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craig johnston 07-29-2007 04:07 PM

words we need
i've recently been struck by the number of german words which are not translatable into english, everyone knows about schadenfreude, but here are some of my other favourites:

begeistert - is usually translated as enthusiasm, but it is much more than that. the geist is the soul/spirit, and the word implies that you are so into something that it has entered your soul.

ausstrahlung - it's how you express your inner personality in public, it has to do with glowing, beaming, giving off rays of light, it's fantastic and wonderful and impossible to translate into english. if you describe someone as having a nice ausstrahlung, it's like saying they are charismatic and attractive in some way that isn't necessarily physical, but is extremely positive.

feierabend - celebration evening. it means the end of the working day, time to relax and have fun, especially on fridays of course. who said the germans were serious?

maybe you know some more stephi? anyone else know any words in other languages which could fill a gap which english fails to reach?


auntie aubrey 07-29-2007 04:24 PM

my personal favorite:



Satori is a Japanese Buddhist term for enlightenment. The word literally means "understanding". It is sometimes loosely used interchangeably with Kensho, but Kensho refers to the first perception of the Buddha-Nature or True-Nature, sometimes referred to as "awakening". Kensho is not a permanent state of enlightenment, but rather a clear glimpse of the true nature of creation. Satori on the other hand refers to "deep" or lasting enlightenment. According to D. T. Suzuki, "Satori is the raison d'etre of Zen, without which Zen is no Zen. Therefore every contrivance, disciplinary and doctrinal, is directed towards satori."[1] Satori can be found in every moment of life, it is wrapped in all daily activities, its goal to unwrap them to see satori.

As an analogy, we may think of a baby when it first walks. After much effort, it stands upright, finds its balance and walks a few steps (kensho), then falls. After continued effort the child will one day find that it is able to walk all the time (satori).

brightpearl 07-29-2007 04:49 PM

There's a word in Russian that means tourist sites, like landmarks you'd take a visitor to. I'm too lazy to crack out the Cyrillic at the moment, but it hardly matters -- It's 8 syllables and I understand it's translated syllable by syllable from German. Maybe you or Stephi know it?

T.I.P. 07-29-2007 04:50 PM

There is a very nice expression in french "être bien dans sa peau" which literally means 'to be well in one's skin'. It has no equivalent (that I know of) in English. It translates a sense of well being, and inner peace. Usually when we refer to adolescents we say that they are not "bien dans leur peau" because they are in a constant state of restless agitation.

On a another level, being "bien dans sa peau" implies that at the present moment your mind is in your body and not wandering somewhere else. You are here, and you feel well.


brightpearl 07-29-2007 04:52 PM

^We say that, don't we? "Comfortable in your own skin", isn't it? I know smidges of several languages, and I get confused sometimes...

craig johnston 07-29-2007 04:59 PM

pearly - don't we just say sights? as in, 'i'm gonna show you the sights of novosibirsk baby!'

satori and feierabend = nirvana

brightpearl 07-29-2007 05:04 PM

^Yes, but I'm told there's a hella long word in German that is good for trivia purposes...:D

