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Danish word of the day: Mørk

The Local (news@thelocal.com)
The Local ([email protected])
Danish word of the day: Mørk

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

Mørk is a word you'll hear a lot during autumn and winter in Denmark, but where does it come from and how exactly do you use it?

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What is mørk? 

Mørk means "dark"; it's the opposite of lys (light/pale).

You can use mørk to describe a noun, whether it's a tangible object or something more abstract, for example et mørkt rum (a dark room) or en mørk nat (a dark night).

Mørk can also modify a colour adjective (such as blå or grøn), in which case you simply combine both words to make a compound adjective, like mørkeblå (dark blue) or mørkegrøn (dark green), in contrast to English where both words would be kept separate. It can also be combined with other kinds of adjectives and adverbs, for example mørkhåret (brunette, or literally "dark-haired").

The adjective mørk itself can also be modified, notably in the word bælgmørk, which means “pitch black” and is a great addition to your vocabulary in the depths of the Danish winter.

Why do I need to know mørk?

It doesn’t always have something to do with colour or lightness.

Like in English, mørk can be used metaphorically to talk about something sinister, not completely rational or understood, for example mørk magi (dark magic) or det mørke net (the dark web).

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It can also mean "gloomy" or "negative", for example mørke tider (dark times) or the phrases det tegner et mørkt billlede (it paints a gloomy picture) or det kaster en mørk skygge over (it casts a dark cloud over).

It can also signify a perceived lack of enlightenment or culture, such as in den mørke middelalder (the dark Middle Ages) or det mørke Jylland (Darkest Jutland), a light-hearted jibe occasionally used by people from Copenhagen to describe far-off rural parts of Denmark, specifically Jutland.

A good way for English-speakers to remember this word is to think of the similarity to "murky", which means "obscured/difficult to see".

In fact, both words have a shared origin, and until around 200-300 years ago, "murk" was used as an adjective in English, including by William Shakespeare.

Both words come from the Old Norse word myrkr (darkness), and if you look even further back in linguistic history, there was an even older Germanic word merkwjo. Several other Scandinavian languages have related words: mörk in Swedish, mørk in Norwegian and the Icelandic myrkur.

And don't forget to learn some of the related words to mørkMørket means "darkness", which again can be both literal or figurative, and mørkeræd is "afraid of the dark". 

Examples 

Det var et mørkt kapitel i landets historie.

It was a dark chapter in the history of the country.

Her er bælgmørkt. Har du en lommelygte?

It’s pitch black in here. Do you have a torch?

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