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Danish word of the day: Uvejr

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Danish word of the day: Uvejr

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

When the weather's so bad you want to reverse it.

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What is uvejr? 

Uvejr is a useful Danish term without a direct one-word equivalent in English. You could translate it as 'bad weather', 'inclement weather', or even 'storm', depending on the context.

On its own, the noun vejr means 'weather', which comes from the Old Norse term veðr and is related to the equivalent words in many other languages: English 'weather', German Wetter, Swedish väder and Dutch weer, to name a few.

In older forms of most of these languages, including Danish, vejr was used to refer to windy weather, given that the root of the Old Norse word means ‘gust’ or ‘breath’. It eventually became generalised to refer to both good and bad weather conditions.

Traces of the original meaning remain in Danish. You can, for example, say række hånden op i vejret, meaning ‘raise your hand in the air’. Hold vejret is not ‘hold the weather, but ‘hold your breath’.

Helt hen i vejret, literally ‘far up in the air’ can describe an idea or statement considered to be unrealistic or fanciful, similar to another expression, helt på månen.

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Why do I need to know uvejr?

The prefix u is most often used in Danish as a form of negation for adjectives, adverbs, verbs and nouns, similar to the English prefix 'un-'. For example, rimelig (reasonable) becomes urimelig (unreasonable), lykkelig (happy) becomes ulykkelig (unhappy), muligt (possible) becomes umuligt (impossible), and tilfreds (satisfied, pleased) becomes utilfreds (dissatisfied, displeased).

It can also change the word from its original meaning. Hyggelig, meaning something nice, pleasant and enjoyable, when negated to uhyggelig means ‘scary’. Udansk does not mean ‘foreign’ as you might expect, but something out of keeping with Danish values.

Sometimes the u is placed at the front of words which already begin with a ‘u’, giving aesthetically pleasing but hard to say words such as uudholdelig: ‘unbearable’ (too unpleasant to holde ud, ‘to bear’). It also appears in words that begin with a different vowel: like uoverskuelig.

It can also be used as a prefix to denote an abnormal, extreme form of the root noun, implying judgment from the speaker. For example, the word udyr means 'beast' or 'monster', from u + dyr (animal), while ukrudt (u + krudt, literally 'un-herbs’) means 'weeds', referring to undesirable plants. Uvenner (u + venner, 'friends') doesn't simply mean someone who is not your friend, but someone who is an enemy. 

In these cases, the u isn't a negation but a sign of abnormality and undesirability; a distorted form of the root word. And uvejr falls into this category: it doesn't refer to a lack of weather but rather weather which is unusual and extreme, with negative consequences. Think of it as weather which is so severe and unpleasant, it isn't worthy of the name 'weather'.

You can use it as a countable noun (et uvejr) to refer to specific instances of precipitation or storms, for example et kortvarigt uvejr (a short-lived storm) or as an uncountable noun for more general descriptions, such as sikke et uvejr vi har fået (what bad weather we've had).

Examples:

Tog aflyst på grund af uvejr.

Trains cancelled due to extreme weather/storms.

Nyt uvejr på vej ind over Danmark.

Another storm/instance of extreme weather is on its way towards Denmark.

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