Can he suffer music?

A lot of languages have gendered nouns and articles. For an English speaker, this is difficult. Gender is only relevant to your doctor and the person you’re sleeping with. Why does a book need to have a gender? Why does a table need gender?

French has made me familiar with the concept at least. Un livre is a male book. Une fleur is a female flower. Sometimes the e on the end of the word gives a hint (ordinateur is male, basse is female), but as you can see from the book and flower example, that’s not really reliable at all. All you can do is memorize as many pronouns as possible and hope for the best. French and Spanish speakers will recognize me as a foreigner no matter how fluent I get, because I’ll never stop mixing up the genders. It’s a mistake not even a child would make in their native language.

Now we come to Danish. They have the “common gender” and the “neuter gender”. Not only does that not make sense, it makes me wonder  exactly what Danes do in bed.

Here’s another fun one.

“Kan han lide musik?”

Does he like music? Or rather “Can he like music?” But you could also translate it as “Can he suffer music?” because “like” is the same word as “suffer”. This might be another key to the Danish psyche. They don’t like things, they’re simply willing to suffer them. When the men in white with clipboards come around asking Danes if they like their lives, they all say yes even if they’re suffering. I assume this is how they earned the title of “Happiest Nation on Earth” for 50 years running even though they never get to pillage anymore.

Words for feelings

Danish lessons continue here, where I’m learning about Mette’s new boyfriend, and how difficult men are to buy presents for.

“Mænd bliver aldrig glade for sko,” imparts her friend, after she suggests that she might get him some new shoes. This means, “Men are never happy for new shoes.”

“I just don’t understand him”, says Mette, or “Jeg forstår ham bare ikke.”

“How can one walk in the same shoes for years without getting tired of them?” which is “Hvordan kan man gå rundt i de samme sko i årevis uden at blive træt af dem?”

Yes indeed, Mette, I feel your pain. Men are difficult to get presents for. While I was learning these new words, I started thinking about how languages evolve and how vague concepts become concrete, known phenomena when we invent words for them. Like, you know that feeling when you’re in a cheap motel? Like maybe you were on your way someplace more interesting, on your way to an adventure or to meet with friends or just go home, but you got caught by the rain. Or the ferry was full. Or you had been driving for 14 hours straight and your head started to nod, then you came awake with an snap, still in your lane and driving straight, but with your panicky heart beating twice as fast, and your eyelids starting to close again anyway…

Okay, so you’re in that shitty motel. The room is cheap, yet still twice as much as it looks like it’s worth. There might be other people there, but you won’t see them. You take a long shower, just for something to do, and watch TV for the first time in several years. You turn it off after about seven minutes, because the commercial that was playing when you turned it on hasn’t ended yet.

You listen to the silence and it starts to close in.

What’s the word for that?

Maybe Danish has a word for it. I need to get back to learning.