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August 13, 2012 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Wonderful words with no simple English equivalent.
posted by mudpuppie (231 comments total) 109 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the comments in the second link: We need a word to describe the experience of using too much shampoo when you first wash your hair after getting a haircut.

Yes, we need a word for this.
posted by rtha at 11:11 AM on August 13, 2012 [19 favorites]


Is 'filling' not English for 'Pålegg'?
posted by pompomtom at 11:14 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


There needs to be a word for that weird tingly paranoid feeling on the bottom of your feet when you walk around your apartment in the dark in the middle of the night and know that there is a nonzero chance that your pet has left you a little present somewhere. Steppenstress?
posted by elizardbits at 11:15 AM on August 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


I have a whole book of these. One of my favorite ones is the German korinthenkacker - it's a word for that one supplies person in the office who only lets you have a handful of paper clips rather than taking a whole box, or only gives you one pen at a time or whatever; or the budget person who studies every item over to make sure you're getting the best deal on things ("If you got the generic brand of copy paper it would save us three cents a copy"); or in civilian life, it's the person who wants to calculate the restaurant bill down to the last penny rather than everyone just chipping in paper bills ("Wait, Sid, your tax comes out to twenty dollars and twenty cents, I need the change"); in short, it's the person who's to-the-penny exacting with saving or processing money.

The literal translation is "raisin-shitter."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:15 AM on August 13, 2012 [65 favorites]


A Korean word that I like that, as far I as know, has no English equivalent, is "kundaegi" (that's probably not the proper romanization). It's the word for the solid stuff in a soup or stew.
posted by jessssse at 11:16 AM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


The literal translation is "raisin-shitter."

Oh my god, I've been butting heads with her for the past 10 days and it's STILL not resolved.

Thanks for the new nickname.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


5. Zeg (Georgian)
It means “the day after tomorrow.” Seriously, why don’t we have a word for that in English?


We do. It's called "Wednesday".
posted by Thorzdad at 11:20 AM on August 13, 2012 [19 favorites]


Seriously, why don’t we have a word for that in English?

We used to.
posted by wanderingmind at 11:22 AM on August 13, 2012 [40 favorites]


The literal translation is "raisin-shitter."

Miser? Tight-fisted?

A lot of the items on these lists also have English equivalents either as single words or as 2-3 word phrases as they apparently allow.

There needs to be a word for people who claim there is no word for that thing in English when there totally is. I propose: Non-reader.
posted by DU at 11:22 AM on August 13, 2012 [27 favorites]


Backpfeifengesicht: (German) "A face that needs a fist"
posted by Egg Shen at 11:22 AM on August 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


I have an ongoing disagreement with a friend of mine about whether there are thoughts you can't translate into English.

Not as in translating to a single word, but whether the way a language is structured -- and how speaking it affects the speaker -- makes it possible to experiencing things in a way entirely incomprehensible to non-speakers.

My vote is yes, and it is always reinforced by lists like these. How is someone experiencing their world and daily life such that it became useful to have a single word for these? Very differently from me, that much I can say.

(not that I'm against adopting them)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:22 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is 'filling' not English for 'Pålegg'?

No. In countries, where you pile stuff on top of one buttered slice of bread (på. On top), instead of wedging them between slices of bread, there isn't such a thing as a filling. These open-faced sandwiches might end up being filling, yes, but in Norway, they're most of all expensive, if anything.
posted by Namlit at 11:24 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Miser? Tight-fisted?

Those both describe someone who's frugal with their own money. The korinthenkacker is overly frugal with shared resources, as in a business or a group outing. There's a difference.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "The literal translation is "raisin-shitter.""

..Or my boss, who turns the lights off in the hallways and other non-personal-office rooms in the building? So I have to walk to the shitter in the dark? Awesome.
posted by notsnot at 11:26 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quite a few of these seem to be a stretch to me. That is, there seem either to be perfectly close English analogs or it's just a case of an agglutinative language knocking two or three words together into "one word" that English expresses in two or three separate words.

Is there a word for "envying the expressive capacities of other languages for no very good reason"?
posted by yoink at 11:26 AM on August 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Is there a word for "envying the expressive capacities of other languages for no very good reason"?

Answer to my own question: "lazylanguageblogarticle."
posted by yoink at 11:26 AM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Steppenstress

Squishenschreck.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 11:27 AM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/137359

Packesel from German? What's wrong with our perfectly good and identically meaning pack mule?
posted by readyfreddy at 11:28 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


In Dutch we call Pålegg beleg.
posted by Pendragon at 11:28 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have an ongoing disagreement with a friend of mine about whether there are thoughts you can't translate into English.

You know, German is very noun-heavy where English tends to use many more verbs. I've often pondered the fact that this must have some effect on the way native speakers view the world, but I've not thought of anything concrete.
posted by tippiedog at 11:29 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The korinthenkacker is overly frugal with shared resources

...including organization, time management, and whatever else they think they have a mandate to an opinion. Like 'you filled this form in correctly but you handed it to me upside down, don't do that in the future'.
posted by Namlit at 11:31 AM on August 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is so good.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:31 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those both describe someone who's frugal with their own money. The korinthenkacker is overly frugal with shared resources, as in a business or a group outing.

Supply Nazi. Tip miser.
posted by DU at 11:31 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Their description of 'hygge' is a highly inadequate attempt to capture but one of the aspects or meanings of the word. It's so fucking complex and nuanced a concept, there isn't really a way to do it justice in English.
posted by Dysk at 11:34 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Supply Nazi

I'm guessing that, conversely, this may not be easily translatable into German.
posted by vacapinta at 11:34 AM on August 13, 2012 [19 favorites]


Very noun-heavy.

Ausserordentlich Hauptword schwer. I like this more and more.
posted by Namlit at 11:34 AM on August 13, 2012


How about the reverse? Words in English that don't have an easy translation into (some, many, all) other languages?
posted by lewedswiver at 11:34 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Supply Nazi. Tip miser.

Neither of which are commonly in the lexicon, and both of which you had to make up from whole cloth as opposed to there being a word already there.

(If you're gonna be a korinthenkacker about language, I can be too.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:35 AM on August 13, 2012


Good guess, vacapinta. Conversed Nazis are rare.
posted by Namlit at 11:35 AM on August 13, 2012


"$X Nazi" is a very common construction. If anything, that makes it a postfix that English has, which no other languages do, to indicate nitpickiness or excessive rule-following.
posted by DU at 11:39 AM on August 13, 2012


I am german and I have not heard the word Korinthenkacker to be applied only in the specific sense of being a miser with money. It is someone who is generally pedantic.
Dict.cc translates it as 'nitpicker' or fusspot, and it seems to fit the general use of the word.

Wikipedia lists a number of nice synonyms:
Erbsenzähler (pea-counter), Kümmelspalter (caraway-splitter), Beckmesser, Piddelskrämer (?), Tüpflischeißer, Krümelkacker (crumb-shitter, from Berlin) Gscheidhaferl (Bavaria)
posted by ts;dr at 11:39 AM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Dutch gezellig seem similar to the Danish hygge.
For those of you not yet knowing what gezellig means, let’s get one thing straight: this word has NO accurate English translations. Yes, it’s a sad fact my friends, but it’s true. People will try and try again to tell you that it means cozy… or quaint… or familiar…or friendly… or a nice atmosphere… or a fun time, but you get where this is going; no one word can really sum it up. Gezellig and gezelligheid are less about a word and more about a feeling. Yes, this is starting to sound all chakras-and-healing-crystals to you, but truthfully, gezellig(heid) can only really be felt. ...

Comfortable still doesn’t quite cut it. It has a calm, homey quality. However, a lively party or an animated chat can also be gezellig – not really situations that would be described as “comfortable”. In my opinion, gezellig mostly depends on people. Being all alone would never be described as gezellig, even if you’re comfortable. You need (the right) company for a place or a situation to be gezellig.
posted by maudlin at 11:40 AM on August 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


Backpfeifenschwanz: (German) "A dick that needs a punch"
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:40 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


One from the North of Germany is Haake-Beck Geschwür.
Haake Beck is a local Bremen beer. Translate this to Budweiser ulcer.
The gourmet version is Feinkostgewölbe - delicacies-vault.
posted by Namlit at 11:41 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink has it: everybody loves these articles and books, but they're bullshit. Even if the words actually exist in the given language (I wrote about the fake-Russian "razbliuto" here), the "definitions" are carefully tailored to sound weird and funny, when in fact they're usually perfectly ordinary. Case in point (from the first link): "Vybafnout (Czech) A word tailor-made for annoying older brothers—it means to jump out and say boo." Actually, vybafnout just means to bark at somebody, say something loudly and unexpectedly. Yes, you could use it for saying "Boo"; so what? Does that make it somehow a magical mystery word?

Ah well, people love this shit. Carry on!
posted by languagehat at 11:41 AM on August 13, 2012 [38 favorites]


1. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
You know when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it? The Georgians feel your pain. This word means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”


Years ago, I dated a Jewish girl from Moscow, whose parents were from Tbilisi. I went to their house for Thanksgiving and, I have to say, the concept of that word is a lot more impressive than it sounds. That cuisine is something else. Something else in a thick pastry bun and stuffed with cheese and meat and covered in sour cream.
posted by griphus at 11:41 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


(it seems that the dutch version of Korinthenkacker means miser: Krentenkakker)
posted by ts;dr at 11:41 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


In countries, where you pile stuff on top of one buttered slice of bread (på. On top), instead of wedging them between slices of bread, there isn't such a thing as a filling.

Ahhh, that's when you want 'toppings'.
posted by pompomtom at 11:42 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


elizardbits: "There needs to be a word for that weird tingly paranoid feeling on the bottom of your feet when you walk around your apartment in the dark in the middle of the night and know that there is a nonzero chance that your pet has left you a little present somewhere. Steppenstress?"

Scheißfurchtambulation? Fuskotschlendern?
posted by boo_radley at 11:42 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, German is very noun-heavy where English tends to use many more verbs. I've often pondered the fact that this must have some effect on the way native speakers view the world, but I've not thought of anything concrete.
posted by tippiedog at 11:29 AM on August 13


But, you know, English is a Germanic language. In some ways they are so closely related as to be brothers rather than cousins.

And I'm not at all buying this notion that English uses "more verbs" and that German is "noun-heavy". Haven't you ever seen German sentences that end with a string of THREE verbs in a row? I sure haven't seen that in English. I'm fairly certain that both languages use the SAME number of nouns. And the SAME number of verbs. (when saying the same thing). Or at the very least, German speakers might use LESS nouns, because of their predilection for compound nouns. (which English also uses, but not to the degree that German does)

Spanish, perhaps, one could argue, uses "more verbs", because it's a so-called "pro drop" language. But that's only if you are under the assumption that the invisible noun isn't in the speaker's head (it is). We do something similar in English when we drop the subject in a command.

As for "the way native speakers view the world", well, that's just another way of stating the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and there are a lot of linguists (most?) who think that that's hooey. (present company included)
posted by readyfreddy at 11:43 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


If it doesn't start with schadenfreude, I'm going to be disappointed.

(looks)

(sigh.)
posted by eriko at 11:43 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Backpfeifengesicht: (German) "A face that needs a fist"

The term I use in English is "douche-face" or "bro-face." Ex. "Paul Ryan has such a bro-face." I think the German examples are somewhat unfair because they're compound words. No, there is not one english word that means literally "A face you want to punch." That's why we have the phrase.

How about the reverse? Words in English that don't have an easy translation into (some, many, all) other languages?

