“The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.”First line in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
Hello, you lovely people. It’s time for another post where I take a closer look at the (sometimes odd) translation choices made when Harry Potter was translated into my native language, Danish. Naturally, I grew up reading them in Danish so the translations have had a great impact on my first impression of this series I love so dearly.
In these posts, I take a closer look at the specific “Harry Potter words” and determine how much meaning was lost or changed in the translation. It’s all for fun since I greatly admire the work of translators and recognize that the task of translating a fantasy book requires some serious skill. I’m just a blogger who loves languages and Harry Potter and found a way to combine them. If you missed any of the previous posts, you can find them here. But let’s get started because this is a long one. As usual, here’s the Danish cover for the first hardback edition:
⚡ The symbolism!! I love how the only part of Harry we see is his head, which is such a brilliant way to illustrate how much this book is about Harry’s mind. Then we have the Thestrals behind him with their demon-like look haunting him. My own interpretation is that they represent the trauma Harry suffers from, from having witnessed Cedric’s murder and everything else that happened in that graveyard. We know he’s able to see them now because of Cedric’s death.
⚡ I’m not sure what that thing in the background is, but my guess is that it’s an attempt at the archway that Sirius falls through. If it is, it could represent that second death-trauma that will hit Harry by the end of the book.
⚡ I know I bashed the Goblet of Fire cover for being too dark, but I don’t have that problem here. Order of the Phoenix needs to have the darkest cover.
And now for the translations.
‘Original English = ‘Danish translation’
Scourgify = Skureogrense
We’re starting with one of the non-Latin spells, which means it gets a translation. It’s a simple cleaning charm, and it’s isn’t so much that the translation is inherently wrong more so than it’s a funny solution. The translator realized that it’s challenging to make Danish words sound like a spell. The language is not epic or mysterious enough, so what did they do? They mushed several words together to make it sound like something made-up. ‘Skureogrense’ is actually ‘Skure og rense’ which translates to scrub and clean.
Dudley Demented = Dudleys Første Kys
This is the title of the first chapter and is clearly meant to refer to Dudley’s first encounter with a Dementor. It’s not completely obvious, though, when you read it for the first time because ‘demented’ could mean a variety of different things. It could mean that Dudley was insane/mad (likely) or suffering from dementia (unlikely). In Danish, the chapter title, however, means Dudley’s First Kiss, which makes you want to stop reading immediately because why would you want to witness that? The translation does succeeding in subtly hinting at the Dementor attack, even though the “trick meaning” is different. Also, he isn’t technically kissed by the Dementor, but I still want to applaud the translation for being creative. You could have translated ‘demented’ into the Danish ‘dementere’, but it’s a highly uncommon word (that also doesn’t mean the same), so I think it would have been too obvious that we were going to see some Dementor-action if that word was used.
Dolores Umbridge = Dolora Nidkjær
I have a lot to say about this horrible woman’s name. Her first name is only made Danish-sounding and not changed completely, but maybe it should have been. If you read my post for Goblet of Fire, you know that the Danish translation changed the torture curse from cruciatus to the Spanish (and Latin) doloroso, which means painful. So her first name means pain, but in Danish that connection to pain is made so much more obvious by the cruciatus-translation. I’m not sure what to make of that other than it’s an interesting choice.
Moving on to her last name which in English is similar to the word ‘umbrage’ meaning ‘to take offense’. The Danish translation ‘Nidkjær’ comes from the word ‘nidkær’, which means zealous. It really refers to her pedantic obsession with rules and Ministry guidelines, and although the meaning isn’t the same, I actually think I prefer the Danish meaning. It’s so fitting for her character. I also really liked how the translator added that ‘j’ in the name because it makes it sound like a typical Danish last name. ‘Kjær’ is very common in our names.
O.W.L. = U.G.L.
As you probably know, O.W.L. stands for Ordinary Wizarding Level but is referred to as ‘Owls’. So how did the Danish translator solve this nightmare? Let’s go through the letters.
U = Udmærkelse (English: distinction/award/education)
G = Genialitet (English: geniusness(?)/ingenuity)
L = Lærevillighed (English: willingness to learn)
I’m sorry, none of those words liked being translated directly into English. Basically, U.G.L. stands for ‘education in ingenuity and willingness to learn’, which is so far from the original name, but not entirely wrong either. I think the biggest problem is that there’s nothing magical about it. It could be an education for Muggles.
I can tell there was an attempt at recreating the ‘owls’ reference, and therefore the words had to be changed. The only problem, however, is that they didn’t succeed in spelling out the Danish word for owl. That word is ‘ugle’ so they’re missing an ‘e’. Ugl doesn’t mean anything. I also specifically remember reading it as letters when I was younger and not as one word. I didn’t make the owl-connection until I read the English versions.
