Norwegian word of the day: Skilpadde

Ever practical, Norwegians have a habit of giving animals very literal names. Today's word of the day is one such example. 

Norwegians have a habit of giving animals very literal names. Caption Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash / Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

What is skilpadde

Skilpadde is the Norwegian word for turtle and is also used for the turtle’s non-amphibious cousin, a tortoise. 

Not only have Norwegians given both animals very similar names, as they essentially look the same (apologies to any David Attenborough fans reading), but it is also a classic example of animals being given very literal names in the language. 

The direct translation of skilpadde means “shield toad”. I am sure you will agree that is a pretty accurate description unless taking the bipedal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into account. 

Why do I need to know Skilpadde? 

Other entertaining – and very literal – Norwegian animal names include nebbdyr or “beaked animal” for a ducked bull platypus and flaggermus or “flapping mouse” for a bat. 

The giving of literal names doesn’t just apply to appearances. For example, plenty of animals are named after characteristics that define them. 

In Norwegian, racoons are called vaskebjørn due to their habit of washing their food before eating. Vaskebjørn means “wash bear”. Unfortunately, we can’t explain where the bear part comes from, so you’ll have to meet us halfway in that regard.

Squids, famous for shooting ink when threatened, are named blekkespurt, meaning ink squirt when translated into English. 

Then there is the isbjørn, meaning ice bear, for polar bear.

And perhaps our favourite literal name is for sloths. In Norwegian, the creatures are called dovendyr, meaning “lazy animal”. 

Other animals with literal names include neshorn (rhino) and flodhest (river horse). Although with these examples, these animals’ English names are also literal descriptions – English just never got around to translating them from ancient Greek, where hippos means “horse” and potamós means “river”. Similarly, the original Greek rhinokerōs comes from rhis “nose” and keras, “horn”.

Are there any literal Norwegian animal names we’ve missed? Let us know!

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Norwegian expression of the day: Grevens tid 

Is it a good thing, or a bad thing, if you manage to do something in the "counts time"? Let's find out. 

Norwegian expression of the day: Grevens tid 

What does it mean? 

As mentioned in the intro, “grevens tid” literally translates to the “count’s time”. The count’s time means arriving at a good or lucky moment or achieving or preventing something, typically at the last minute. 

Catch a vase just before it hits the ground, or make it to the station just in time to catch your train? Then you did it in the count’s time. 

The term is said to have originated in Sweden and refers to Count Per Brahe Dy, who became governor of Finland in 1637. It was customary for a count to arrive late to events during the period. This is because, typically, the highest status one held, the more likely they were to come later. 

However, these days the saying isn’t used to describe when someone arrives “fashionably late” to use an English expression. 

Use it like this: 

Nå kom du i grevens tid 

(You came just at the right time.)

Du kom i grevens tid, jeg skulle akkurat til å ringe!

(You came just at the right time, I was just about to call you!)

Nå kom du i grevens tid! Vi skulle akkurat til å spise! 

(You came just at the right time, we are about to eat!)