10 Unique Danish Phrases

Nyhavn Copenhagen

Danish is closely-related to English and, like its Germanic counterpart, has various phrases and sayings that are not taught in textbooks. The ones that make no sense, but at the same time make complete sense. You know, like going bananas and being on the ball. 

Just as fluent English speakers from other countries often don’t have a clue what’s going on in conversations between two native speakers, the same can be said in Denmark. Here are 10 unique phrases, idioms, or whatever you want to call them.

Det blæser en halv pelikan

English translation: It’s blowing half a pelican

Meaning: It’s really windy. This is a good phrase to have if you ever spend more than five second in any part of Denmark, at any time of year. 

Jeg aner ugler i mosen 

English translation: I suspect owls in the bog. 

Meaning: Something feels off, or you have suspicions. Maybe you feel uneasy about the part of town you’re in, or perhaps you feel that the person talking to you is chatting BS. 

At træde i spinaten 

English translation: To tread on the spinach. 

Meaning: To make something worse. Which makes sense if you think about it, because spinach is the worst vegetable to clean off the floor once it’s been trodden on. 


English translation: Reading horse.

Meaning: Bookworm. Somebody who loves reading. 

Pels ikke bjørnen før den er skudt

English translation: Don’t skin the bear before it is shot. 

Meaning: The same as ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’. Basically, don’t speak too soon. Just with a Scandinavian twist. 

English translation: There isn’t a direct one; the closest thing would be something like ‘yeah’, ‘mm hm’ or ‘right’. 

Meaning: ‘Nå’ has many meanings. For example, you might say nå as a way of saying “I get you” when speaking to somebody. However, you could also use the word when surprised or to express your affection at something cute. It all depends on how long or short you say it for, as well as the context of your conversation. You will hear this word multiple times each day if you come to live in Denmark. 

(This is not to be confused with ‘nu’, which means now.)


English translation: ‘Work Happiness’

Meaning: To enjoy your job; to have job satisfaction. Denmark is famed for its work-life balance and has one of the shortest working weeks in Europe. This word is also used elsewhere in Scandinavia. 

Bide i det sur æble

English translation: Bite into the sour apple

Meaning: To ‘bite the bullet’. Doing something necessary, even though you don’t want to. 

Høj i hatten 

English translation: Tall in the hat

Meaning: Somebody who thinks they’re better than everybody else. 

At gå agurk 

English translation: To go cucumber 

Meaning: To go crazy, or ‘go bananas’. 

In addition to daily observances, I discovered some of these Danish sayings via ‘Nørth’ by Brontë Aurell and the Københavns Sprogcenter website. 


What are your favourite Danish phrases and idioms?

Published by Danny Maiorca

Danny is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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