Danish Language Blog

The War of the Words Posted by on Nov 23, 2012 in Grammar

Zaanse mayonaise

Mayonnaise? Majonæse? Aaargh!

Whoa, the new edition of Retskrivningsordbogen has arrived!

The Dictionary of Correct Writing, as the title translates in English, is the Holy Grail of journalists, teachers and just about everyone who uses the Danish Language. Edited by Dansk Sprognævn – the Danish Language Council – it contains the official spellings of those ord (words) that are considered a part of the modern language. It’s a bit like the Oxford English Dictionary without definitions and old words. (I mean, most of the words Shakespeare used are still in the OED. In case you purchased Retskrivningsordbogen in order to read H.C. Andersen, you probably picked the wrong dictionary!)

Most Danes are suspicious of spelling reforms. Denmark was the last Scandinavian country to change ’aa’ to the single spelling ’å’, and attempts to ”danify” words taken from French (and other languages) have mostly backfired. For example, while the French word for driver, chauffeur, is sjåfør in Norwegian, it’s chauffør in Danish, with only the last part of the word ”made Danish”. In the 1980’ies, Dansk Sprognævn tried to boost ’majonæse’ as an alternative spelling of mayonnaise. It created such a mess that the whole debate was soon called mayonnaisekrigen – the mayonnaise war! 🙂

So, what’s going to make the Danes punch each other with Retskrivningsbogen this year?

Among the most controversial news are:

  • words with the ending -ium (taken from Latin) can now be written with the ending -ie – both akvarium and akvarie are now correct labels to put on the glass box where your guppies and tetras live
  • compound prepositions can now be written as one word in all positions. A compound preposition is a multi-word preposition like instead of or next to in English. Traditionally, the rules have been a bit difficult in Danish: In a sentence like Hun er uden for huset (She’s outside the house), uden for (outside) is written as two words because it’s followed by a noun (huset). In Hun er udenfor (She’s outside), udenfor has no noun following it and is written as one word. Phew. It can now be written udenfor in both sentences.
  • abbreviation words like tv can now be written either tv or TV
  • a huge number of English words used in the spoken language have now become official – if your Danish teacher dislikes your use of the F-word, it’s just too bad for him. It’s in the dictionary…

The new spellings can be found in the online dictionary sproget.dk

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.