I’m always on the hunt for idioms. Every language has them, and they always add color and culture to the way people express themselves.
Danish also does not disappoint. The only problem being that there’s no clever portmanteau (yet), like “Czechspressions,” for me to call the list of phrases by.
Dane-spressions? Danidioms? Help a girl out.
Slå til Søren.
Translation: Hit a guy named Søren.
Meaning: Don’t overdo it.
When I heard this idiom, I felt bad for Søren. I mean, what did he ever do to anyone? Why would you name your kid Søren if everyone will always be beating on him?
Apparently, this phrase originally may have named the devil, but in order not to swear unnecessarily, Danes substituted in a similar word, Søren. Pretty clever!
After asking around, I learned this idiom is a bit old-fashioned and younger generations are less likely to use it. That’s probably for the best. Søren needs a break by the seaside after all these years to recover.
Jeg har ikke en rød reje.
Translation: I don’t have a red shrimp.
Meaning: I’m broke/don’t have any money.
If you know anything about Denmark, you know it’s largely on the ocean and we eat a lot of seafood here. While I’m not sure how much shrimp is caught locally, it makes sense that not even having one red shrimp (English equivalent: “a penny to your name”) might mean you’re down on your luck…and wallet.
Ingen ko på isen.
Translation: No cow on the ice.
Meaning: Everything is okay.
Denmark is definitely an agriculturally-focused country. There’s a lot of space, a lot of greenery, a lot of fields. A lot of local veggies/fruits and especially dairy products bear the proud designation that they are made in Denmark. Danes love their dairy, as confusing as it may be.
Denmark is also very cold, though I have barely seen any ice (or even snow!) in my “two-ish” years here. The times they are a-changin’.
Perhaps this historical combination of farming and weather landed a theoretical unlucky cow on the ice in the first place. I feel bad for the cow – you could imagine being stranded in the middle of some ice would be quite a dire and anxiety-producing situation – but not as bad as for Søren.
It’s ironic, but as long as climate change creates such beautiful weather in Denmark, there won’t be any cows on the ice and everything (may) be a-okay. Let’s hope.
Nød lærer nøgen kvinde at spinde.
Translation: Need teaches naked woman to weave.
Meaning: When you need something, you’ll learn to do it fast.
I love how my friend described this “punny” idiom as “spicy” in Danish. Apparently, there are two meanings of the word spinde: purr and weave.
*Giggles with hand in front of mouth.*
At gå med liv rem og seler.
Translation: to wear a belt and suspenders.
Meaning: to be extra cautious/take extra preventive measures.
Danes are known as a practical people who don’t necessarily take risks without knowing the possible outcomes – people who think before acting. A close but not exact English equivalent might be “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
Let’s poke a little fun at the cultural connotations. The English idiom is naming a situation in which you’re directly taking a risk – any or all of those eggs could break if you drop the basket – but wearing a belt and suspenders is super-cautious. Apparently Danes are REALLY worried about their pants falling down.
Special thanks to my friends Pernille, Céline, and Anette for their help with this post!