The one I've heard before is "kitch." I have a hard enough time explaining what kitch means in English.
posted by muddgirl at 11:43 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am german and I have not heard the word Korinthenkacker to be applied only in the specific sense of being a miser with money. It is someone who is generally pedantic.

I yield to the more authoritative source.

I also offer the anecdotal tale that someone in college taught me a word in Russian that she claimed meant "to ejaculate copiously." I can't be sure how it's spelled, or if it's accurate.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:44 AM on August 13, 2012


readyfreddy: "German speakers might use LESS nouns"

:eng101: FEWER nouns.
posted by boo_radley at 11:44 AM on August 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Mudgirl: kitsch is a borrowed term from Yiddish, I think. Maybe that explains the difficulty. And I ususally go with something like "ironic self-aware retro cheese".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:44 AM on August 13, 2012


> 1. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
You know when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it? The Georgians feel your pain. This word means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”


That's another good example. The Georgian is exactly parallel to the Russian доели [doeli] 'ate up, finished eating, ate all of something.' Any language with a perfective/imperfective system is going to have a form like that. Just because we have to use more than one word to express the same idea in English doesn't make it weird and magical.
posted by languagehat at 11:45 AM on August 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


13. Bakku-shan (Japanese)
The experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front.


English equivalent = Nine Iron. A woman who looks good at about a hundred yards.
posted by Gungho at 11:45 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ugh, these lists are quite infuriating:
14 More Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent

3. Layogenic (Tagalog)
Remember in Clueless when Cher describes someone as “a full-on Monet…from far away, it’s OK, but up close it’s a big old mess”? That’s exactly what this word means.
The English equivalent is right there in their definition!
posted by muddgirl at 11:46 AM on August 13, 2012


One from the North of Germany is Haake-Beck Geschwür.
Haake Beck is a local Bremen beer. Translate this to Budweiser ulcer.
The gourmet version is Feinkostgewölbe - delicacies-vault.


Hooray for Haacke Beck! (former Bremer here). For Americans, Haake-Beck is brewed by the same company that brews the Becks we see in the states (St. Pauli too, but that's another story). They make many kinds of beers the same way that Budweiser makes a lot of beers in the States.

HB OK! :)
posted by readyfreddy at 11:47 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it doesn't start with schadenfreude, I'm going to be disappointed.

We have two English equivalents, both underused and pretty cool. There is the Greek-derived epicaricacy, which Wikitionary insists has never really been used except in interesting word dictionaries. And then there is "Roman holiday," which has all the pleasures of schadenfreude, with a delicious dose of Caligula-style sadism. As well as being a Gregory Peck film!
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:49 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mudgirl: kitsch is a borrowed term from Yiddish, I think. Maybe that explains the difficulty. And I ususally go with something like "ironic self-aware retro cheese".

There was a thread on Ask Mefi about how hard it is to define 'kitsch'

Your definition doesn't work because you're essentially using a synonym - cheese- to define it.
posted by vacapinta at 11:49 AM on August 13, 2012


Bakku-shan (Japanese)
The experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front.


I'm reminded of the equally misogynistic 'butterface' (as in 'everything is beautiful but her face').

I'm also reminded of how much of a pain it is to try to teach my dad (a thoroughly non-native speaker) the proper time to use the Spanish interjection 'vale.' It sort of translates to 'ok' but he wants to use it in all the senses that you would use 'ok' in English and that's just not working. Interesting to see that it's translated into English as a phrase, as it's not a complicated concept but it's not an easy cognate either.
posted by librarylis at 11:50 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


readyfreddy: "German speakers might use LESS nouns"
:eng101: FEWER nouns.


Prescriptivist!!!!

In prescriptive grammar fewer is the prescribed comparative to be used in relation to grammatically plural, discretely quantifiable nouns, i.e., count nouns. The comparative less, it is argued, should be used when speaking of a grammatically singular noun (including mass nouns). Descriptive grammarians, however, are only concerned with the extent that this distinction applies in actual human usage.
posted by readyfreddy at 11:50 AM on August 13, 2012


I recall reading about a word, maybe Swedish, that basically meant "embarrassment for someone (who had just done something absolutely stupid, and didn't realize it)... Anybody know what word it is?
posted by symbioid at 11:51 AM on August 13, 2012


> korinthenkacker

There's a similar Dutch word for this - mierenneuker, literally ant-fucker.

Seems to be closer to 'nitpicker', not limited to finances.
posted by egor83 at 11:52 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


If it doesn't start with schadenfreude, I'm going to be disappointed.

I'm pretty sure that schadenfreude pretty much IS an English anymore.
posted by readyfreddy at 11:52 AM on August 13, 2012


Hey, I learned an actual fact from this post! The definition of "Roman holiday" (although I've never seen it used outside of old-timey British books, like Agatha Christie).
posted by DU at 11:53 AM on August 13, 2012


Zehentieredreckzermatschenangst

Your welcome
posted by found missing at 11:53 AM on August 13, 2012


A Korean word that I like that, as far I as know, has no English equivalent, is "kundaegi" (that's probably not the proper romanization). It's the word for the solid stuff in a soup or stew.

'Round these parts that's called "chunks".
posted by Malice at 11:54 AM on August 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


is there a foreign word that means "learning a foreign word that perfectly describes your current situation"? Because as I was reading this list, I hella Shemomedjamoed
posted by rebent at 11:55 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Layogenic is just another way of saying "SCUD!"
posted by symbioid at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2012


> Words in English that don't have an easy translation into (some, many, all) other languages?

Not exactly a word, but I really like English construction "to want someone to do something", esp. in questions like "what do you want me/him to do?".

You can express this in Russian, but that'd be much more cumbersome and wouldn't sound natural anyway.

Also "unless".
posted by egor83 at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Scud&defid=106385
posted by symbioid at 11:59 AM on August 13, 2012


Yes, isn't hygge the same as gezellig (Dutch) or getmütlichkeit (German)? I have heard both of those words in Midwestern American English, and I've seen getmütlichkeit in the New York Times. One assumes they survive because they're family-type words handed down by Germanic settlers common to the area.

"Stormannsgalskap," or Norwegian for the madness of great men, is my favorite. I try to use it frequently. :) I am always quizzing my Norwegian friend about whether particular people can be described as suffering from stormannsgalskap in order to understand the nuance better.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:00 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have an ongoing disagreement with a friend of mine about whether there are thoughts you can't translate into English.

I don't know about the thoughts themselves, but kanji characters are kind of this way for me - the direct English translation doesn't quite convey the image I get in my mind from adding up the meanings of the radicals in a character.
posted by ctmf at 12:04 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I gave up liking the idea of "wonderful words with no English equivalent" when I read a particularly stupid example of a man rhapsodizing over a language where the word for "beautiful" also meant "just". Um, which idiot has never heard of the word "fair"? These kind of articles also tend to particularize a specific use of a word to make it sound more difficult to translate than it is.

There are some bad ones in these articles, as already pointed out. But worse, they don't even really define what a "word" or "direct equivalent" is. Why is "L’esprit de l’escalier" a word? I mean, it's fair to describe it as such in some ways, but then you've got to admit a whole boatload of idiomatic phrases which greatens the number of English "words" likewise. Also, why is a phrase less direct than a single word? Beats me, because it really isn't, and nobody who speaks English--which has almost endless amounts of verbal phrases--should think otherwise.

Also, Global Language Monitor is a sham with fake word counts.
posted by Jehan at 12:04 PM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


The korinthenkacker is overly frugal with shared resources, as in a business or a group outing.

Is this not "bean-counter"?
posted by marginaliana at 12:06 PM on August 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


readyfreddy: "readyfreddy: "German speakers might use LESS nouns"
:eng101: FEWER nouns.


Prescriptivist!!!!
"

No, I'm just describing something in a way you don't like.
posted by boo_radley at 12:07 PM on August 13, 2012


There's a similar Dutch word for this - mierenneuker, literally ant-fucker.

Miereneuker. No 'n'.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:09 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's gotta be a word somewhere out there for a person who makes mundane disagreements into personal arguments and then, when proven wrong, loudly and gracelessly changes the subject.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:10 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Io9 published a list of "untranslatable" foreign words a little while ago that had some good entries.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:12 PM on August 13, 2012


the same as gezellig (Dutch) or getmütlichkeit (German)
Maaan there are MILES between Dutch gezelligheid and German Gemütlichkeit. And one border.

The central Swedish term that isn't translatable is "lagom", applied to people, situations, food, time-spans, luxury, the weather, etc. that have just enough of something without sticking out in any type of way. The haunting bit for foreigners in this rainy country is, though, that what a Swede would call lagom is never quite enough for normal people. We foreigners would need to call the weather subdued, the amount of whipped cream on the (too sour) strawberries stingy, the vacation three days too short, and so on. For them, there's lagom sun, lagom cream, and the vacation is just precisely lagom in length. Funniest: some shrieking kids on a camping. Going on forever, completely unchecked by the lagom-ly by-sitting grown ups. After an eternity, father raises his voice: "okay, kids, now it's lagom." (Meaning, if you don't stop right away, you're gonna be hamburger)
posted by Namlit at 12:13 PM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sadly, there's no English equivalent word for "David Cameron". But I believe that in Gaelic it translates as "arsehole".
posted by MajorDundee at 12:14 PM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


boo_radley: "No, I'm just describing something in a way you don't like."

I'm sorry, this wasn't really needed. It's just that I'm in a sore way with my thing-doings today and I elucated a need to vent inappropriately.
posted by boo_radley at 12:14 PM on August 13, 2012


Augmenting the other Dutch citations above: cijferneuker (number fucker) - someone overly overly focused on numbers (usually in a business) to the exclusion of the bigger picture. Like beancounter, but not quite, because beancounter can just be an affectionate term for our friends in accounting, but cijferneuker is always a term of derision.
posted by beagle at 12:15 PM on August 13, 2012


> Miereneuker. No 'n'.

I'm not an expert in Dutch, but DWOTD gives version with double n, and Google also returns more results for this variant.


We're starting to fuck ants here :)
posted by egor83 at 12:17 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about the reverse? Words in English that don't have an easy translation into (some, many, all) other languages?

There are probably hundreds since the English vocabulary is so large and malleable, but since they're not-unusual to us it would be hard to summon them. For one close-at-hand example, I had a hell of a time trying to explain what "cheesy" meant when I was tutoring a group of Italians in English.

They kept saying, "So, like... romantic?" and I just crumpled.
posted by psoas at 12:22 PM on August 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Mieren[n]euker: New spelling. Like pannenkoeken. Disgusting.
posted by Namlit at 12:23 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


cheesy: a once popular meme or medium that fell out of favor, and is now used to convey both the original intent, as well as a meta-nostalgia, irony, sarcasm, or homage to that meme or medium by overemphasizing or overly focusing on the out-of-date aspects.
posted by rebent at 12:25 PM on August 13, 2012


A, aye, ei, ehhhh

Variations of a mostly positive yet non committal word/sound used across rural Kenya to indicate the listener is alive, sympathizing with your story, agreeing with what you said, agreed with you, indicated that was enough rice on the plate and so on and so forth. (I love multi purpose 'words')

ei - no in Suomi (Finnish)

So I go to Finland for my summer vacation directly from Kenya and leave everyone confused and wandering around conversations for my first couple of days until I realized what I was doing unconsciously out of a habit I'd picked up. Had to rapidly replace with a more positive 'ho ho' sound (can't convey the intonation in english but it doesn't sound like a readymade cake) before all my friends became enemies given how negative I must have sounded to them.
posted by infini at 12:31 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


My personal favourite in German: sitzpinkler. Figuratively it means "wimp" or "wuss", literally it means "he who sits down to pee".
posted by ZsigE at 12:32 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah but cheese in Italy IS pretty romantic, if by "romantic" you mean "thing with which I would make out a lot".
posted by elizardbits at 12:34 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Steppenstress

Squishenschreck.



