I did the junior year abroad thing when I was an undergraduate, except at my college it was actually a six-month program. I chose the Germany-Austria program because I was a philosophy major and everyone told me that all philosophers had to know German.

Learning German was rough, particularly during the Austria half of the program. I took a German language class at the Dolmetscher Institut at the University of Vienna and my professor was brutal. He used to walk up and down the rows, standing directly in front of the person whose turn it was to do the exercise in question. You got one chance to look at your book and then you had to look up at him and do whatever it was the exercise required (e.g., changing the tense of the verb or the number of the subject). I remember once some poor guy in the row behind me made the mistake of trying to look down at his book a second time. Wham! The professor slammed his book down on top of the poor guy’s book obscuring the page.

That class was always suspenseful because the professor also liked to make fun of students who had done the exercise correctly but whom he suspected did not understand the meaning. He’d try to strike up a conversation on the subject of the exercise with the sole purpose of humiliating his victim by exposing the person as shabby automaton, with no real understanding of what he was doing.

Now what does all this have to do with Kierkegaard, you ask. Well, I will tell you. That sadistic German professor insisted that we throw out our bilingual dictionaries and begin, as soon as possible, to work exclusively with a German-German dictionary. He was right.

I know I directed you to the wonderful Ferrall-Repp A Danish-English Dictionary, and you will certainly want to use it as your primary Danish-English dictionary. There is a lot to be said, however, for working with Danish-Danish dictionaries as well. Christian Molbech’s Dansk Ordbog from 1833 is available as a pdf from Google books. That’s the dictionary most Kierkegaard scholars have traditionally used when contemporary Danish-English dictionaries failed them. Molbech’s dictionary is certainly useful (with the 1859 edition being the more useful of the two given that dictionaries tend to document usage from a slightly earlier period than their publication date). An even better resource, however, is the monumental Ordbog Over det Danske Sprog, the Dane’s equivalent of the OED. Unfortunately it takes up an enormous amount of bookshelf space and is prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, the Danes are more egalitarian than the Brits, so the ODS is actually freely accessible in a searchable online version. I guarantee it will help your Danish, plus, it’s a lot easier than trying to use the pdf of Molbech because it is searchable, while Molbech, because it is in Fraktur, is not. Check it out!


  1. Many thanks for the wonderful dictionary references here, as well as in your other posts. I have added Ferrall-Repp to my Danish-English “lineup,” and while it certainly does not replace my more other (more contemporary) dictionaries, it provides an invaluable added perspective, and it guards against my missing word-meanings that have subtly changed over time. I also love the ODS site. It has already helped me interpret and translate the following word I came across in one of Grundtvig’s sermons: “ivente.” I struggled with that word for hours, trying to make sense of it, before I finally searched for it in ODS, which suggested that, among other words, I take a look at “vente.” Well, sure enough, “ivente” made a whole lot more sense when interpreted as “i vente.” A transcription error from manuscript in the Grundtvig edition? Or, is it not uncommon to find words combined like that in older texts? Anyway, in the context of the sentence I was translating, it seemed clear, semantically speaking, that “i vente” was correct, and so that’s what I went with.

  2. In using the “Google scanned” version of the Ferrall-Repp dictionary, I notice that page 320 of the text (the actual text’s page number, i.e. not the PDF file page number) is largely blurry to the point of being unreadable. Since you have a physical copy of the dictionary, is there any chance you’d be willing to scan that one page into a PDF file (ideally, although other formats may be okay for me too)? Sorry to put you on the spot by asking, but I would be so grateful if you could do that, and then email me the scan of the page, at tenpenny1(at-sign)gmail.com. Or, if you have a way to post it to your web or blog site, for permanent reference, that’d be even better. Thank you!

    1. Is that the only page there is a problem with? I’ll bet there are more. The dictionary is printed on rag paper which is very rough, so the quality of the print is also often rough and doesn’t scan well. I’ll see what I can do. Unfortunately, I don’t have the dictionary with me now (I don’t carry it around any more since I discovered the google copy). My husband teaches in Jacksonville, FL where we also have a house. Most of my books, including the dictionary, are down there. I won’t be going down there for about a month. I’ll be happy to scan it for you when I get down there, but I have to warn you, my copy may be no better. The pages are dark and, as I said, the print impression isn’t always so distinct as it ought to be. Still, I’m willing to give it a try. If you need to look up a particular word, however, you could also try writing the Kierkegaard Research Center at the University of Copenhagen. They had a beautiful clean copy of the dictionary a few years ago. I think it actually belonged to the Royal Library. Even if they have given it back though, they might still be able to get it for you. Better yet, just write to the folks at the Royal Library/Kongelig Bibliotek and ask them to send you a scan they are really helpful over there. They found the drawing I’m going to use for the cover of my book Fear and Dissembling and sent me a scan of it even though I couldn’t remember in exactly what issue of Folkets Nisse the Drawing had appeared. If you tell them the actual page you need, I’m sure they will send you a scan. If it’s a good scan, send it along to me and I’ll post it to the blog!

  3. Thanks for the great information as to sources for the dictionary. I will see what I can do/obtain. I quickly paged through the entire google copy, and although there may otherwise be a rare case, here and there, where a word near the outer margin is not that easy to read, that’s about the extent of it – in other words, it’s not a problem (for me, at least). But this particular page (page 320 in the actual text, page 367 in the google copy’s pagination) is way beyond that kind of thing. And, although it hard to know for sure, I’m inclined to think that it’s simply a scanning problem or error that wasn’t detected. Only about the bottom 25% of text on the page is more-or-less legible, the upper 75% is utterly illegible. It happened that a word in the Grundtvig sermon that I’ve been translating (and which translation is now finished, by the way, if you have an interest in reading it, on my blog site) was on this page, but luckily it was (or the important part of it was) on the bottom 25% (readable) part of the page. And, in any case, since I have multiple dictionaries, it’s clearly not a showstopper for me to not have this page. It’d just be nice, at some point, to find/offer a correction page, given the usefulness of this particular dictionary. If I come up with a new copy of the page from one of the sources you provided, I’ll let you know.

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