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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 word of the day: Idræt

A sporty word that doesn’t quite mean “sport”, but does tell us something about shared Scandinavian identity.

Danish word of the day: Idræt

What is idræt?

Idræt means “sports” even though the word sport exists in Danish. 

In modern Danish, you’ll most likely hear it as the name of a school subject (the equivalent of P.E.), but idræt has been around since the nineteenth century and comes from the Icelandic íþrótt, which also means “sport”. 

The Icelandic íþrótt originated in the Old Norse íþrótt (“art, craft, skill, sport”) which is itself a compound of  (“work, diligence, id”) and þrótr (“bravery, strength, powers”).

So why not just sport? Well, simply put, sport is not Scandinavian in origin. The English word “sport” comes from the Old French desportdeport which meant “game, amusement” – think of the games in Olympic Games. 

Íþrótt was instead borrowed from Icelandic as a more Nordic alternative to the English-French sport during the heyday of a movement called Nordism, which stemmed from Scandinavism, also known as Scandinavianism or pan-Scandinavianism. 

Why do I need to know idræt?

So what was Scandinavism? In short, it is the idea that the Scandinavian countries should be closer, perhaps even one country. The movement was primarily literary, linguistic and cultural, promoting a shared Scandinavian cultural heritage.

Scandinavism was started by Danish and Swedish university students in the 1840s, in the southern Swedish region of Skåne, and paralleled the unifications happening in Italy and Germany during the same period. It lost its momentum after Denmark lost the Second Schleswig-Holstein War in 1864 and the King of Sweden and Norway declined to help the Danes in the conflict.

The movement also promoted the close relation of the Scandinavian languages, although not necessarily a new common “Scandinavian” language.

It should be noted here that Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are considered mutually intelligible, although any Swede spending a weekend trying to talk to Danes in Copenhagen may disagree with that assessment.

Nevertheless, some linguists go as far as to say the three are a language continuum, or in other words, dialects of the same language: the North Germanic Dialect Continuum.

Icelandic and Faroese are different enough to be regarded as separate languages, but they should perhaps also be included as belonging in terms of culture.

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