I prefer footstool.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:38 PM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


And, coming full circle, it looks like it may have been languagehat who corrected Io9 on “razbliuto”
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:39 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing about words that express ideas that we don't have single words for in English is that, if they're useful enough, we do have a word: the one we just adopted from another language.
posted by immlass at 12:41 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


13. Bakku-shan (Japanese)
The experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front.


I recently had the misfortune of learning the neologism "butterface"--as in, "Everything about her is attractive but her face." Seems pretty equivalent to "bakku-shan."
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:41 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Boketto (Japanese) ...the act of gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking to give it a name.

This sounds a lot like woolgathering. I mean, woolgathering doesn't necessarily carry the implication that you weren't thinking, but I know from experience that being snapped out of it with a quick "Hey, whacha thinking about?" is enough to make me forget what I was thinking about, but not the fact that I was thinking about something.
posted by yath at 12:42 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Words in English that don't have an easy translation into (some, many, all) other languages?

Many technical terms, eg. almost everything related to computers and programming.
Russian used to have its own independent terms during Soviet times, but since early nineties we just use loanwords. Sounds quite ugly (article in Russian) at first, but I guess that was the case with all loan words... like with scientific/mechanical terms from German, or with naval terms from Dutch with Peter the Great in XVIII century, etc etc.


Another recent example was with the business: when the Soviet system started to collapse in late eighties and the country started to switch to a free market, the new concepts and ideas had no translations in Russian, so direct loanwords were used:

А брокер с дилером и славный дистрибьютер
Мне силятся продать "Тойоту" и компьютер.
Вотще! Я не куплю.


Or, more interestingly, sometimes there WERE translations - "manager" can be translated as "управляющий", for instance - but they were out of use for seventy years since October Revolution and sounded hopelessly old-fashioned, so the English loanwords (like "менеджер") came into use.
posted by egor83 at 12:43 PM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Grief bacon."

While Speck can mean bacon in German, it also means pork belly and fat in general- there was an ad for cell phone plans with the tagline "Weg mit dem Speck!" meaning "Away with the fat!" (AKA unnecessary plan features).

Also, isn't Kaelling (pronounced schaelling, at least in Norwegian) basically "Harridan"?
posted by dunkadunc at 12:48 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Steppenstress

Squishenschreck.


In the days of our beloved cat, it would have been barfnswishcitipation

A colleague stepped upon a dead mouse first thing after she had kicked off her shoes indoors when coming home after a concert trip of some weeks. Squorchyfaint
posted by Namlit at 12:54 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Schlimazel (Yiddish)

I learned that one from Ron Swanson.

Listverse has more - this is popular blog-bait, and it seems to get recycled a lot.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:56 PM on August 13, 2012


The great thing about English is that these words become English the second time they are used ...
posted by scruss at 12:57 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


ZsigE: "My personal favourite in German: sitzpinkler. Figuratively it means "wimp" or "wuss", literally it means "he who sits down to pee"."

huh, see, I was under the impression that germans found the american standard of standing up to pee to be disgusting, and that most german toilet seats did not even lift up, because everyone there sat down to pee. Otherwise, after all, the piss just splashes all over everything and gets all in the air and stuff, nasty.
posted by rebent at 1:04 PM on August 13, 2012


Hygge is not getmütlichkeit. I can't speak for gezellig, as I don't now Dutch at all. Hygge is a noun, a feeling, as well as an adjective that describes situations, passages of time, things, people, but it is also a verb, an activity, something you engage in. In each of these applications it means something of the same thing, but also different things. A hyggelig evening is not an evening necessarily characterised by the same things that would characterise a hyggelig person. Neither is likely to be hyggelig in the same sense that a particular lamp, rug, or piece of furniture is hyggelig. At the same time as all this, 'hyg dig' as an imperative ('hyg yourself!') is a colloquial goodbye, essentially identical in function and meaning to the English 'take care'.
posted by Dysk at 1:05 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aha. Another Swedish word would then be kalhygge, which is a de-forested bit of land. Hyggelig. Gezellig.
posted by Namlit at 1:06 PM on August 13, 2012


Verschlimmbesserung... a supposed improvement that makes things worse.

This perfectly describes a large part of the project I'm maintaining. Thanks, Germany!
posted by Foosnark at 1:06 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


And yeah, as someone noted upthread, 'kælling' is not really an untranslatable word (harridan is indeed very close) nor does it mean what it's posited to in the link. In common usage, it's more like a Danish equivalent to 'bitch', both in the horrible insult sense, and the (no less horrible) colloquially dismissive term for women sense.

Now the Danish 'noller', 'Brian', or the Norwegian 'Harry', those are words I would dearly love to have in English...
posted by Dysk at 1:08 PM on August 13, 2012


Also:

Germany according to Metafilter: everyone there sat down to pee.
posted by Namlit at 1:08 PM on August 13, 2012


Words in English that don't have an easy translation into (some, many, all) other languages?
Well, it's easier to know or believe that a given word doesn't have a translation in a given language, rather than a given word in any language.

Even so, "clusterfuck" as in "a lot of things going wrong at the same time by the incompetence or mistakes of many people" seems a good suggestion. I'm also willing to bet that most translations of "braindrain" are calques of English and not independent inventions, which would seem to fit on the same spectrum of "not having a word for", if we're playing that game.
posted by Jehan at 1:08 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


A, aye, ei, ehhhh

Variations of a mostly positive yet non committal word/sound used across rural Kenya to indicate the listener is alive, sympathizing with your story, agreeing with what you said, agreed with you, indicated that was enough rice on the plate and so on and so forth. (I love multi purpose 'words')


How congruent are those to 'mmhmm' (which is what I would consider the functional equivalent covering all of those senses)?
posted by librarylis at 1:13 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


5. L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.

A 3 month edit window...Je vous en prie.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 1:23 PM on August 13, 2012


librarylis... From what i observed among native speakers, it felt different from mmm hmm and that family of non committal sounds and more like a multi purpose word. Let me see what i can find out about it
posted by infini at 1:30 PM on August 13, 2012


Ojalá is a Spanish word I have always liked. It means, god (or goddess or universe) willing.
posted by Danf at 1:31 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


5. L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.

"Backwards, turn backwards, O Time in thy flight!
I've thought of the comeback I needed last night."
posted by BWA at 1:33 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is grief bacon not comfort food? Also, I'll just leave this here.
posted by steganographia at 1:38 PM on August 13, 2012


The Japanese have a bunch of interesting terms which can be explained, but for which no short and exact translation exists. One of the better is zettai ryouiki, which is two words (of course). Literally it translates as "absolute territory" but that isn't what it means.

It refers to the uncovered space on a cute girl's legs between the top of thigh-high stockings and the bottom of her miniskirt.

It is mind-boggling that they would need a term for that.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:41 PM on August 13, 2012


Doesn't bakku shan actually come from the English word "back"?
posted by lucidium at 1:43 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows McGee: ""Stormannsgalskap," or Norwegian for the madness of great men, is my favorite."

"Stormannsgalskap" is just the Norwegian term for megalomania.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:44 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


My personal favourite in German: sitzpinkler. Figuratively it means "wimp" or "wuss", literally it means "he who sits down to pee".
posted by ZsigE at 12:32 PM on August 13 [+] [!]


I have a friend who wrote a song composed entirely of these kinds of words. Among them were warmduscher (person who showers with warm water) and rindschneider (person who cuts the rind off cheese).
posted by From Bklyn at 1:46 PM on August 13, 2012


Haven't you ever seen German sentences that end with a string of THREE verbs in a row? I sure haven't seen that in English.

True. This is a feature of English I have never been able to see happen.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:51 PM on August 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


Danf: "Ojalá is a Spanish word I have always liked. It means, god (or goddess or universe) willing"

And, interestingly, it's from Hispanic Arabic (that "alá" part at the end is, indeed, Allah). It's basically a variant of "Insha'Allah", dating back to Al-Andalus.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:51 PM on August 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


I recently had the misfortune of learning the neologism "butterface"--as in, "Everything about her is attractive but her face."

A UK equivalent is bobfoc. Body of Baywatch, face of Crimewatch.
posted by Damienmce at 1:54 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


@muddgirl: The one I've heard before is "kitch." I have a hard enough time explaining what kitch means in English.

FYI...kitch is German.
posted by kjs3 at 1:54 PM on August 13, 2012


At the risk of defending something MeFites may consider indefensible, the number of times in Canada I’ve thought someone looked pretty hot and they turned out to be a senior citizen I can count on, well, no hands. In Japan (and elsewhere in SEA) this happened regularly at first, to some personal shock. Westerners just don’t tend to age so gracefully, to put it mildly. So it surprises me not at all that there is a term for this in Japan. (as a concept, I would think it would apply equally well to men, but... again, Japan)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:57 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Japanese "koi no yokan," literally translating to "a premonition of love." It isn't a word that expresses things succinctly, it's just a phrase that's occasionally used more regularly than any English equivalent would be.

Japanese "omoshiroi" would be much more useful, because it covers any sort of thing that ime actively enjoys. A funny friend, a good movie, or playing sports are all equally omoshiroi, yet for some reason Japan as a whole is taught that it translates to "interesting."
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:01 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


FYI...kitch is German.

Like a large majority of English, Kitsch is a loanword, but it's still English - note that we adjectivize it as "kitschy" which does not seem to be properly Germanic. (This is a common problem with 'you can't say that in English' lists - if we needed to say it, we borrow the word, like kitsch and schadenfreude.)

Also in the US it has taken on a connotation of ironic enjoyment (perhaps 'echt Kitsch' in German?)
posted by muddgirl at 2:08 PM on August 13, 2012


Can someone with a better command of Chinese help me translate wu nai 无奈 ? Literally the phrase means "without tolerance/endurance", and usually translated as "frustration" or "frustrated", but that's not really accurate.
posted by Alnedra at 2:18 PM on August 13, 2012


..."Ojalá is a Spanish word I have always liked. It means, god (or goddess or universe) willing"

... And, interestingly, it's from Hispanic Arabic (that "alá" part at the end is, indeed, Allah).


It was recently explained to me by a friend from Ecuador that this word has died out in Spain itself, and is used in only some of the Spanish speaking countries in the Americas. Quite a word!
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 2:23 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Both the dutch and the danes claim that there's no equivalent for gezellig/hyggelig in any language, but I've never found a situation where they didn't mean exactly the same. The only difference is that hygge can be used as a verb.

And by the way, usually when a dane/dutchman tries to explain the concept, you get these very very long, almost esotheric descriptions. In most instances it can simply (albeit clumsily) be translated as fun in a social way.

Disclaimer: a lot of danes and dutch won't agree. They're wrong.
posted by Sourisnoire at 2:25 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


No love for Nebbish? The literal translation is a timid, weak willed person, but the definition that I was introduced to, that stuck with me is "Someone, who upon entering a room. makes you feel that a person has left."

