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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: Jævndøgn

The light and the dark side are now in balance.

Danish word of the day: Jævndøgn

What is jævndøgn?

Jævndøgn the term used to describe the spring (forårsjævndøgn) and autumn (efterårsjævndøgn) equinoxes.

On the day of an equinox, daytime and nighttime are of approximately equal duration (this is true at the same time all over the planet, not just in Denmark).

The word used in English, equinox, comes from Latin: aequus (equal) and nox (night). The Danish term is directly related to Old English and Norse. Jævn is an adjective similar to “even” and can be used to describe a physical quality (en jævn overflade is “an even surface”), as well as to mean “equal”.

While jævn is “equal” when talking about the equinox and in various other formulations related to measurement, a different word, lighed or ligestilling, is used to mean “equality”.

Døgn is a useful Danish word that doesn’t have an exact English translation but can both mean “a day” or “a 24-hour period”. It’s usually used in preference to the more common dag (“day”) when talking about the amount of time within a day, and not to the day in general.

For example, a store that is open 24 hours a day is described as døgnåbent, “24-hour-open”. If you arbejder døgnet rundt you work all hours of the day.

Putting jævn and døgn together gives you the Danish word for equinox, jævndøgn, literally “equal 24-hours”.

Why do I need to know jævndøgn?

September 23rd (sometimes 22nd) is the autumn equinox. From that date onwards, days include more dark minutes than light ones.

The longest night of the year will fall on December 21st, the winter solstice, when Denmark can expect 17 hours of darkness. The Danish word for solstice is solhverv, from sol (sun) and hverv, an archaic word for “turning”.

On March 20th the spring equinox or forårsjævndøgn, things switch back as spring approaches and there is once again more light than dark.


The “j” in jævn is pronounced like the “y” in “yellow and the “v” as a “w”, giving you “yæwn”.

To say døgn, imagine you are saying “boy” but replacing the b with a d. Then add an “n” at the end.


I dag er det jævndøgn, hvor dag og nat er lige lange.

Today is the equinox, when day and night are the same length.