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Danish word of the day: Puha

For when you're a bit winded.

What is puha?

Puha is an exclamation which — according to the dictionary, but I can’t quite see it — is onomatopoeic, resembling “the sound that occurs when air is blown out”.

That probably makes it quite similar to saying “ooft” or something similar in English, although puha has variously different contexts.

The adjective forpustet means to be “out of breath”: jeg var forpustet efter min løbetur (“I was breathless after going for a run”). The related verb at puste is “to blow”: jeg puster lysene ud means “I’ll blow the candles out”.

Although they look similar, these words are not related to puha although I do find them useful if you want to memorise the various meanings.

Why do I need to know puha?

It’s a lighthearted exclamation that usually expresses something mildly negative but can also be positive. You might use it to show disgust or distaste at a sight, smell or taste, or just at the thought or suggestion of something that might be off-putting. A stronger exclamation that can be use in the same contexts as these is føj.

If you’re tired or exhausted, you can also use puha as a way of saying “I’m done!”. Repeating the example above, you might saying puha, jeg er forpustet efter min løbetur (“phew, I’m exhausted after going for a run”).

A more positive situation in which puha can be said is to express relief: you might say it after sprinting to catch a bus and just about making it in time.


It’s easy to pronounce: poo-ha.


Puha, den der Gamle Ole lugter godt nok stærkt.

Ooof, that Danish cheese smells very strong indeed.

Jeg skulle cykle hele vejen op ad Langelandsgade uden pause. Puha.

I had to bicycle uphill all the way on Langelandsgade [street] without a break. Phew.

Puha, vi nåede hjem lige inden det begyndte at regne.

What a relief, we made it home just before it started raining.

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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.


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.