On the other hand, you can define all these words in English, even if there is no direct translation for them.
posted by Hactar at 2:30 PM on August 13, 2012


Hungarian has ezüsthid which literally translates as: 'silver bridge'. It is what they call the line formed by the reflection of the moon on the surface of a lake or river when it reaches from one side right across to the other. ...Also, what do you call the soft inside part of a loaf of bread, i.e. not the crust? In French, they call that the mie.
posted by Bartonius at 2:35 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Haven't you ever seen German sentences that end with a string of THREE verbs in a row? I sure haven't seen that in English.
True. This is a feature of English I have never been able to see happen.
Strings of verbs like these, where only one is a non-auxiliary verb, is often actually just one verb. Not your example, but "I would have been seen" isn't four verbs, despite looking like it. It's really only one. Indeed, I'm sure some languages can conjugate a single verb to bear the same meaning.
I recently had the misfortune of learning the neologism "butterface"--as in, "Everything about her is attractive but her face."
My brothers and their friends used to talk about "mantelpieces": cause you're not looking at it when you're stoking the fire. Gross.
posted by Jehan at 2:51 PM on August 13, 2012


So here is a question for people like Languagehat. If this idea, that there are untranslatable concepts in various languages, is total nonsense, why is it that I - a person with two first languages - somewhat frequently cannot translate a concept from one into the other? I mean, I have a fluid grasp of both. I am for all intents and purposes a native speaker of each language. But when I need to express certain types of ideas (usually ideas which are, in my perception at least, strongly culturally specific to one of the cultures I'm a part of) I often can't without resorting to just using the word from the other language.

This is a totally serious question. Am I just a dolt? Am I too close to my own languages? I must also say here that sometimes someone will try to capture a translation of something, and I will be like "No... that's not quite right, there's kind of an element of pursing of lips to the thing I'm thinking of that you haven't reflected there."
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:54 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Ya’arburnee," I said wistfully, thinking of my wife, but upon consideration of the matter I became wracked with greng-ja.
posted by wobh at 2:54 PM on August 13, 2012


"Ojalá is a Spanish word I have always liked. It means, god (or goddess or universe) willing"

Oxalá in Portuguese from Insha'Allah, arabic for God Willing. Beautiful word and also a beautiful song by Madredeus.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 3:08 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If this idea, that there are untranslatable concepts in various languages, is total nonsense, why is it that I - a person with two first languages - somewhat frequently cannot translate a concept from one into the other? I mean, I have a fluid grasp of both. I am for all intents and purposes a native speaker of each language. But when I need to express certain types of ideas (usually ideas which are, in my perception at least, strongly culturally specific to one of the cultures I'm a part of) I often can't without resorting to just using the word from the other language.
This isn't a thorough answer, but words have far more meaning that their obvious meaning. Stomach, belly, tummy, and so on, all have the "same" meaning in English, but the understood and unspoken contexts make them slightly different. If a doctor asked you about your tummy, and you're not six years old, you might think it odd. In this way, the words you use to describe a concept in language A might have unspoken context that you're understand, but are not aware of when choosing a word or phrase to translate it. Likewise, a word you choose to translate that concept in language B might have connotations you understand but don't fit with the concept.

Think of the word "kitsch": it's obviously a negative word, right? or not? as its context is often ironically positive, in a way that "tawdry" never is, but it doesn't have the homosexual connotations of "camp". That's why "cheesy" does translate "kitsch" well, because they not only have such same meanings, but also connotations of ironic enjoyment.
posted by Jehan at 3:11 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kitsch is one of the least understood loanwords to English. A lot of people use it to mean chintzy little popular culture doodads that you can find in card stores, like thos ebobbing birds with the liquid in one end. But it is actually a word of aesthetic revulsion, representing a highbrow response to middlebrow or lowbrow cultural tastes that is unable to distinguish quality or value, and mistakes tacky for beautiful, and responds to melodrama or sentimentality. So plaster of paris cupids are kitsch. That collectable action figure you have on your desk is not kitsch. And if you buy something tacky because you knowingly enjoy the tackiness, it is not kitsch but camp. Kitsch is always unknowing.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:15 PM on August 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


I agree with Jehan that the difficulty in translating words may just be the difference between the denotation of a word and the connotation of a word.

In English, we have two words - moist, and wet. They essentially mean the same thing - the dictionary, non-technical definition of moist is "slightly wet." But they have pretty huge connotational differences, and that connotational difference might be based on something as ephemeral as mouthfeel, and furthermore might even vary slightly from person to person.

I heard a piece on NPR about a new translation of Anna Karenina by a husband-and-wife team, where the wife was a fluent Russian speaker and the husband a fluent English speaker. They argued that their translation was better because they could specifically bandy back and forth not just the definition and connotation of a word, but the structure and feel of the words and sentences, which all affect meaning. But it doesn't make those things untranslatable.

And if you buy something tacky because you knowingly enjoy the tackiness, it is not kitsch but camp.

I would disagree with this definition - I associate kitsch more with consumption and camp more with production - if you buy knowingly buy something tacky, it's kitsch. If you knowingly produce something tacky, it's camp. But that's just me.

Kitsch is always unknowing.

I think you're arguing against the definition of a word changing, which is usually a pretty fruitless fight.
posted by muddgirl at 3:22 PM on August 13, 2012


I think many words become strongly associated with how they are commonly said. I was typing an email recently to someone and reading it back I had to change everything because, although the words and concepts were neutral enough, when I reread the whole paragraph I found it somehow had taken on a sneering tone I didn't want to express at all. You can see misunderstands based on print/speech impedance mismatch all the time and that's within the same language. I expect a big part of the domain of 'untranslatable' comes from the difficulty of efficiently expressing cultures of speech which emerge from generations of use.

The way I've heard it said, languages differ more in what they require than in what they allow.
posted by wobh at 3:33 PM on August 13, 2012


It was recently explained to me by a friend from Ecuador that this word has died out in Spain itself, and is used in only some of the Spanish speaking countries in the Americas.

Your Ecuadorian friend was either yanking your chain or quite misinformed: ojalá remains a commonly used word in Spain.
German has a surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) amount of names for different types of pettiness. My favourite is Paragraphenreiter, literally "paragraph (or clause) jockey", referring to excessively legalistic and/or litigious types.
posted by Skeptic at 3:33 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you're arguing against the definition of a word changing, which is usually a pretty fruitless fight.

Chronic misuse is not the same thing as the definition of a word changing. The original meaning of the word is still valid, is still how the word is defined, and is still how the word is frequently used, especially in critical circles. What we are seeing, instead, is a gap in language, where we need a word to define culture that we take a trashy pleasure in, and camp doesn't quite fulfill the need. So we shoehorn kitsch in there.

The same thing has happened with "ironic." We obviously need a word to mean surprising, interesting, or unusual in a delightful way, and we have repurposed ironic to fill that function.

I have no problem with language changing when the original use of the word is passe and it has become far more useful in a new context. I mean, "decimated" original meant "reduced by 10 percent," but that's too specialized a word, whereas the way we now use it, to mean ruined, may be a better use of the word.

But kitsch? Ironic? Still valuable in its original usage. And so I would encourage people to see that gap in the language and fill it with a new word, or a word that we aren't using anymore, instead of confusing the meaning of perfectly good words.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:34 PM on August 13, 2012


That's why "cheesy" does translate "kitsch" well, because they not only have such same meanings, but also connotations of ironic enjoyment.

See I think of cheesy as being (approximately) equal parts schmaltz and kitsch, but that could just be because I use it almost purely describing music (and it's not necessarily a bad thing, there's all sorts of qualities of cheese)
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:35 PM on August 13, 2012


Chronic misuse is not the same thing as the definition of a word changing.

Um, yes. That is exactly how definitions of words change. There is no Platonic Definition of the word 'kitsch.'
posted by muddgirl at 3:40 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Strings of verbs like these, where only one is a non-auxiliary verb, is often actually just one verb. Not your example, but "I would have been seen" isn't four verbs, despite looking like it. It's really only one. Indeed, I'm sure some languages can conjugate a single verb to bear the same meaning.

Doesn't this lead into "no true multiple verb" land?

There is no Platonic Definition of the word 'kitsch.'

Sure there is. It is a cave that looks exactly like my grandmother's apartment. Strangely, it is full of people who can only perceive it via the shadows of Hummel figurines cast on the wallpaper.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:47 PM on August 13, 2012 [17 favorites]


A hyggelig rug or table is not 'fun in a social way'... Nor is a hyggelig evening, necessarily. You can absolutely hygge on your own.
posted by Dysk at 3:48 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um, yes. That is exactly how definitions of words change. There is no Platonic Definition of the word 'kitsch.'

Um, no. Words change when there is an universal shift in the use of the word, not because a percentage of people misuse it. Otherwise we wouldn't be having a discussion about the meaning of "ironic" at all, because of that song and no backsies.

I realize language is flexible and changes, but it isn't instantaneous, and misuses actually have a long history of not lasting, especially when the earlier use of the word is still valid and still current. Otherwise "applesauce" would now mean "nonsense," because that's how it was used in the 20s.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:49 PM on August 13, 2012


By the way, if you are thinking of starting a word with "um," stop and think twice. It sounds dismissive and assholish, even if you don't intend it to.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:49 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod, thank you, that "Um," thing drives me crazy. I think many people don't understand just how jerkish and condescending it sounds--I've been trying to explain this to my partner for awhile and he doesn't really get it. Of course, there are plenty of people who use it with full intent to be jerkish and condescending, too.
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:52 PM on August 13, 2012


Is there an equivalent in other languages?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:53 PM on August 13, 2012


By the way, if you are thinking of starting a word with "um," stop and think twice.

No umlaut? (That was meant to be humorous and lighthearted, by the way)

Words change when there is an universal shift in the use of the word, not because a percentage of people misuse it

How does a universal shift in the use of a word start, unless a few people start using it differently (aka misusing it)? This is an honest question and I do not intend to sound dismissive or assholish (this is probably a function of limited textual signals).
posted by muddgirl at 3:54 PM on August 13, 2012


I don't know if there are better terms now, but when I learned French in middle school we were that one might "faire du jogging" over "le weekend" in advance of having to "faire un meeting" Monday morning. Obviously French has "courir", "fin de la semaine", and the oft-English-appropriated "rendez-vous", but there is a more businessy sense in which jogging, weekend, and meeting are more precise that the French equivalents.

In college, our ancient LaRousse dictionnary informed us that the word for Passover was "le Paque des juifs" (Jewish Easter) which Google Translate still seems to agree with. Please tell me this is not the term. (We ended up using Pésach from the Hebrew).

PS: Kitch requires the passage of time, which cheesy and tacky do not.
posted by maryr at 3:55 PM on August 13, 2012


I think it mostly happens when people like me stop saying, wait, there is a different usage of that word that is still valid! Or we are totally ignored.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:55 PM on August 13, 2012


In college, our ancient LaRousse dictionnary informed us that the word for Passover was "le Paque des juifs" (Jewish Easter)

Oh my god. Did it also say that synagogues are Jewish churches and yarmulkes are Jewish propeller beanies without the propellers?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:56 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"So here is a question for people like Languagehat. If this idea, that there are untranslatable concepts in various languages, is total nonsense, why is it that I - a person with two first languages - somewhat frequently cannot translate a concept from one into the other?"

The problem is that this is a false dilemma. Jehan's answer hints at something important: there are similar problems within the same language. What does it mean to say the same thing, in the same language, as someone else said?

In some sense everything is translatable, and in another sense nothing is translatable. That is to say: how much of the precise context do you want to preserve? You cannot preserve the entire context of something, ever. Every sentence you construct is in that sense unique, given its total context makes it so.

