As clear as mud

27 Feb

GrammarWhen I first started learning Danish I rather naïvely thought it was a very simple, straightforward language. Now I realise it’s a bit more like The Simpsons: The more you know about it the more complex it gets.

As I see it, the problem is two-fold. Firstly, most words each have at least 27 meanings…well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but more than one in any case, and the meanings have absolutely nothing to do with each other. For example, the word skat means treasure, darling and tax, and is most commonly used by Danish women to address their own or other people’s children. Ben means bone or leg, and I must admit to having a little chuckle to myself whenever I see a packet of fish with ‘Fisk – uden ben’ printed on the side.

FishThe other and perhaps larger part of the problem is that Danes communicate in a series of expressions, or faste udtryk. This can become extremely confusing if you don’t know about it in advance, or indeed don’t know the fast udtryk being used.

I remember many frustrating attempts to read the newspaper, trusty pocket dictionary by my side, only to give up when all I seemed to be reading was nonsense.

DictionaryFortunately there are many faste udtryk which relate pretty closely to some Scottish expressions, something in which our Viking-tinged history undoubtedly plays a part. One of my absolute favourites is ‘hold din kæft!’ which can be fairly directly translated as ‘haud yer wheesht!’ (be quiet!). However, hold kæft can also be used to underline something as in the ‘oh, be quiet!’ context, for example, “Hold kæft var det dyrt!” means that something was VERY expensive. It’s a bit similar to answering the question, “Was it expensive?” with “Oh, be quiet!” As a young child, before I learned the dual meaning of ‘oh, be quiet!’, I was frequently offended on my mother’s behalf when folk would say it in response to something she was telling them.

There are some animal-based faste udtryk as well, which I’m rather fond of: Klap lige hesten (just pat the horse), meaning ‘take it easy’ or ‘hold your horses’ and one of my favourites: Det var en stor kamel at sluge (that was a big camel to swallow) meaning that someone has had to admit something which they didn’t want to, often used by politicians.

Camel(No camels were swallowed in the making of this blog)

Then you have faste udtryk which have absolutely no connection whatsoever to anything. Case in point: Rosinen i pølseenden. The raisin in the sausage end. Well, that’s clearly utter nonsense, isn’t it, but somehow means a family’s last born child.

2180333283_eb756997b6_z(Image from Google)

Immigrants to Denmark are frequently criticized for not speaking understandable Danish, but just put the shoe on the other foot for a moment: We’re facing a language that’s comparable to the Enigma code, so is it any wonder we haven’t got a scooby!

enigma1

(Image from Google)

Det fremgår med al utydelighed

Da jeg først begyndte at lære dansk, troede jeg ganske naivt, at det var et meget enkelt og ligetil sprog. Nu er jeg klar over, at det er mere som The Simpsons: Jo mere man ved om det, jo mere indviklet bliver det.

Som jeg ser det, er problemet dobbelt. For det første har de fleste ord mindst 27 betydninger hver. Ok, det er måske en overdrivelse, men i det mindste er der mere end én, og betydningerne har slet ingenting med hinanden at gøre. Fx ordet ‛skat‛ har tre forskellige ord på engelsk: treasure, darling og tax, og hvis én med engelsk som modersmål ikke forstår alle betydninger, kan det være lidt forvirrende, når danske damer kalder børn for tax. ‛Ben’ betyder bone eller leg, og jeg må indrømme, at jeg ler inderligt, når jeg ser en pakke fisk, hvor der står ‛Fisk – uden legs’.

Den anden og måske større del af problemet er, at danskerne meddeler sig til hinanden ved at bruge faste udtryk. Det kan være ekstremt forvirrende, hvis man ikke ved noget om det i forvejen eller ikke kender det faste udtryk, der bliver brugt.

Jeg kan huske mange dybt frustrerende forsøg på at læse avisen med min trofaste lommeordbog ved siden af kun for at give op, når alt, jeg læste, så ud til at være vrøvl.

Men heldigvis er der mange faste udtryk, der ligner nogle skotske udtryk, måske noget som vores viking-farvede historie har med at gøre. En af de allerbedste er ‛hold din kæft‛, som kan direkte oversættes til haud yer wheesht! (oh, be quiet!). Men lige som ‛hold din kæft‛ kan Oh, be quiet! bruges til at understrege noget, fx ‛hold kæft var det dyrt‛ betyder, at det var mere end dyrt, lige som hvis man bliver spurgt: “Var det dyrt?”, kan man svare: “Oh, be quiet!” Før jeg lærte den dobbelte betydning af oh, be quiet, var jeg som et ungt barn tit fornærmet på min mors vegne, når folk sagde det i et svar på noget, hun fortalte dem.

Der er også nogle faste udtryk, som handler om dyr, hvilket jeg godt kan lide, fx ‛klap lige hesten’, og ‛det var en stor kamel at sluge’. Det giver mig nogle gode billeder i hovedet!

Så fås der faste udtryk, som har ingenting med ingenting at gøre. Et eksempel på dette er: Rosinen i pølseenden. Det er jo klart fuldkommen vås, men på en eller anden måde betyder det fx en families sidste barn.

Indvandrere i Danmark bliver tit kritiseret for, at vi ikke taler forståeligt dansk, men byt rollerne om et øjeblik: Vi står over for et sprog, der kan sammenlignes med Enigma-koden, så er det så underligt, at vi ikke aner det?

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