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Danish word of the day: Najs

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Danish word of the day: Najs

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

Here's a word that should be familiar to Danish learners with a knowledge of English.

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What is najs? 

Najs is pronounced almost exactly the same as English 'nice', and the reason why is simple: it's a loan word, but has been adapted to fit Danish spelling. In fact, it’s equally if not more common to see it written with the original English spelling in the middle of a Danish sentence.

It can be used as a slang substitute for words like dejlig, fin, or skøn, and can refer to how something looks or a general feeling, for example det ser nice ud (that looks lovely). You'll also hear it as an exclamation, as in English, to express appreciation for something: najs!

In terms of context, it usually conveys a bit more enthusiasm than in English. For example, where the English expression “have a nice day” can feel empty, if you tell someone jeg håber, du får det nice (“I hope you have a ‘nice’ time”), you really mean you want them to have an excellent experience.

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Why do I need to know najs?

Danish has loaned plenty of words from English in recent decades, thanks to a growing level of English language proficiency and the wide availability of English books, films, songs and games.

However, najs (or ‘nice’) is a bit special in this regard because it is not a recent crossover from English into Danish.

Najs first came into use in Danish during the period between the two World Wars. This is demonstrated in the legendary Danish television series Matador, which is set in this period. The character Vicki Hachel, the young wife of Oberst (Colonel) Hachel, can be heard in one episode describing a 1920s party she attended as najs. The use of an English loan word in this historical setting jumped out at me the first time I saw it, but it isn't an anachronism.

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Generally, English words adopted into Danish keep their original spelling, grammatical adaptations aside. The fact that nice can be spelled as najs may be evidence of the fact that it has a longer history in Danish than many loan words.

Texts dating back to the 1910s include examples of both spellings (as well as a third spelling, nejs), according to the online Danish dictionary.

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