What happens between languages is that because language is very strongly correlated to culture, the context is sufficiently different to make assumptions about similar context troublesome — but given that human language is very powerful, it's always possible to progressively approach that context from another language. You won't reach it completely, but you can't do that in principle, anyway, just between two people in the same language.

But, also, another interesting thing that happens with things like the subjects of this post is that the foreignness of foreign words is doing semantic work, too. That is to say, the fact that a foreign word implies a foreign context itself provides a special utility for a speaker who wants to appropriate it. All the Yiddish words that have propagated through American culture are not without synonyms; their combined familiarity and foreignness and evocation of a certain time and place give them an appeal they didn't have even to their native speakers, which is part of why they made their way into English and they preserve both some of their native Yiddish context and some of that transitory context.

People wrongly think that languages are very essentially different and distinct, when that's not true. They similarly think that cultures are essentially different and distinct and this kind of pop relativism drives a lot of wrong conclusions about both languages and cultures. We talk about both cultures and languages as members of families and this isn't a bad analogy — they're both related and different. It's important to understand that this is true about dialects, too, and what that implies — and the old joke about the difference between a language and a dialect is pretty true. There are not absolute dividing lines that mark where translation is possible and isn't. In some sense translation is always possible and in another sense it's never possible. If you want absolutisms, that's the best you'll find.

If you're willing to step away from these absolutisms then, well, translation is possible but difficult. Something is always lost — but then, "something is always lost" is a pretty good rule about human communication in general.

A translator's job mostly isn't to find the right word because the specific words are merely the smallest (obvious) units to contain that contextual signaling. This is why a translator is far closer to any other writer than most non-translators realize — translation is an attempt to recreate a subjective point-of-view...which in principle isn't possible in the first place, ever, with anything. It's doing so twice removed, but then that's not as problematic as it might seem because it's not as if that first layer — the author's choices — is some flawless creation that perfectly induces in the reader the author's vision.

It's all approximation (which I'd argue is a feature and not a bug) and in that sense language-to-language translation isn't special and unique compared to all similarly approximate communication.

My response to the appropriation of foreign words for certain purposes is exactly the same as it is about coining and using neologisms — if you, as a writer/speaker, feel that this particular word (neologism or foreign) serves some purpose that an existing word or phrase in your native language does not, then in that precise sense it does, in fact, serve such a purpose and is by definition useful.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:59 PM on August 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


I think it mostly happens when people like me stop saying, wait, there is a different usage of that word that is still valid! Or we are totally ignored.

That's not in disagreement with what I'm saying, is it? I accept that kitsch currently has different definitions/connotations based on the context. I acknowledge that at some point the modern usage of kitsch to sometimes signify "trashy culture that we take a guilty/ironic pleasure in" may fade over time. Or it may grow in usage. I can't see the future.
posted by muddgirl at 3:59 PM on August 13, 2012


Doesn't this lead into "no true multiple verb" land?
I don't quite understand how you mean, but I'm open to discussing it. My remark should be taken as applying to cases where there a single verb works with several auxiliary verbs, as there I would say it is true. I'm not a linguist, however, just a dilettante*, so I'm willing to listen if I'm wrong.


*I know enough to get angry about how language is misrepresented in common discussion, but not enough to avoid angering real linguists with my own idiocies.
posted by Jehan at 4:06 PM on August 13, 2012


Terms like 'hygge' are absolutely translatable in any specific usage - it's capturing the word in general which is impossible in English. You can give a near endless list of definitions for all the specific usages, but you'd still somehow be missing the gestalt that ties the lot together as one concept.
posted by Dysk at 4:07 PM on August 13, 2012


All I know is the present. And, in the present, the second usage of kitsch is as much as misuse of the word as saying a black fly in your chardonnay is ironic.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:08 PM on August 13, 2012


Here is one for Metafilter,

pilkunnussija

Etymology
From pilkku + nussia. Literally "comma fucker".

(vulgar, pejorative) A person with exceptional and unnecessary attention to detail; a punctilious person; a pedant.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:12 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


"And so I would encourage people to see that gap in the language and fill it with a new word, or a word that we aren't using anymore, instead of confusing the meaning of perfectly good words."

Well, this is exactly how much I'm a prescriptivist and I'm fine with that as a personal habit. But good luck convincing everyone else that your sensibilities about where there are gaps and where there are not, and what's useful or confusing, is determinative of what is proper in their own usage.

I mean, muddgirl's response is hitting the nail on the head: you seem to admit in principle to a descriptivist position (usage determines meaning) while denying that there's any intervening territory between one usage and another so that you can prescriptively proclaim what the correct definition is of a word at any given time, without ambiguity. It's weird.

Your argument about kitsch applies precisely to decimate, and ironic, and even begging the question (all of which I chose to use exclusively in their more narrow and now minority senses; because while I disagree with your argument, I agree with your sentiment). There is a narrow context where you can rightly expect others to share an older or technical meaning, but it's no longer majority usage. But even if it were, that still wouldn't make the minority usage "wrong" as long as it's meaningful for some common group of speakers, somewhere.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:13 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bunny Ultramod: "In college, our ancient LaRousse dictionnary informed us that the word for Passover was "le Paque des juifs" (Jewish Easter)

Oh my god. Did it also say that synagogues are Jewish churches and yarmulkes are Jewish propeller beanies without the propellers?
"

Well, to be fair, the French word "Pâques" comes from Hebrew, and is used both for Christian Easter and Jewish passover, so the "des juifs" (which properly means "of the Jews") might just specify which one they're talking about.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:18 PM on August 13, 2012


You're describing the Humpty Dumpty dilemma, where he insisted words meant what he thought they meant. This is true to a point, but language isn't exclusively manufactured by consensus. Many of us use "begging the question" the right way, rather than the popular way, and why? Because there is a documented history of its proper usage, and there are people who will step in and say, well, you may not know this, but you're using the word wrong.

And why? Because the older usage of "begging the question" still has valuable meaning, and the misuse strips that meaning away. If language just changed willy nilly because a misuse took over or became popular, we would never hear people say peep about grocer's apostrophes.

If enough people take issue with a misuse, and those people are in a position of credibility beyond simply being everyday users of English (English teachers, authors, journalists, languagehats) it become widely seen as a misuse, and the misuse doesn't become dominant -- even if it is still widely misused.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:21 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


kitsch:
1926, from Ger. kitsch, lit. "gaudy, trash," from dialectal kitschen "to smear."

schmaltz:
"banal or excessive sentimentalism," 1935, from Yiddish shmalts, lit. "melted fat," from M.H.G. smalz, from O.H.G., related to smelzan "to melt." Modern Ger. Schmalz "fat, grease" has the same figurative meaning. First mentioned in English as "a derogatory term used to describe straight jazz" ["Vanity Fair," Nov. 1935].

irony:
c.1500, from L. ironia, from Gk. eironeia "dissimulation, assumed ignorance," from eiron "dissembler," perhaps related to eirein "to speak" (see verb). Used in Greek of affected ignorance, especially that of Socrates. For nuances of usage, see humor. Figurative use for "condition opposite to what might be expected; contradictory circumstances" is from 1640s.


I've found Online Etymology Dictionary useful for thinking about original uses of words. The owner seems like he does his homework at least.
posted by wobh at 4:23 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like that "chomping at the bit" debacle. Idiots rule!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:24 PM on August 13, 2012


I just don't see a big semantical difference between "mass-produced/trashy culture that intellectuals snub" and, say, "mass-produced/trashy culture that we know the intellectuals are snubbing, or that we know we should be snubbing, which makes enjoyment of it all the sweeter." I don't see why we need a whole new word for the second.
posted by muddgirl at 4:28 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've found Online Etymology Dictionary useful for thinking about original uses of words. The owner seems like he does his homework at least.

Except that he's pretty dead wrong about the definitions of 'disinterested', since he labels one 'correct' and the other 'incorrect' even though they sprang into usage at basically the exact same time (within 30 years of each other in the 1600s), and there wasn't a big pushback against the 'wrong' one until he 20th century.
posted by muddgirl at 4:30 PM on August 13, 2012


Related thread from a long while back on AskMefi.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:30 PM on August 13, 2012


I don't see why we need a whole new word for the second.

The use of kitsch in critical circles emphasizes the importance of unknowingness.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:31 PM on August 13, 2012


"banal or excessive sentimentalism," 1935, from Yiddish shmalts, lit. "melted fat," from M.H.G. smalz, from O.H.G., related to smelzan "to melt." Modern Ger. Schmalz "fat, grease" has the same figurative meaning. First mentioned in English as "a derogatory term used to describe straight jazz" ["Vanity Fair," Nov. 1935].

Not just any fat, fat from fowl.

At least in Yiddish, (which is where the term comes from as applied to music), since Jewish dietary laws effectively eliminate beef tallow, lard, and butter as cooking fats, that leaves chicken and goose fat for the rendering. Both are very distinctly and strongly (assuming you're using non factory chicken) flavored.

If you've cooked with or even just tasted schmaltz, The road from Eastern Jewish cuisine to Lawrence Welk is very clear.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:45 PM on August 13, 2012


"I heard a piece on NPR about a new translation of Anna Karenina by a husband-and-wife team, where the wife was a fluent Russian speaker and the husband a fluent English speaker. They argued that their translation was better because they could specifically bandy back and forth not just the definition and connotation of a word, but the structure and feel of the words and sentences, which all affect meaning. But it doesn't make those things untranslatable."

You must be referring to Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, but their translation of Anna Karenina was published back in 2004.

I'm quite enamored of their translations — I have their The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, and Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky; Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita; Dead Souls by Gogol; Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago; and, finally, War and Peace and Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. I've not read all of these translations — as of now, only about a third.

And it's interesting to read the various critical discussion of this pair of translators. I mean, I think a lot of people when comparing them to, say, Constance Garnett rate them highly. Others with more expertise in Russian and Russian literature, such as, for example, our own esteemed languagehat, aren't as enthusiastic. But in that blog entry of LH's, he discusses one thing that impressed him and with which he agreed in their comments about Dostoevsky — many translators and even Russians misunderstand that Dostoevsky deliberately altered the style in which he wrote to fit voice, in some cases in very ugly and clumsy respects, and so compare him unfavorably to Tolstoy or some other great Russian novelists and, in the case of translators, entirely elide this crucially important stylistic choice by Dostoevsky which, well, an essential component of what makes his books variously what they are.

My sense about P&V would be something that echoes what I wrote in my previous comment about translation. LH doesn't like them because he thinks their faults are a result of their insularity — they reinforce each others' vices and don't have a sense of when they've made bad choices. But I think this is also their virtue. It's an unusual virtue because in that they are a native Russian and a native American, they have a more fully realized dualism that is essential to the project of translation (rather than something more integrated, as is the case with a single translator) but with a sympathy between them that's necessary for a unitary artistic production. And, of course, I happen to think that the absolutely necessary component of any good translation — it's good writing on its own terms — is present. That, I think, has to do with your point — something about their process as a pair makes it possible for them to serve both purposes (replicating into another context / writing English prose that is good English prose) without getting swamped down by one or the other.

But they do seem to provoke polarized responses. Also, languagehat tends toward grumpiness.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:47 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks muddgirl, I didn't even know there was a controversy. Obviously, I can see the importance in distinguishing financial interest from other kinds (social, emotional, intellectual, etc) but it seems grossly wrong to make it depend on dis- or un-. I might distinguish distinterest as having become uninterested after having been interested (in any sense) previously.
posted by wobh at 4:51 PM on August 13, 2012


I read a particularly stupid example of a man rhapsodizing over a language where the word for "beautiful" also meant "just". Um, which idiot has never heard of the word "fair"?

