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Danish word of the day: Kværn

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

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

This unassuming little word pops up surprisingly often in Danish, so it's a very good one to have in your vocabulary.

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What is kværn?

Kværn is a noun meaning "mill" or "grinder", used to refer to any kind of tool or machine that breaks a substance down into smaller pieces.

kværn can be small, for example a peberkværn (pepper mill) or kaffekværn (coffee grinder).

There’s some overlap between kværn and mølle, the Danish word for “mill”. In the past, mølle might have been used to refer to household items like the coffee grinder. It’s now become the reserve of larger pieces of machinery like windmills (vindmølle), but there is stills a bit of interchangeability in Swedish, a sister tongue of Danish.

If you're in Skåne – the Swedish province closet to Denmark -- the word for "mill" in the local dialect is not kvarn but mölla.

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Why do I need to know kværn?

The above describes how to use kværn as a noun, but it’s also a verb, at kværne, meaning “to grind” or “to mill”.

Apart from everyday uses like jeg kværner kaffebønnerne (”I’ll grind some coffee beans”), you won’t hear it too often in its literal sense, but it has a lot of figurative meanings too.

For example jeg var så sulten, at jeg kværnede maden uden at sige et ord means ”I was so hungry I gobbled down (literally ’crushed’ or ’ground’) the food without saying a word”.

This can also apply to drinking: han sad og kværnede bajere hele aftenen (“he sat there downing beers all evening”).

It can also be used to describe working very hard, as in jeg skal bare kværne, indtil projektet er færdig (“I have to keep grafting until the project is finished”).

Finally if someone kværner bare løs, it probably means they are talking non-stop.

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