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DANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Danish word of the day: Uoverskuelig

For when you just can't deal.

What is uoverskuelig? 

This word contains skuelig, a substantive from the verb at skue, which means “to view” but is not common in spoken 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 – uudholdelig (“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”).

Examples

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.

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DANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Danish expression of the day: At sluge en kamel

Today’s expression could give you the hump.

Danish expression of the day: At sluge en kamel

What is at sluge en kamel? 

At sluge is the infinitive of the verb “to swallow”, and en kamel is a camel. So the expression in question is “to swallow a camel”.

You might see it in its present tense form in a sentence like jeg sluger en kamel (“I’m swallowing a camel”), but the infinitive is probably the most common, because it is often used with a modal verb expressing the necessity of the action: jeg bliver nødt til at sluge en kamel (“I’ll have to swallow a camel”).

Sometimes, the metaphorical camel appears in definite, rather than indefinite form: jeg bliver nødt til at sluge kamelen (“I’ll have to swallow the camel”).

Of course, the expression isn’t used literally. It’s used when talking about doing something you don’t want to do, perhaps because it goes against your values or better judgement, because you know it is the only option in a given scenario.

You could say it’s something you’re prepared to do for the greater good, even if doing it gives you ‘the hump’ (there goes my dad-joke quota for the day).

Why do I need to know at sluge en kamel?

It might seem odd that a cold northern European country like Denmark refers to camels in an expression like this. The explanation comes from the Bible verse Matthew 23:24, which reads: “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (New King James version).

The Danish expression to swallow a camel has its roots in this verse, as explained in a Kristeligt Dagblad article from April this year: The verse is a criticism of scribes who neglect important matters for more trifling ones.

Another camel travels from the Bible to appear in a separate metaphor which both Danish and English speakers may recognise: Det er som at få en kamel gennem et nåleøje (“It’s like leading a camel through the eye of the needle”), to describe something very difficult.

Examples

De må sluge nogle meget store kameler eller forenkle noget lovgivning.

They’re going to have to concede some bad losses or simplify some legislation.

Jeg valgte at sluge kamelen og købe ikke-økologisk kød, for at få madbudgettet til at løbe rundt.

I decided to compromise and buy non-organic meat to make ends meet on my food budget.

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