Well, Estonian has the word "kaunis", which means both "beautiful" and "quite". That combination of meanings has got to be pretty unusual.
posted by martinrebas at 4:58 PM on August 13, 2012


And why? Because the older usage of "begging the question" still has valuable meaning, and the misuse strips that meaning away. If language just changed willy nilly because a misuse took over or became popular, we would never hear people say peep about grocer's apostrophes.

If enough people take issue with a misuse, and those people are in a position of credibility beyond simply being everyday users of English (English teachers, authors, journalists, languagehats) it become widely seen as a misuse, and the misuse doesn't become dominant -- even if it is still widely misused.
I long ago fostered a policy of never complaining about the misuse of apostrophe's, If anybody ever asks me how to use them, as they don't understand, I just tell them to leave them out. Time was we never wrote with them, and they're mostly useless in speech...

Also, also! I mislike the idea that words are borrowed or usages created to replace gaps in language. They often aren't, as borrowed or new words have many other--and far more important--cultural and social uses. Non-English speaking youths don't pepper their "in" speech with English words because they're fantastically aware of how rudimentary their native tongue is. Likewise, I grew up with a dialect that still used "roof" to mean both the upper outer side of a building, and the upper inner side of a room. Why did you lot ever bother borrowing "ceiling"? Seems like a pretty redundant word from where I'm standing.

Folk seem to think languages are like laws of nature or well-oiled machines, when in truth they're more like fashions: you might need clothes to keep you warm, but sure as hell you're going to use them for display. Grocers' apostrophes are the linguistic equivalent of not knowing how to tie a half-Windsor, as you're not really lacking anything practically useful, but instead passing a really culturally useful message about your social status to others. And maybe, right there, is why prescriptivists want to make lots of silly rules or keep the ones we have. How else are you going to discriminate? Prescriptivism is crypto-classism, and should be vigorously opposed.
posted by Jehan at 5:00 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


5. Zeg (Georgian): It means “the day after tomorrow.” Seriously, why don’t we have a word for that in English?

I'd like to propose "threemorrow".
posted by edverb at 5:01 PM on August 13, 2012


I think it's interesting that there are English words that used to be well understood, but for which people now have no recourse. Someone upthread asked for a word meaning "the soft interior of a loaf of bread": it's called the crumb, although nowadays that usually means a small fragment of bread or cake. Similarly there is "homely", which used to mean "something which provides the comforting sensation associated with being at home" but which now means something like "very unattractive".

Anyway, I wish to nominate a word that ought to exist if only for the delight it will bring to a certain sort of mind:
Russell: a word which does not describe itself, such as "minuscule" (which is not a short word) or "incomprehensible" (which is not itself a word that cannot be understood).
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:02 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Similarly there is "homely", which used to mean "something which provides the comforting sensation associated with being at home" but which now means something like "very unattractive".

I have only just realised that I have misunderstood the use of homely as a description of attractiveness all my life, and had just assumed it was metaphor based around the comforting sensation of being at home usage (so something like good looking in a nonthreatening/exciting way, or something).

All these years I was completely misunderstanding everyones insults.
posted by dng at 5:08 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad: "5. Zeg (Georgian)
It means “the day after tomorrow.” Seriously, why don’t we have a word for that in English?
"

Übermorgen auf Deutsch.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:14 PM on August 13, 2012


5. Zeg (Georgian): It means “the day after tomorrow.” Seriously, why don’t we have a word for that in English?

I'd like to propose "threemorrow".


Hindi has a word for that - parson, with a soft n pronunciation (I don't know how else to describe it). It works for day after tomorrow, as well as day before yesterday. Both tomorrow and yesterday are kal in Hindi.
posted by vidur at 5:17 PM on August 13, 2012


Someone upthread asked for a word meaning "the soft interior of a loaf of bread": it's called the crumb, although nowadays that usually means a small fragment of bread or cake.
I didn't know that, so thank you. In payback, here's a recipe with it from about 1400.
To make gynger sause.

Take faire light bred, and pare away the cruste, and stepe the crome in vynegur, and grinde hit, and draw it thurgh a streynour with vinegar, and pouder of ginger, and of canelle [cinnamon], and serve hit forthe.

posted by Jehan at 5:18 PM on August 13, 2012


> So here is a question for people like Languagehat. If this idea, that there are untranslatable concepts in various languages, is total nonsense, why is it that I - a person with two first languages - somewhat frequently cannot translate a concept from one into the other? I mean, I have a fluid grasp of both. I am for all intents and purposes a native speaker of each language. But when I need to express certain types of ideas (usually ideas which are, in my perception at least, strongly culturally specific to one of the cultures I'm a part of) I often can't without resorting to just using the word from the other language.

It's a misconception to think that just because you speak two languages you can automatically translate between them. Translation is a specialized and difficult process; that's why people who can do it well get paid decently (though not as much as they should be, because most people don't understand how difficult it is). Sure, if you know French you can translate "It's a cat" to "C'est un chat" without blinking an eye, just as anyone can juggle a single object. Add more words, more ideas, and it gets complicated just as fast as adding more objects. To take one aspect of it, those of us who use more than one language don't use them identically; we tend to talk about different things in different styles, so if you suddenly want to translate a discussion of (say) doing laundry into your other language and you're not in the habit of talking about doing laundry in that language, it ain't easy. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned "ideas which are, in my perception at least, strongly culturally specific to one of the cultures I'm a part of."

> language isn't exclusively manufactured by consensus.

Yes, actually it is.

> If enough people take issue with a misuse, and those people are in a position of credibility beyond simply being everyday users of English (English teachers, authors, journalists, languagehats) it become widely seen as a misuse, and the misuse doesn't become dominant -- even if it is still widely misused.

Isn't it pretty to think so? This is the dream of all prescriptivists. But it doesn't work. It never has, and it never will.

> There is a narrow context where you can rightly expect others to share an older or technical meaning, but it's no longer majority usage. But even if it were, that still wouldn't make the minority usage "wrong" as long as it's meaningful for some common group of speakers, somewhere.

Well said, and true.

> Also, languagehat tends toward grumpiness.

Well said, and true.
posted by languagehat at 5:21 PM on August 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


It means “the day after tomorrow.” Seriously, why don’t we have a word for that in English?

Also, in Italian: dopodomani. The movie of the same name was translated into the Italian equivalent of Dawn of the Day After, which seems unnecessarily clunky.
posted by psoas at 5:28 PM on August 13, 2012


Isn't it pretty to think so? This is the dream of all prescriptivists. But it doesn't work. It never has, and it never will.

Applesauce.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:31 PM on August 13, 2012


The use of kitsch in critical circles emphasizes the importance of unknowingness.

Yes? And in those circles it can mean that. The new definition doesn't eclipse the old.

On another topic, the adherence to the literal definition of decimate always seems odd to me - how often does one think, "Gosh, I really need to express 'slaughtered exactly one in 10' in a succinct way."
posted by muddgirl at 5:45 PM on August 13, 2012


Many of us use "begging the question" the right way, rather than the popular way, and why? Because there is a documented history of its proper usage, and there are people who will step in and say, well, you may not know this, but you're using the word wrong.

You're describing a manufactured consensus. As long as everyone in a particular conversation uses a particular word for a particular meaning, that's what it means there. And yeah, if a prescriptivist gets that to happen within some community, then that's the right meaning of (say) "begging the question" and the more common one is wrong. Just as long as you stay in that community.

This can in fact be a useful thing to do, as you rightly perceive. That's got nothing in particular to do with the descriptionist principle that there's no "correct" form of a language, in the absolute. So I think you're confusing the issue when you say that language is not defined entirely by consensus.

Prescriptivism is disreputable in the field of linguistics, but it's absolutely necessary if you're an editor, and might be a good idea if you're mediating a debate.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:51 PM on August 13, 2012


> Applesauce.

Just so we're clear: are you under the impression that we no longer use "applesauce" in that way because the 1920s equivalent of Bunny Ultramod told people sternly that it was bad and they were bad people for saying it?
posted by languagehat at 5:51 PM on August 13, 2012


Applesauce.

The alternative usage, which you term a misuse, did not die out because it was "wrong". When words die, they become wrong. Now, nobody understands the "misuse;" it was insufficiently awesome.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:55 PM on August 13, 2012


The German's appropriately have many hundreds of words for milquetoasts (wimps) such as Warmduscher, literally, "hot-showerer".
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:56 PM on August 13, 2012


sufficiently awesome
posted by wobh at 6:11 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Did it also say that synagogues are Jewish churches and yarmulkes are Jewish propeller beanies without the propellers?

I'm fairly certain that the French do not have a word for propeller beanie.
posted by maryr at 6:38 PM on August 13, 2012


> our ancient LaRousse dictionnary informed us that the word for Passover was "le Paque des juifs" (Jewish Easter) which Google Translate still seems to agree with. Please tell me this is not the term.

Pâque(s) is derived from Hebrew name pesakh, via Latin pescha via Greek and Aramaic. The circumflex indicates an elided s. It refers to both Passover and Easter.

Easter and Passover are called something derived from Aramaic paskha in a lot of European languages, and it's basically the same deal.
posted by nangar at 6:44 PM on August 13, 2012


(via Latin pascha, not pescha. Sorry.)
posted by nangar at 7:04 PM on August 13, 2012


I always thought the homely difference was a UK/US thing as growing up in the US homely always meant unattractive so when I visited the UK I found it odd to be offered rooms in B&Bs that were described as homely. Yes, I'm on a budget but you could at least pretend the room looks nice.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:09 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It does make sense that the word for Easter would be derived from the word for Passover - the last supper was seder, etc. The English word for Easter is simply derived from the Pagan holiday it replaced and shares only a love of eggs and bunnies with - that makes less sense. English also has the term "Passover" which has the advantage of both being a literal descriptor of the holiday and having some of the same sounds as pesakh.

Since we have very different words for Easter and Passover in English, we're taught, at least in my not terribly diverse bit of the US, that "Pâque" (and yeah, I know about the -s thing, which is kinda awesome. forêt, vous êtes, hôpital, etc) means Easter. While they sometimes take place around the same dates, the two holidays don't have much to do with each other here in the states. So seeing what would arguably be the most important Jewish holiday (put differently - the one Jewish holiday my culturally but not religiously Jewish friends travel home for) referred to oxymoronically as "Jewish Easter" is... well, shocking.

I guess I'm not trying to say that there's no good reason for Pâque des juifs in French. It's more... why don't they have a better word? It's not like there aren't any Jews in France. Is it just a fault somewhere in l'Academie? When I type "Pesach" into Google Translate, it asks me if I mean "Pessah" which it translates as Passover. Anyone know if that term is used? And I'm sure there are English/American versions of this as well that I'm just not thinking of.

