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Danish expression of the day: At sluge en kamel

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Danish expression of the day: At sluge en kamel

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

Today’s expression could give you the hump.

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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”).

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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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