the day: At trække nitten

For when you get a raw deal.

What is at trække nitten?

Figuratively, the same as the English expression “to draw the short straw”, or to be given the most unwanted task or lot, presumably as a result of bad luck.

At trække is the Danish verb meaning “to pull” and can be used in most of the same contexts as the English counterpart, such as trække bukserne op (pull your trousers up) or trække en tand ud (pull out a tooth).

It can also be used in formulations that feel very Danish, like jeg skulle trække cyklen (“I had to walk [literally, ‘pull along’] my bicycle”) — a common situation for people dealing with a flat tyre, steep hill or vicious headwind.

Doors leading into public buildings will usually have the the words TRÆK (“PULL”) and TRYK (“PUSH”) fixed to them (unless they open automatically). I found this confusing at first because the two Danish words resemble each other. A more common word for “push” is skub, but this isn’t used on doors — for some reason, convention prefers tryk, which usually means something closer to “press”.

As a result of this, I occasionally find myself giving a hard shove to a Danish door which should be pulled open, and vice versa.

Why do I need to know at trække nitten?

None of the above has much to do with at trække nitten (I apologise for going off-topic). As mentioned, you “draw” something you don’t want, in the same way you’d draw a “short straw” in English, and thereby end up in an unwanted situation.

Nitten usually means the number 19, but that is not the case in this expression. Instead, it’s the definite form of en nitte, which comes from the Dutch word niet, a noun meaning “nothing”.

You can also find nitte in Danish in nittelod, a lottery number that doesn’t give you a winning ticket.

Therefore, if you draw the nitte, you get the lot nobody wanted.


Nitten can be pronounced in almost the same way as the English word “kitten”, but don’t enunciate the “tt”. Instead, the two ts should pronounced in a shortened, softened form that makes them sound more like a “d”.

The “kk” in trække sounds like a hard “g” (is it does in most Danish words: snakke and bakke to name a couple of others).

In past tense, you would just say trak nitten and in this case trak (“drew”) is pronounced as it is written.


Jeg troede jeg skulle slappe af hele aftenen, men jeg trak nitten og skulle tage hele opvasken.

I thought I was going to relax all evening, but drew the short straw and had to do all the washing 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.