(On preview: pescha would explain the gifilte fish, maybe?)
posted by maryr at 7:11 PM on August 13, 2012


Thanks, Joe in Australia for pointing out that the soft inner part of bread is known as the 'crumb'. Interesting how, yes, English speakers have practically lost this meaning of the word, whereas in French everyone knows the word mie.
posted by Bartonius at 7:14 PM on August 13, 2012


Oh, yeah, I meant to say earlier - pain de mie makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE to me now. I always confused it with miel and have always been vastly disappointed in the ensuing last of honey flavored bread. I'd given up on it. Now I know it just means it doesn't have a strong crust like other French breads!
posted by maryr at 7:17 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


last >> lack
posted by maryr at 7:18 PM on August 13, 2012


It does make sense that the word for Easter would be derived from the word for Passover - the last supper was seder, etc. The English word for Easter is simply derived from the Pagan holiday it replaced and shares only a love of eggs and bunnies with - that makes less sense. English also has the term "Passover" which has the advantage of both being a literal descriptor of the holiday and having some of the same sounds as pesakh.
Even better, Jesus's suffering on the cross is technically called his "Passion". In Middle English there was the word "paske" for "Easter", just like in many other European tongues. The two words became related in the minds of some writers, which eventually led them to describe his suffering on the cross as his "paske". Given that Lamb of God imagery is inbedded in Christian ideas of his suffering and death (its in the Gospels), which was borrowed directly from the idea of the Passover Lamb, this shouldn't be a surprise.
posted by Jehan at 7:55 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


> It means “the day after tomorrow.”

Lithuanians have a word for tomorrow: it is "rytoi"
And a word for the day after tomorrow: it is "poryt" - which appears to be a contraction of "po rytoi" or "after tomorrow"
posted by seawallrunner at 8:13 PM on August 13, 2012


There's a subtlety to "lah" in Malaysian/Singaporean English that is lost on foreigners. You can't just tack it on to every other sentence; there is an inherent sense to it that is hard to translate.

also I've heard "gwailo" and "gaijin" being used for "foreigner" but my association with them has always been with White people. What do you call a non-White (or, better yet, non-colonial) foreigner?

Words in English I've had trouble defining: kitsch, camp, corny, cheesy, trashy (I can give examples, but trying to say WHY something is kitsch/camp/etc is fraught).

I notice a difference in the use of "spicy". I use it as a close translation of the Malay "pedas" or the Bengali "jhall"; an acidic-type burn from eating things with chilli (or sometimes onion/garlic/ginger) in them. Others (notably people for whom East or South Asian cooking is foreign to) tend to use it in a sense of "has some flavour that is not just buttery or starchy or herby" - which then often ends up with one person's "spicy" being another person's "blah, no taste". I have yet to find a good word for the wasabi effect (not acid-burn, but nostril-exploding) - "spicy" doesn't seem to cut it, because there's no actual flavour.

As for "hygge": from what I can discern of my partner's use of the word (he's Australian but went to Denmark fora year on exchange), it's a sort of warm comforting coziness where all seems right with the world even if just for that one moment.

(the conversation about peppering English words in non-English speech reminds me of my bemusement at how people seem to freak out when they see Indian/Malaysian/Singaporean TV and listen to people code-switch between languages multiple times in a sentence. Also reminds me of this one time I was on the way to school, in the same car as my dad (he works not far from school), listening to BBC World since that's his morning ritual - and suddenly hearing Singlish. The BBC was talking about a recent play in Singapore and explained what all that "gobbledegook" was. I understood it perfectly.)
posted by divabat at 8:18 PM on August 13, 2012


The use of kitsch in critical circles emphasizes the importance of unknowingness.

That's the best argument you can muster for waging a snobbish, faintly classist, and ultimately pointless linguistic battle? Won't somebody think of the cultural studies scholars?
posted by dontjumplarry at 8:27 PM on August 13, 2012


Also I wonder about the words that carry this "doesn't travel well" quality between variations of the same language. For example, I see "schmaltzy" up there, and to me that's a very *American* word (as are most words from Yiddish, I'd wager). "Chav" is very British. "Dag" or "mate", very Australian. Trying to convey one to the other loses a lot of culture-specific nuance.

(The one Australianism that trips everyone up when I used it in the US was "bugger all". It means "nothing at all", but there's an added emphasis on the "nothing", and a kind of expectation that there was probably meant to be *something* there but isn't.)
posted by divabat at 8:32 PM on August 13, 2012


There is some word in Serbo-croatian (it's something like "sevap"??) that means something that you do for someone that you kind of don't want to do, but you do it anyway because the amount of pleasure it brings them is more than the amount of annoyance it brings you. Like going out of your way to visit your grandmother or something.

And languagehat makes a good point about speech styles being different in different languages. I think a lot of my Spanish speaking style comes from the people I've learned Spanish from (ok, so does my English speaking style...man, language is so cool)

And one more thing in Spanish "amanecer" is the verb for "to become morning" (spanishdict translates it as daybreak or dawn but those are both nouns!), so you can say to someone you see first thing in the morning "cómo amaneciste?" like "how did the morning come to you?" i guess like we'd say "how'd you sleep?" but so much more poetic!
posted by chela at 8:36 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have only just realised that I have misunderstood the use of homely as a description of attractiveness

This is a classic transatlantic dialectical difference. In US English, 'homely' means ugly, but not offensively ugly. In British English, homely means 'nice in the way that a home is nice'. I've heard both usages in Canada, but the American one tends to prevail.
posted by Dreadnought at 8:42 PM on August 13, 2012


> For one close-at-hand example, I had a hell of a time trying to explain what "cheesy" meant when I was tutoring a group of Italians in English.

Ha! I have experienced a similar impasse with "cheesy."
posted by desuetude at 9:44 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dreadnought: "This is a classic transatlantic dialectical difference. In US English, 'homely' means ugly, but not offensively ugly. In British English, homely means 'nice in the way that a home is nice'."

Don't Americans use the term "homey" for the latter? "It's nice and homey in here."
posted by barnacles at 10:35 PM on August 13, 2012


Hindi has a word for that - parson, with a soft n pronunciation (I don't know how else to describe it). It works for day after tomorrow, as well as day before yesterday. Both tomorrow and yesterday are kal in Hindi.

This aspect of kal, aaj aur kal (yesterday, today and tomorrow) always tends to have me lost in a reverie of what time must have meant to the originators of the word/concept that they have the exact same word for the past and future, only context of use and tense of grammar communicates the meaning in a sentence.
posted by infini at 11:09 PM on August 13, 2012


"This is a classic transatlantic dialectical difference. In US English, 'homely' means ugly, but not offensively ugly. In British English, homely means 'nice in the way that a home is nice'."

Don't Americans use the term "homey" for the latter? "It's nice and homey in here."


The difference between American & British meanings of "Pissed" is equally confusing.
posted by mike3k at 11:14 PM on August 13, 2012


Thanks to this post I just lost an entire evening to Mental Floss.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:51 PM on August 13, 2012


As for "hygge": from what I can discern of my partner's use of the word (he's Australian but went to Denmark fora year on exchange), it's a sort of warm comforting coziness where all seems right with the world even if just for that one moment.

This is one sense of it. It doesn't even remotely come close to capturing the totality or essence of the word. A hyggelig day at the beach, for example, is not particularly cozy, comforting, or warm (in Denmark, at least!), and I don't really recognise the idea of all seeming right in the world in the word at all, except in very few specific uses.
posted by Dysk at 12:19 AM on August 14, 2012


(I think a lot of people with misapprehensions about the word 'hygge' are confusing it with one particular sense of it, which is often what's given when asked or a translation, as it is the sense that's most uniquely Danish, and ties in lovely with a bit of cultural education ('let me tell you about the importance of friendship and social intimacy in Danish culture and give you a word you can use for it!') but it isn't the word, and it captures neither the flexibility nor the particular essence thereof.)
posted by Dysk at 12:24 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seigneur-terraces is supposed to be French but 1) it should be written Seigneur-terrasses, 2) there's no way metropolitan French people would construct such a word (they'd say "seigneur des or de terrasses") 3) I can't find any reference to it outside English-speaking blogs 4) I'm French, I've never heard it and it does not appear in French dictionaries. Apparently the source is this dictionary (criticised here) and I'd say it's very, very dubious. However, it more or less sounds like a word that could exist in Arabic/African/Carribean French or Creole so perhaps the dictionary author heard it from Haitian waiters in New York, but certainly not in metropolitan France. Amusingly, there's a ancient noble family called de la Terrasse so a bunch of them were actually Seigneurs de la Terrasse. Perhaps they have been hanging out in cafes since the XIIIth century.
posted by elgilito at 12:24 AM on August 14, 2012


A Spanish word that's both untranslatable and a false friend is "bizarro". It does NOT mean "bizarre" (which English loaned from the French), but "utterly brave", close to "swashbuckling" but more seriously admirative.
Unfortunately, it's an old-fashioned word, and creeping influence from English is altering its meaning. I've already read quite a few Spanish journalists use it with its English/French meaning, rather than the original Spanish one. A pity...
posted by Skeptic at 1:07 AM on August 14, 2012


English lacks a perfectly cromulent word for inquiring about ordinals. You can tell someone that you came in first, second, third and so on, but unlike in for example Finnish, you can't make an ordinal out of the word many to ask about which position someone came in. In Finnish many is moni and the question word for asking essentially "how manyth" is monesko.

You can ask people how well they did, which sort of servers the same purpose. And you can ask "How many times has this happened?", but you can't easily phrase it in a way that is possible in Finnish, namely that "How manyth time is it that this is happening?" That would be Monesko kerta tämä on? (literally: How manyth a time is it?)

Another missing word is Finnish jaksaa or Swedish att orka, which both mean roughly to have the energy to do something or feel you are up to something. They are fairly often be used in the negative, as in not feeling like you want do something or not wanting to bother with something. It's not that there aren't many ways to convey the idea in any language, it's just that a handy single word is missing from English. Sometimes I just don't jaksa to use more than one word, you know! (Actually, the British "I can't be arsed" is fairly good in this regard. But do you ever turn it around and admit that I'm now going to arse something after all? Huh?)

(Corrections welcome if there in fact are rare words that definitely fill these purposes in English. If not, feel free to borrow. You never ask anyway.)
posted by tykky at 1:46 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't sisu also a concept that doesn't translate as well as it implies in the context of Finnish society?
posted by infini at 2:19 AM on August 14, 2012


Tykky: I think that you would ask someone what position or order they came in, or what their ranking was.

I never thought about a word meaning "I now have the energy to do this". There are certainly ways of saying it, but I can't think of a single word that has the same connotation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:39 AM on August 14, 2012


'Arsed' serves much the same purpose in English that 'orke' does for me in Danish. 'Jeg orker det ikke' = 'I can't be arsed' and 'orker du?' = 'can you be arsed?'.
posted by Dysk at 3:26 AM on August 14, 2012


I never thought about a word meaning "I now have the energy to do this".

Charged, no?
posted by psoas at 3:40 AM on August 14, 2012


I was disappointed not to find Ilunga on the lists....

"Ilunga (Bantu): A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.

Apparently, in 2004, this word won the award as the world’s most difficult to translate. Although at first, I thought it did have a clear phrase equivalent in English: It’s the “three strikes and you’re out” policy. But ilunga conveys a subtler concept, because the feelings are different with each “strike.” The word elegantly conveys the progression toward intolerance, and the different shades of emotion that we feel at each stop along the way.

lunga captures what I’ve described as the shade of gray complexity in marriages—Not abusive marriages, but marriages that involve infidelity, for example. We’ve got tolerance, within reason, and we’ve got gradations of tolerance, and for different reasons. And then, we have our limit. The English language to describe this state of limits and tolerance flattens out the complexity into black and white, or binary code. You put up with it, or you don’t. You “stick it out,” or not.

Ilunga restores the gray scale, where many of us at least occasionally find ourselves in relationships, trying to love imperfect people who’ve failed us and whom we ourselves have failed."

Top 10 Relationship Words That Don't Translate
posted by Monkeymoo at 4:01 AM on August 14, 2012


"Psyched" or "stoked" is something I've heard when it comes to having the energy or motivation to do something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:01 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm not trying to say that there's no good reason for Pâque des juifs in French. It's more... why don't they have a better word?

