According to an old cultural trope, cellar door is the most beautiful word in the English language. Technically it’s a compound noun, but this should not stop us from appreciating the phonaesthetics of it all. According to many Danes, the word hygge, and the concept that goes along with it, are untranslatable. Technically this is not true, but it does not seem to bother those who like to find something specifically and admirably Danish in this ‘fact’.
Whether they are beautiful just in virtue of how they sound, or interesting because of the concepts or phenomena they evoke, a lot of words deserve our appreciation. For this reason, I have compiled a list of some of the Danish words and phrases I, for one reason or the other, find worth sharing.
I almost don’t know where to start with this one. Kirsten is obviously just a name, and giftekniv literally means marrying-knife… take a moment to let that sink in… Kirsten Giftekniv. If you have ever missed a derogatory way of describing this one friend of yours who is way too keen on fixing everybody up and who is always (overtly or covertly) meddling to make sure that everyone she knows is in a relationship, then look no further. The phrase Kirsten Giftekniv serves this sole purpose. You might not think that these people are abundant enough to warrant the invention of a silly phrase just to refer to them, but once you know it’s a real thing, I’m sure you’ll start noticing that you know one or two Kirsten Gifteknive yourself.
I had to look this one up to make sure I got the spelling right. Didn’t even know it was in the dictionary, but it is, and that makes it a real word. But what does it mean? Well, a haphazard mixture of random ingredients posing as a real dish. That’s ruskomsnusk. Everyone who has had the pleasure of moving out from their parents’ house and into their first apartment will be well acquainted with this phenomenon. It tastes like equal parts freedom and incompetence, and it’s all thanks to you.
This is one of the weird Danish letters (the other ones are æ and å), and also the word for “island”. The letter “å” also doubles as a word (it means creek or brook or stream or something like that) but I like ø better because it kind of looks like what it means. A deserted island, by the way, is an øde ø. That’s right. At some point in time someone chose to assign meaning to the sounds øde and ø, and in doing so they made sure that these words would appear in succession as often as possible. The peculiarities of language never cease to amaze me.
This might be my favorite word. It literally means tooth-butter, which initially sounds almost as gross as the converse concept; butter-teeth, but, luckily, it’s not. If you have ever had a slice of white bread with a layer of butter on it so thick that your teeth leave clean individual marks with every bite, that’s a slice of bread with tandsmør on it, and it is one of the most time honored acts of self indulgence displayed at the typical Danish dinner table.
These were a few of the best words I could think of. If you know any you would like to share, or some you would like explained, please leave a comment below.