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Danish word of the day: Klar

Things might not be as obvious as you think when you see this word.

What is klar? 

Klar, or klart depending on grammatical agreement, has three distinct meanings as adjectives and another one as a verb.

The first of these is similar to the English “clear”, meaning something that is colourless and therefore can be looked through: jeg kan se igennem det klare vand means “I can see through the clear water”. Jeg husker det klart is “I remember it clearly”.

Klar can also mean “ready”, similar to saying something is “all clear” in English, but used more broadly in Danish. For example, the most common way of asking “are you ready?” is er du klar? If you want to start a race, say is klar, parat, start: “Ready, steady, go!”

You might ask somebody er du klar på det? This literally means “are you ready to do it” but the question actually being asked is “are you willing to do it”. An example of this is jeg har brug for hjælp med at flytte. Kunne du være klar på det? (”I need some help moving house. Would you be up for that?”) 

The third broad use of klar as an adjective is in the sense of something that is easy to understand or self-explanatory. There might be a klar sammenhang (“clear connection”) between a cause and effect. If you comment that himlen er blå (“the sky is blue”), someone might respond det er klart (“that’s obvious”).

Finally, klar can also be a verb: at klare noget is to overcome or deal with a challenge, task or problem. Jeg klarer opvasken is “I’ll take care of washing the dishes”; det klarede du fint is a complimentary “you did that very well”.

Why do I need to know klar?

As the above shows, there are many ways this word can be used (too many to cover all of the nuances here, in fact). This makes it a good word to know and understand. The different meanings above are all quite common.

However, the third adjective meaning described above can sometimes verge on being a false friend.

You might hear someone begin a sentence with det er klart, at… meaning “it’s clear that…”, followed by a statement. Det er klart at man kan mærke de høje gaspriser can be taken to mean “it’s clear that the (effects of) high gas prices can be felt”.

However, context makes klart closer to “certain” than “clear” in sentences like this. I’d argue that “We are certainly noticing the high gas prices” is a more elegant translation and perhaps a more accurate way to read sentences that begin with det er klart.

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Danish word of the day: Idræt

A sporty word that doesn’t quite mean “sport”, but does tell us something about shared Scandinavian identity.

Danish word of the day: Idræt

What is idræt?

Idræt means “sports” even though the word sport exists in Danish. 

In modern Danish, you’ll most likely hear it as the name of a school subject (the equivalent of P.E.), but idræt has been around since the nineteenth century and comes from the Icelandic íþrótt, which also means “sport”. 

The Icelandic íþrótt originated in the Old Norse íþrótt (“art, craft, skill, sport”) which is itself a compound of  (“work, diligence, id”) and þrótr (“bravery, strength, powers”).

So why not just sport? Well, simply put, sport is not Scandinavian in origin. The English word “sport” comes from the Old French desportdeport which meant “game, amusement” – think of the games in Olympic Games. 

Íþrótt was instead borrowed from Icelandic as a more Nordic alternative to the English-French sport during the heyday of a movement called Nordism, which stemmed from Scandinavism, also known as Scandinavianism or pan-Scandinavianism. 

Why do I need to know idræt?

So what was Scandinavism? In short, it is the idea that the Scandinavian countries should be closer, perhaps even one country. The movement was primarily literary, linguistic and cultural, promoting a shared Scandinavian cultural heritage.

Scandinavism was started by Danish and Swedish university students in the 1840s, in the southern Swedish region of Skåne, and paralleled the unifications happening in Italy and Germany during the same period. It lost its momentum after Denmark lost the Second Schleswig-Holstein War in 1864 and the King of Sweden and Norway declined to help the Danes in the conflict.

The movement also promoted the close relation of the Scandinavian languages, although not necessarily a new common “Scandinavian” language.

It should be noted here that Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are considered mutually intelligible, although any Swede spending a weekend trying to talk to Danes in Copenhagen may disagree with that assessment.

Nevertheless, some linguists go as far as to say the three are a language continuum, or in other words, dialects of the same language: the North Germanic Dialect Continuum.

Icelandic and Faroese are different enough to be regarded as separate languages, but they should perhaps also be included as belonging in terms of culture.