auntie aubrey 07-29-2007 06:04 PM


brightpearl 07-29-2007 06:14 PM

Not sure of its accuracy, but this article is fun. Here's most of the text.
1. "My favourite is the French 'l'esprit d'escalier', or spirit of the staircase. This is used to describe the precise moment a person comes up with a clever retort to an embarrassing insult. It is usually after leaving the party, and walking down the stairs that the quip comes to mind."
Lee, Wellington, New Zealand
2. "In Chinese if you tell a man they 'dai Lu maozi', meaning 'he wears the green hat', it means that his wife is sleeping with someone else."
Zac Teehan, Fredericton
3. "It's weird that English doesn't have words for 'vorgestern' (the day before yesterday) and 'ubermorgen' (the day after tomorrow)."
Anke, Germany
4. "I think my favourite word, and not for its literal meaning, is the Spanish 'puente' meaning bridge. Unlike ourselves, they cleverly place their bank holidays on a Tuesday so that Monday will, on most occasions, be treated as a bridge day (an extra day of holiday) ensuring a four day weekend. Ah, the Mediterranean lifestyle..."
Gary Walker, Barcelona
5. "My favourite is 'faire du leche-vitrines' which literally means 'to lick the windows' and translates as window-shopping.
Phil, in France
6. "I have a soft spot for the German 'luftkissenfahrzeug'. The literal translation being 'air cushion vehicle', but to you and I it is the simple 'hovercraft'."
Jude , Birmingham, UK
7. "In Cyprus, the instrument used to remove staples from paper is termed a 'petalouda', literally translated into 'butterfly'. Go figure."
Jasmine, Nicosia, Cyprus
8. "In Japanese, 'amakudari', literally descent from heaven, describes the phenomenon of being employed by a firm in an industry one has previously, as a government bureaucrat, been involved in regulating."
Jack L. Yohay, Nabari, Mie-ken, Japan
9. "My favourite is the Spanish for handcuffs...'esposas'...mi esposa means 'my wife'. So 'mi esposa, mis esposas' means 'my wife, my handcuffs'."
Ben, Bristol, UK
10. "In Arabic an electrical plug adapter that allows more than one plug to be plugged into the same socket is known as a 'harami', literally a thief."
Brian, Jeddah
11. "There are a few more interesting German words such as 'handschuhschneeballwerfer', which means somebody, who wears gloves to throw snow balls. It is used in general for all cowards."
Bernie, Duesseldorf
12. "In Romania 'pune-ti pofta-n cui' (literally - hang your craving in a nail on the wall) means to forget about getting something."
Gabriel, Bucharest, Romania
13. "In Japan we call a balding man's comb over a 'bar code'."
Kevin, Tokyo
14. "The Fuegians (from Tierra del Fuego) have a succinct word - 'mamihlapinatapai' and it means 'two people looking at each other each hoping the other will do what both desire but neither is willing to do'."
Zephyrus, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
15. "So far as I'm aware, no other language has anything equivalent to the Icelandic 'setja upp gestaspjot', a verbal phrase denoting the action taken by a cat when cleaning itself, with its body curled tightly in a circle and one back leg sticking directly up in the air. Literally it means 'put up a guest-spear' and when a cat was seen doing this it was supposed to indicate that visitors would be turning up."
Nicholas Jones, Cambridge, England
(OMG I am moving to Iceland based solely on the existance of that word.)
16. "I'm a student of the Ubykh language, which has a word - 'qaamch'ip'q'i' - that means 'a filigree metal ornament on the handle of a whip'. It's also an idiomatic term for someone whose good or kind outward appearance is deceptive."
Rohan Fenwick, Brisbane, Australia
17. "My favourite used to regularly appear on Austrian traffic reports - 'geisterfahrer' or 'ghost driver' - one travelling the wrong way up an autobahn."
Eric Pritchard, Clevedon, UK
18. "In Venezuela we have 'culebra', literally snake, but meaning a long, morbid, sentimental soap opera. 'My wife is watching the snake,' means that she is watching the soap opera."
Ivan, Caracas, Venezuela
19. "From Flemish: 'iets door de vingers kijken', literally it means looking at something through the fingers, allowing something illegal or incorrect to happen by conscious inaction."
Wouter Vandersypen, Washington DC
20. "As a native German one of my all-time favourites is the word 'gemutlich' - impossible to translate directly."
Jessica, Nottingham, UK

Hyakujo's Fox 07-29-2007 06:16 PM

and where would we be without wabisabi?

auntie aubrey 07-29-2007 07:03 PM


Originally Posted by brightpearl (Post 355908)
20. "As a native German one of my all-time favourites is the word 'gemutlich' - impossible to translate directly."
Jessica, Nottingham, UK


lukkucairi 07-29-2007 08:11 PM

I could not be without all sorts of words from the Meaning of Liff:

grimbister - a block of cars on the freeway all moving at exactly the speed limit because one of them is a police car

I got caught in a grimbister just south of Ogden. It didn't break up until North Salt Lake!

jalingo - a kind of joyous scattering - e.g. the alacrity with which the grimbister breaks up after the police car exits the freeway

He threw breadcrumbs at the pigeons with utter jalingo

acklins - those weird tingles you get in parts of your body while you're scratching other parts

When I scratch the back of my knee, I get acklins in my left eyebrow.

