Danish Rubber Goat


I’m a big fan of Danish archaeology. In my opinion it is the best in Scandinavia, both regarding the sites they have and what they write about them. This love of Danish archaeology has been a strong incentive for me to learn to read Danish easily, though I still have a very hard time understanding it when spoken. (Rumour has it that Danish babies learn to speak on average several months later than other European ones, simply because it’s so hard to discern any words in their parents’ fond gurglings.)

Swedish and Danish aren’t really separate languages in the sense that e.g. French and German are separate. It’s more of a dialect thing. But they are different enough that many similar words have quite different meanings. Famously, the Danish word for crossfire is almost identical to the Swedish word for spice-pickled herring.

Reading the new issue of great Danish pop-sci archaeology journal Skalk, I came across a new word that simply blew my little mind: gummiged. Etymologically speaking, it means “rubber goat”. Skalk rarely if ever to my knowledge features articles about latex sex toys. From context, I gather that a Danish rubber goat is instead a tractor excavator with a wide front-mounted scoop.

So, if the next time you decide to shop for inflatable latex animals you find yourself in Copenhagen, make sure you ask for a sheep, not a goat.

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18 thoughts on “Danish Rubber Goat

  1. This piqued my interest. How on earth did this word come about? It turns out that Danish Wikipedia explains the etymology quite well.

    A frontloader is simply called “rubber wheel loader” in Danish. I guess the old practice of using goats for moving things led to the nickname “goat on rubber wheels”, or rather “rubber goat”.

    Sorry if I ruined someones fantasies…


  2. Us English speakers miss out on the fun of having close sister languages which the Scandinavians can enjoy and sometimes exploit.

    A few years back, there was a good-natured argument between Sweden and Norway about some customs issue, to do with salami I think (these things can be important!). Norwegian television news carried an interview with a representative of the Swedish customs authority and had him neatly framed with one of their customs booths in the background, naturally with its prominent sign “Tull”, the Swedish for customs. (Same derivation as German Zoll, I assume.)

    However, the Norwegian word for Customs is “Toll” (not hugely different; these sort of differences of a vowel or two for the same word are frequent between the languages, so not a barrier for understanding). Rather, the word “tull” in Norwegian has its own meaning: “nonsense”!

    How neat is that editorial comment, and so totally deniable!


  3. I lived in Denmark for 18 months, and during trying to learn the language I discovered, to my great joy, that the most common phrase I heard during coffee breaks was “Hvad siger du?”. Or, på englesk, “What did you say?”.

    it’s relevant to point out that I had to check the dictionary to see how to spell “siger”. And, as I was checking, I also found that “phonetic” isn’t in the dictionary (but “phonetics” is).

    Oh, and even more. I don’t know if this holds in Swedish too, but in Danish “skat” means both “darling” and “tax”. I think this explains rather a lot, and suggests that it’s the same in Swedish and Norwegian too.



  4. Bob O’H, Swedish “skatt” means tax and treasure, and I guess you might sometimes hear people call someone they love “min skatt”. It’s not very common though. “Darling” translates into the much more ungainly “älskling”.


  5. Reminds me of the old line about the difference between a language and a dialect:

    “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.”


  6. Lars A, where are you from? Did you guys use goats to move stuff when you were a boy?

    Last autumn I visited Trondheim, and passed close by the village of Hell (“cliff”). This place is famous because at the railway station, there is a signpost that reads Godsexpedition (“goods counter”).


  7. Sam, I think some of the Scottish dialects can serve as English “sister languages”, they just haven’t been institutionalized with their own armies and navies. But Scots words are great for Scrabble!

    There are, of course, equally hilarious transatlantic confusions about the word “rubber”.


  8. The danish word for crossfire is ‘krydsild’ (pronounced something like [CRUISE ill] in english). ‘Kryds’ means cross and ‘ild’ means fire (either burning something or gunfire; compare swedish: ‘eld’ with the same mening).

    I haven’t read the actual piece in Skalk, but I would like to clarify the meaning of the term gummiged:

    The gummiged (‘rubber goat’) is in english called a front loader – see it here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Bauma_2007_Loader_Liebherr_1.jpg .

    The machine normally used for removing the top soil in an [archaeological] excavation is the quite different piece of machinery – the excavator – which is in fact known in danish as a gravko (although technically speaking it’s gravemaskine, litt. ‘digging machine’, i.e. ‘excavator’). Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Kettenbagger_CAT_325C_LN.jpeg .

    This is perhaps even crazier as gravko means digging cow or grave cow!

    I might add that you would rarely use a gummiged in an excavation, as it would probably destroy far more archaeological remains than it would actually reveal.

    I think the author of the mentioned article has perhaps confused the terms gummiged and gravko



  9. Henrik, great to see you here!

    The Skalk story is about an Early Neolithic amber bead hoard found by a guy operating an actual gummiged at a gravel pit. That’s why he was using that particular kind of machinery. Luckily, he had worked several seasons on archaeological digs, so he knew what to look for.


  10. What’s with the animals and heavy machinery? Note that a crane is originally a bird–I presume it is similar in outline to the mechanical construction. In Swedish it has become the nondescript lyftkran, whereas in Finnish it is still nostokurki, a lifting crane.


  11. I don’t know any cool word for an end-loader, but what would yall call a sheeps-foot, or goat’s foot, or as we say around here, snake-masher–a earth compactor, or roller, with knobbed spikes?


  12. Mary, I’m just a non-manly academic, so don’t know the words for any heavy machinery not used in archaeological fieldwork. We rarely use earth compactors with knobbed spikes. (-;


  13. RE: Swedish “skatt”

    You’ll find the English “scot” as in “to go scot free” and the German “Schatz” cognate.


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