Wednesday, October 03, 2012

danish words for things


these amanitas are a favorite of the danes - they feature heavily in danish christmas decor - on packages, in flower arrangements, on christmas paper, on christmas trees in lovely hand-blown glass versions. leave it to the danes to love a poisonous mushroom. oddly, this predilection got me thinking about danish ways of expressing certain concepts.


the danish word for superstition is overtro literally "overbelief."  i was once part of a cross-cultural training that got me thinking (here she goes again) about the the way in which culture pervades language. one of the participants asked about chinese superstitions and emphasized the word with a bit of an eye roll, indicating disdain. i haven't run across many superstitions in denmark - in all, it's a pragmatic people with a pragmatic language.


danish has a marvelous way of expressing whether people have extra energy or not - overskudsmennesker and underskudsmennesker - "surplus people" or "deficit people" if i translate literally. we all know people that fit both descriptions, so it's very apt to have a word to describe it. my partner and i did a book translation and we found english very poor indeed to describe this phenomenon.


the danish word for immigrant - indvandrer - has become a bit of a swear word in the decade plus i've been here (all over europe and the world nationalistic, quasi-tribal attitudes have arisen and denmark is no exception with the popularity of a right wing "keep denmark for the danes" sort of party). but i actually rather like the word in and of itself. if i literally translate it, "one who wanders in." now that's a concept to which i can relate. if you are an indvandrer, you are also, by definition an udlænding - "one who is from the land out there." i think the way these words are constructed says a lot about the danish attitude towards foreigners. and when it comes down to it, the danes would actually prefer that you wander on back to the land out there. lucky for me, i don't scare easily.


i'm sure english has weird words for stuff, but none come to mind as i write this. i think it's first outside your own language that you really begin to notice things.


Sammi said...


the words for foreigner made me laugh as when we were in munich last week we were handed a leaflet for the hostel guests entitled

"Wombat Hostels.... Munich for Aliens"

aliens as in foreigners, which made total sense to me, because the translation is the same from spanish. but i really loved it.

Unknown said...

The mushrooms are gorgeous, no wonder the Danes are infatuated with them. Refering to what Sammi has commented, I saw the 'alien' been used for foreigners too. They probably used a dictionary to tranlate literally.

Unknown said...

love this, and so glad to have two seconds to catch up.