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Oh… The Danish town that wants to change its name

An east Jutland town could undergo a subtle change in identity, should residents and local councillors get their way.

Oh… The Danish town that wants to change its name
A damaged Danish town name sign (from neither Hov nor Hou). Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix

Hov, located in Odder Municipality south of Aarhus, wants to change the v in its name to a u, rebranding itself as Hou, broadcaster DR reports.

A unanimous decision was taken on Monday by the municipal council in the town, which has a population of around 1,500, to make the change.

That followed a referendum for residents which was held alongside last month’s European election, when 844 people voted in favour of the name ‘Hou’, while 49 marked their cross next to ‘Hov’.

In Danish, ‘hov’ is a filler word generally used as an expression of surprise or a minor error – loosely akin to ‘oops’ or ‘oh’ in English.

It is also often used to stop someone in their tracks if they seem to be doing something wrong (‘Hov! You left your wallet on the table. Here, don’t forget it.’).

Additionally, it is the Danish word for ‘hoof’.

There are two other places called ‘Hou’ in Denmark – a tiny parish on the island of Langeland and a fishing village in Vendsyssel, part of northern Jutland and a popular spot for tourists for its harbour and beach.

There are no other towns called ‘Hov’ in Denmark although there is a village (bygd) by the name in the Faroe Islands.

“This is a clear approval from the people of Hov, which we unanimously support,” Odder Municipality lord mayor Uffe Jensen told DR.

The name change must be approved by the Ministry of Culture’s Committee for Place Names (Stednavneudvalg), with a decision to be made in September.

An estimated cost of between 33,000 and 37,000 kroner is likely to result from the changing over of road signs, Jensen told DR.

In 2010, Aarhus Municipality’s city council voted by 17 to 10 to officially change the spelling of the name of Denmark’s second-largest city from Århus to Aarhus, dropping the Nordic letter Å and giving the name a more accessible look for international readers.

That decision was less unanimous than the one in Hov: only 33.7 percent of Aarhusianers were in favour at the time, DR reported.

READ ALSO: Ten Danish towns with hilarious literal translations

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DANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Danish expression of the day: Det ligner

It looks like an obvious choice for the word of the day. But is it?

Danish expression of the day: Det ligner

What is det ligner?

The verb at ligne is another example of a word that enables Danes to say something in fewer words than the equivalent sentence in English.

Meaning “to look like”, it normally has a straightforward use: han ligner sin mor, for example: “he looks like his mother”.

Arguably, there is an English verb directly equivalent to at ligne which would allow you to say the above sentence in neither more nor fewer words than the Danish version. “He resembles his mother” would also be an acceptable translation of han ligner sin mor. 

Despite this, I’d argue “looks like” is more accurate in most situations and contexts, because at ligne does not have the formal feel of written language that “resemble” conjures up.

Why do I need to know det ligner?

When you put the pronoun det (“it”) in front of the verb, making it “it looks like”, the use of at ligne can take on a different meaning.

In the sentence det ligner at det bliver regnvejr hele weekenden (“it looks like it will rain all weekend”), ligner drops its equivalence to “resemble” and, similar to “looks like”, can be used to make a prediction.

According to language regulator Dansk Sprognævn, this alternative use of det ligner has emerged in the last 20-25 years. That being the case, you could speculate that it has occurred as a result of an English phrase being adopted in Danish, even though it makes less sense in Danish in its original guise.

This is not necessarily true. Another way of talking about an uncertain future event in Danish is to say det ser ud til, approximately “it looks as though”. Det ser ud til at det bliver regnvejr is, in fact, probably closer to “it looks like it will rain” than any translation that uses det ligner.

Nevertheless, det ligner is a concise way of talking about something that looks likely to happen in the future. You would normally say it based on some form of evidence, rather than your own instinct: in the examples above, darkening grey clouds on the horizon would probably get people saying det ligner regnvejr.

Examples

Det lignede en sikker sejr for hjemmeholdet, men så lukkede de tre mål ind i anden halvleg.

It looked like a comfortable victory for the home team, but they conceded three goals in the second half.

Er du okay? Du ligner slet ikke dig selv.

Are you ok? You don’t look yourself at all.

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