Wilbert Slinkhard = Wilbert Skræddersjæl
This is the author of the book Defensive Magical Theory, which the students read in Defence Against the Dark Arts. His original last name contains the word ‘slink’, which means to walk away from somewhere quietly to avoid notice. Bearing in mind that his book only handles magical theory and not the use of spells, I think it’s safe to say that his name means that he runs away from any confrontation instead of staying and fighting.
The Danish translation is not that far off, and I’m actually quite impressed with it. The literal meaning of ‘Skræddersjæl’ is tailor soul. I know, that doesn’t make any sense, but the word is also a very old metaphor for coward. So old, though, that I’ve never heard it used before, but you don’t need to know what it means. It’s just a fun little joke for those who do.
Lachlan the Lanky = Lachlan Lemmedasker
We’ve reached the point where random statues get new names, and I decided to include this one because it made me laugh. His Danish last name ‘Lemmedasker’ means… Limb Slapper. It’s especially unfortunate because the word ‘lem’ in Danish could just as easily refer to a very specific limb on the male body. Don’t know how that relates to being lanky, so I really hope they were referring to slapping arms or something like that. And it’s not as if we don’t have a word for lanky. It doesn’t start with an ‘L’, but other similar translations have proven that it doesn’t have to.
The Hog’s Head = Det Glade Vildsvin
It’s our favorite creepy tavern whose name had to be changed. The Danish version ‘Det Glade Vildsvin’ means The Happy Boar. It first and foremost means that the translation added quite a bit of irony to the name because that place is not happy. It also changed the animal, although not by much. But why change anything at all? Well, even though ‘hog’s head’ is easy to translate, it doesn’t mean that it works as a name for a place. In my opinion, a direct translation would have given the tavern a very clunky name, whereas ‘Det Glade Vildsvin’ just rolls off the tongue.
Dumbledore’s Army = Dumbledores Armé
If you had to read that twice to notice the difference, I don’t blame you. I was unsure whether to include this one because it isn’t technically wrong. ‘Armé’ means army if that wasn’t obvious from their similar look. The problem is that ‘armé’ isn’t used in daily speech at all. It’s one of those words I only know the meaning of because of its English equivalent. Our standard word for army is ‘hær’, which would have been the more correct direct translation. However, it’s clear that the translator prioritized keeping the DA abbreviation, and when it’s a possibility in this way, I’m not sure if I can blame them. The way the characters talk about it makes its meaning clear, even though younger readers might not be familiar with the word.
Willy Widdershins = Bernard Bagvend
A very minor character, but he’s the one who’s been doing pranks on Muggles (Mr. Weasley complains about him), and he’s also the one who overhears the DA meeting in The Hog’s Head and tells Umbridge. His original last name, Widdershins, is another word for going counter-clockwise. Danish doesn’t have a single word for that so that the translator went with ‘Bagvend’ which is very close to our word for backwards. Quite clever, right? Now to the fun part. His name is mentioned four times throughout the book, but ‘Bagvend’ is only his name the first time. The other three times his name is ‘Bagrend’, which doesn’t really mean anything. I can understand one typo but three? I’m confused.
Witch Weekly = Alt for Heksene
This popular witch-magazine is translated in a way that draws parallels to a well-known magazine in our real world. ‘Alt for Heksene’ means everything for the witches and is a reference to the Danish women’s magazine ‘Alt for Damerne’ meaning everything for the ladies. Because the Danish reader knows about that famous magazine, they immediately know all they need to about this fictional one.
This section is mainly for those of you who have been reading my previous posts in the series because there are some changes in the translations from those posts. I mean, why would something be translated the same way across 7 books? I don’t know what you expected.
⚡ First, the wand issue. There have previously been some doubts about whether the core of Harry’s wand contained a chimera horn, a phoenix feather, or both. When Harry gets his wand checked upon his arrival at the Ministry, the security wizard tells us that the core only consists of a phoenix feather. And he seems pretty thorough in his examination of it as he can even tell how many years Harry has been using it. You would think that if there was even a trace of chimera horn in there, he would say it. He didn’t, so does that mean that that horn has been completely purged from the Danish translations? Maybe, but I don’t trust anything, so I’ll still be keeping an eye out.
⚡ Now brace yourself because I’m going to tell you about the most mind-blowing thing in this book… The words ‘West’ and ‘Ham’ appeared in succession! 😱 That’s right, the football team West Ham wasn’t translated. Third time is the charm, apparently. However, it also means that we now have three different translations of that team across the series, the first two being Liverpool and Super-Skankefodboldholdet. I mean, no wonder that child-me never really caught on to Dean’s team affiliation.
We’ve sadly reached the end, but I hope you feel entertained and enlightened. I personally think the quality of the translations improved with this book compared to the first four, as there weren’t really any that didn’t make sense. I was even quite impressed with a few of them. But let me know what you think! And in case you’ve read these books in another language, please feel free to share any weird translations you’ve noticed.