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Danish expression of the day: Helt på månen

When an idea seems like it comes from outer space.

What is helt på månen? 

Broken down into individual words, helt is “completely”, is an adverb usually equivalent to “on”, and månen is the definitive article of “moon”.

So the literal meaning of this phrase is “completely on the moon”.

A more natural way to say it in English might be “all the way to the moon” or “gone to the moon”, depending on the context in which it’s used.

Since going to the moon is a relatively uncommon event, it’s unsurprising that helt på månen is also an idiom. But it’s not the same as the English expression “over the moon” which is particularly popular in British sports punditry.

Helt på månen rather means “without sense or logic”. It can be used to describe a decision you agree with, or sometimes a performance: dommeren var helt på månen is loosely “the referee was all over the place”, which brings us nicely back around to sports.

Why do I need to know helt på månen?

Danish has several informal expressions used to mean something absurd or incomprehensible. As well as helt på månen, you can say something is langt ude or helt langt ude (“far off”) if you find it absurd, ridiculous or indefensible. So it seems there’s a link between something being very far away and it making little sense.

A popular Norwegian expression, helt Texas, has a similar meaning, although it seems to relate more to a physical situation than a concept or decision.

Although Texas is no closer to Denmark than it is to Norway, I’ve never heard a Dane say helt Texas.


Det her regnestykke er helt på månen. Det går simpelthen ikke op.

These calculations are bewildering. They just don’t add up.

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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.