Most Latin languages use the same word for Passover and Easter, simply because the Christian Easter is the Jewish Passover. It's more than a coincidence in dates: basically all of Christian theology is based on the parallel between Abraham's readiness to sacrifice Isaac and God's readiness to sacrifice his own son: Jesus as the Lamb. The current slight slippage in dates between them is due to an astronomic disagreement, not a religious one.

So, if Latin languages adopted the same name for both the Christian and Jewish celebrations, it isn't because they weren't any Jews in those countries, but, on the contrary, because when they were christianised, there already were Jews living in what were then provinces of the Roman Empire (indeed, the early evangelisers still saw themselves very much as Jewish) and they already had that name for this particular celebration.

However, the Germanic tribes had their own spring rites, and didn't have the same early contact with Jewish culture. When christianised later on, they naturally adopted the name of their pagan spring rites for this Christian version of the Jewish Pessach: Ostern in German, Easter in English, and so on.
posted by Skeptic at 4:28 AM on August 14, 2012


'Orke' kinda implies a lack of enthusiasm for the task at hand - you can be bothered to do it, or you reckon you'll have the energy to complete it, but it certainly doesn't imply that you're psyched or stoked to do it - in many contexts it implies the exact opposite.
posted by Dysk at 4:34 AM on August 14, 2012


I think I should point out that "Pesach" actually does mean something like "passed over" in Biblical Hebrew; it's the Hebrew word used in the phrase "because He passed over the houses of Israel". It's also the word used to describe the gait of a lame person.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:50 AM on August 14, 2012


Ooh, also, the Bantu word "ubuntu" (which has of course become much more famous in the West as the name of an operating system). The most concise definition of it that I've seen is "I am because you are" - it's essentially the idea that your own humanity is bound up in the extent to which you recognise humanity in others. It has some far-reaching societal implications; for example, if ubuntu is important to you then you would never seek to abuse prisoners because that would be treating them as less than human, which would in turn rob you of your humanity. Complex concept for such a short word.
posted by ZsigE at 5:21 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia: a word which does not describe itself, such as "minuscule" (which is not a short word) or "incomprehensible" (which is not itself a word that cannot be understood).
Those words are Heterological.
posted by Canard de Vasco at 7:50 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


So at some point I became convinced that the original meaning of "decimate" was to reduce to 1/10th, not by 1/10th. I see now that I was mistaken, and that renders the modern usage even less sensical.

MY LIFE IS A LIE!!!!!!!!!
posted by owtytrof at 7:58 AM on August 14, 2012


Note that the 'modern usage' started around 1660.
posted by muddgirl at 8:11 AM on August 14, 2012


"I don't feel like it." With proper tone of petulance and truculence this perfectly retorts to any request masking a demand. Of course, if you're actually trying to get out of doing something, it probably won't work (see "I didn't feel like it.") It's great for picking fights though.

Less hostile is "feel up" which usually connotes an ailment lessening ones desire for any sort activity. "I don't feel up to it" can be used passive-aggressively, of course, but from a trusted, otherwise reliable person, invites compassionate inquery.

I really like "feeling it" which seems to have to do with emotional engagement to anything from a relationship to a work of art. "I'm not feeling it" is authoritative the speaker is a judge, expert or unquestionable power. It's also personal and does not connote any fault upon the object. The speaker assumes responsiblity for their own feelings as-is.
posted by wobh at 9:00 AM on August 14, 2012


Where's the word for "this mundane thing is happening in front of me, and because of that I am aware of how in 30 years this same moment will be irrevocably different, yet similiar"?

The internet tells me it's
Zeugnis der verlorenen Jugend
But my heart tells me it's
Shugnisdelorean




Prove me wrong, kids, prove me wrong!
posted by malapropist at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2012


Kitsch is one of the least understood loanwords to English. A lot of people use it to mean chintzy little popular culture doodads that you can find in card stores, like thos ebobbing birds with the liquid in one end. But it is actually a word of aesthetic revulsion, representing a highbrow response to middlebrow or lowbrow cultural tastes that is unable to distinguish quality or value, and mistakes tacky for beautiful, and responds to melodrama or sentimentality. So plaster of paris cupids are kitsch. That collectable action figure you have on your desk is not kitsch. And if you buy something tacky because you knowingly enjoy the tackiness, it is not kitsch but camp. Kitsch is always unknowing.

Others have pointed out that Bunny Ultramod is quite wrong to suggest that the "real" or "correct" meaning of a word is the "original" meaning of the word. I'd just like to add that BU is also wrong as to what the "real" or "original" meaning of "kitsch" was. "Unknowingness" was never originally integral to the idea of kitsch. Indeed, the term arose among artists and artisans in Munich in the C19th to describe the kitschy objects they were making--so "consciousness" was entirely baked in to the word from the get-go. Clement Greenberg, who perhaps did more than anyone to popularize the term in English critical language defined kitsch extremely broadly with his essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch":
popular, commercial art and literature with their chromeotypes, magazine covers, illustrations, ads, slick and pulp fiction, comics, Tin Pan Alley music, tap dancing, Hollywood movies, etc., etc.
Although he later repudiated the essay and took issue with its definition of kitsch, you can see that right at the outset kitsch includes items with nobody, at all, mistakes for "highbrow" art. "Collectible action figures"--which BU declares to be definitely not kitsch--quite obviously sit happily alongside the "comics," "pulp fiction," and "Hollywood movies" that Clement Greenberg defines as kitsch.

BU is also incorrect to draw a hard and fast line between "camp" and "kitsch." Indeed if we trace the critical language of "camp" back to it's seminal moment--Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp" you'll see her making no such firm distinction: "Many examples of Camp are things which, from a "serious" point of view, are either bad art or kitsch." Not all "camp" is kitsch and not all kitsch is camp, but there is a great deal of overlap. Moreover, very many "kitsch" products can be employed (or enjoyed) in a "camp" way--without them thereby ceasing to be "kitsch."
posted by yoink at 10:55 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia: Tykky: I think that you would ask someone what position or order they came in, or what their ranking was.

Yes, rank and ranking were the words that escaped me when writing my comment. I knew there were better ways of phrasing the idea in English than what I could think at the moment, even though there is no exact equivalent of that particular word. Thanks for the reply.
posted by tykky at 11:35 AM on August 14, 2012


As a Midwesterner of Scandinavian descent, I've had to explain how "uff da" is used in Minnesota to my fiance, which is unusual in that a) I don't speak the original language "uff da" comes from and b) regardless, it still has this "untranslatable" quality.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:43 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


yay, uffda! My husband's parents in ND thought it was hilarious when I asked what "uffda" meant. I understood how they were using it, but wanted a more concrete definition. I never got one, but I find myself using the word a lot (especially when I'm driving and go over a pothole).
posted by chela at 12:29 PM on August 14, 2012


It's also worth noting that BU's ardent defense of an "original" meaning of "kitsch" which was not, in fact, its original meaning is pretty much par for the course for defenses of "original meaning." When people set out to harrumph about how English is going to the dogs and how this or that word is being used in some utterly indefensible way, nine times out of ten the usage they're objecting to is just as antique as the one they prefer.
posted by yoink at 2:32 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


"When people set out to harrumph about how English is going to the dogs and how this or that word is being used in some utterly indefensible way, nine times out of ten the usage they're objecting to is just as antique as the one they prefer."

That is so true. (In this very thread, muddgirl provides one example in decimate.) From my years of reading Language Log and similar sources, I've seen this over and over again with prescriptivist peeving — there'll be this unquestioned assumption (and which often seems safe to me!) that the usage the peever is peeving about is recent and it's actually...hundreds of years old.

You can see something similar in that recent thread (in AskMe?) about words that seem like neologisms but aren't.

One thing that I think is worth pointing out is that although you've proven Bunny Ultramod mistaken on the basis of his faulty argument, by the correct argument he's not necessarily mistaken. That is to say, while his rationale for preferring a certain usage of kitsch is faulty, that doesn't necessarily mean that his preferred usage is wrong. Even it if originally didn't require the unknowing quality that he claimed, that doesn't mean that his usage (which implies that quality) is invalid. It very well may be an understood usage in a certain context.

A lot of things that peevers peeve about are contextually defensible — as matters of social register, local style, subcultural convention, whatever. It's not always, or even often, the case that their intuition about their preferred usage is wrong — in fact, it's probably pretty reliable in their most familiar contexts. The problem is that they make universal, absolutist arguments to justify these intuitions that apply far, far beyond the contexts within which their intuitions are valid. They mistake their preferences and what's familiar to them as being normative to all people — which, honestly, is a universal human vice that is often much more sinister and destructive than it is with language prescriptivism. That's sort of damning with...faint damning, I suppose. Language peeving is relatively harmless compared to most of the other ways in which people judgmentally impose their own preferences on others — on the other hand, it's in this sense emblematic of a serious problem.

And I suppose it's interesting in that because it's relatively harmless, people don't feel the need to monitor or restrain this general impulse in this particular manifestation — so they let loose their authoritarian and contemptuous impulses with gusto.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:34 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


yay, uffda! My husband's parents in ND thought it was hilarious when I asked what "uffda" meant. I understood how they were using it, but wanted a more concrete definition. I never got one, but I find myself using the word a lot (especially when I'm driving and go over a pothole).

Chela, I tried to explain uff da as a mix of overwhelmed, bewildered and/or resigned. Like when you hit a big pothole, it's kind of "that's life" but you're still a little annoyed at how big it is. I think the key is that "uff da" isn't used in any really seriously upsetting or angry situation - it expresses mild displeasure or dismay. If your kid had to go to the doctor because they got a Lego stuck up their nose, uff da.

It can also be kind of a placeholder or expression for "there's no way to properly react to that". Your friend is telling you her sister ran away to elope with Bob Saget? Uff da.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:37 PM on August 14, 2012


That is to say, while his rationale for preferring a certain usage of kitsch is faulty, that doesn't necessarily mean that his preferred usage is wrong. Even it if originally didn't require the unknowing quality that he claimed, that doesn't mean that his usage (which implies that quality) is invalid.

Oh no, of course not, there are all kinds of cases where for a specific critical purpose we agree to restrict the meaning of a term in ways that would not apply for its normal usage. That's one of the reasons it's always such a minefield talking outside your own specialty--or, rather, trying to talk to people who are not in your specialist area who don't understand the specific constraints of your usage.
posted by yoink at 8:45 PM on August 14, 2012


I came as fast as I could.
posted by mikoroshi at 11:17 AM on August 15, 2012


So is uff da like oy vey, then?


A Spanish word that's both untranslatable and a false friend is "bizarro". It does NOT mean "bizarre" (which English loaned from the French), but "utterly brave", close to "swashbuckling" but more seriously admirative.
Unfortunately, it's an old-fashioned word, and creeping influence from English is altering its meaning. I've already read quite a few Spanish journalists use it with its English/French meaning, rather than the original Spanish one. A pity...


Isn't that like berserk?
posted by notashroom at 6:31 PM on August 15, 2012


I heard uff da quite a bit when I was growing up — my maternal granmother's parents were Norwegian immigrants to Wisconsin. Even so, I didn't quite grasp the nuance as explained above. Thanks, MetaFilter!
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:33 PM on August 15, 2012


I guess that should have been emigrants to or immigrants in, but not immigrants to.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:35 PM on August 15, 2012


I've said uff da (mostly for comedic effect) for decades. Not at all sure where I picked it up, though. Definitely not a family thing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:46 PM on August 15, 2012


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