While I was searching for songs to include in my Crazy Christmas Show this year, I came across the craziest one I’ve heard in a long time. ‘The Fox Song’, otherwise known as ‘What Does the Fox Say’, was written and performed by a Norwegian comedy duo, Ylvis. Within weeks of being on YouTube, the video has been seen by 90 million people worldwide and made its creators famous. It is being hailed as the new ‘Gangnam Style’, but it is much more tongue-in-cheek.
The song begins: “Dog goes woof, cat goes meow, bird goes tweet and mouse goes squeak, frog goes croak, ducks say quack,” and their descriptions made me begin to muse on how we express animal sounds in different languages.
According to comic book speech bubbles, an English dog says “woof”, a French dog ouah, a Turkish dog hauv, a Spanish dog gauv and a Japanese dog wan-wan. These are seriously different sounds. On the other hand, English cats say “meow”, Danish cats mijav, French cats miaou and Italians cats miau. The cat sounds are similar in every language. However it’s spelt – they “meow”. But I’ve always suspected cats thought it was a waste of time to communicate, especially in flats with the humans who keep them under house arrest. As Eddie Izzard suggests, all that purring behind the sofa is actually the cat trying to dig a tunnel to escape.
The Danish sound for a dog is vov, which I have to say sounds rather effeminate. Nevertheless, those fashionable, bulging-eyed bulldogs resembling manicured piglets, which are walked by their chic owners around the streets of Frederiksberg, definitely say rouf. A rouf with French rolling Rs, and indeed, their arses are rolling when they say it. But they are French bulldogs, so what can we expect?
After all, how long do they have to be in this country before they learn the language? A Great Dane does not say vov. But given they’re actually German and their heads are the same height as mini-skirts, they’re probably saying the German dog sound: wow. My German dachshund, being closer to the ground, learned to say vov instead of wow, but it took him seven years and then he died. Many new immigrants to this country may sympathise with his struggle.
But it pales in comparison to the duck’s plight, particularly around Christmas time. Most of the world’s ducks say “quack” or “kvack”, but for some reason Danish ducks say rap. I might expect rap from an American duck from Detroit, but not a Danish duck from Odense. And what about quack doctors? How can you call a fake doctor a rap doctor unless he makes his diagnosis in rhyming lyrics while the beat goes bong, or is that boing? No wonder HC Andersen’s ugly duckling got so confused.
What do the other birds say? I think that a bird has to say tweet, not the Danish pip. Otherwise what would a Twitter post be called? A pip? I don’t think so. Pips are messages I would certainly spit out. Swedish mice also say pip. Don’t these creatures have a sound of their own? It might be humiliating for English mice to say squeak, but at least it’s a sound exclusive to them. Perhaps the Danish birds have cleverly learnt to imitate the Swedish mice’s pip sound so that they can pop over the Øresund for lunch. Soon they’ll be learning to say hejsan and before the Swedes know it, your hot dog will have been snatched by a crow cawing: “I pipped you there min vän”.
Then there’s the cockerel – arguably the noisiest creature in the farmyard – and in every country the sound it makes is perfectly in tune with the country it comes from. From a cosy kykyliky in Denmark, a samurai-sounding ko-ke-kok-ko-o in Japan, a sexy chicchirich in Italy, a stiff upper-lipped “cock a doodle do” in England. And I guess the American rooster says “I am a Yankee doodle dandy!”
Italian frogs croak car car! What kind of a frog sound is that? In the United States, where a lot of Italian frogs ended up and learned the language, the American frogs say “ribbit ribbit”. I couldn’t wait to get back to Denmark, where frogs say kvæk-kvæk. This catchy sound is much more likely to turn a frog into an eligible prince, as certain foreign women now residing in Denmark will no doubt agree.
And finally, what does the fox say? Apparently “Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding! Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding! Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow! Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho! Joff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff!”
And now I am sure you can’t wait to sing ‘What does the fox say’ at this year’s show!