Tunesmith 07-30-2007 02:23 AM

awesome thread, craig! I've loved linguistics for a while, but unfortunately only one example comes to mind. it's my favorite, though:


In Japanese, "yoko" means "horizontal", and "meshi" means "rice", so together they literally mean "a meal eaten sideways". It's used as a description for the stress that comes

lukkucairi 07-30-2007 02:28 AM

grabalicious (also, gravalicious)

caribbean idiom: greedy, rapacious.

Anna 07-30-2007 02:39 AM

aka curry

Stephi_B 07-30-2007 05:50 AM


Originally Posted by brightpearl (Post 355892)
There's a word in Russian that means tourist sites, like landmarks you'd take a visitor to. I'm too lazy to crack out the Cyrillic at the moment, but it hardly matters -- It's 8 syllables and I understand it's translated syllable by syllable from German. Maybe you or Stephi know it?

My colleague has just written it up for me:

dostoprimechatelnosti --> Sehenswürdigkeit i.e. something worth seeing)

Stephi_B 07-30-2007 06:29 AM

Cool thread! :)

Actually German would be a wonderful language - if it weren't that most of my fellow country(wo)men speak it in such a hard sounding way.

The word Augenblick (can mean among others: moment, instant, wink, jiffy) is beautiful and interesting imo. The translation is eye-view, and this doubling of 'to see' thus includes an active, if not intense, partaking in the referred to 'moment'.

Sehnsucht / sehnsüchtig is another good one, LEO dictionary offers 'aspiration', 'longing' and 'yearning'. But besides 'sehnen' (longing, wishing, yearning) the word also contains 'suchen' (searching), but in the same way 'Sucht' / 'süchtig' (addiction, addicted). No wonder it was quite the keyword of Romanticism.

One of my favourite words is the old-fashioned Kleinod (actually it got voted for as most beautiful endangered German word this year --> a link). It means little-property and the trivial meaning is treasure or gem. But a Kleinod can be basically anything, not necessary precious materially or in the eyes of other people.

Something one cannot translate is the Brazilian-Portuguese tudo bem (all is good, it's alright) as it sums up the total Brazilian philosophy of life in two words. The freshly graduated Brazilian engineer who used to live at our place some months when I was a kid (my stepfather #1 had picked her up at a highway stop, oh he actually often did pick up people and bring them home... not totally selfless in her case - he had a construction firm back then ;)) tried to explain us. But I suppose you have to be born and bred Brazilian to really get the gist.

brightpearl 07-30-2007 07:24 AM


Originally Posted by Stephi_B (Post 355952)
dostoprimechatelnosti --> Sehenswürdigkeit i.e. something worth seeing)

That's it! I should have transliterated the Russki myself for reference, but for some reason I find that rather difficult. Does that have the same "sehnen" root as "sehnsucht"?

We have both of these words in English, but we don't have this interesting nuance:
Mukha (муха) means "fly" (the insect, not the verb) with the stress on the first syllable, and "torture" with the stress on the second.

Sometimes even when you have the words with precisely the same meaning alone, you can't ever achieve the same nuanced context.

Stephi_B 07-30-2007 08:33 AM

^ No these are two different verbs 'sehen' = 'see' and 'sehnen' = 'yearn' etc.

But in the connection of Sehnsucht and Sehenswürdigkeit a very, very German word comes to my mind:


literally far-hurt or far-pain, meaning the (painful or at least very deep) longing to visit foreign lands.

You speak/learn Russian? :) Started to (on my own after I saw my time-schedule would not allow me to visit a proper course at uni) with school books (Cyrillic I knew anyhow - extensive hanging-out with East Europeans since childhood ;)). Unfortunately I came off after being through the first ~ 2/3 of volume 1 (of two). But I get my daily oral understanding lessons here in office when Vanya phones with his wife :D Whenever I have more time (oh when, oh when..) I wanna pick it up again. Such a beautiful language full of colour and nuances! If there weren't this six cases (already struggle with our four sometimes :o being grown up with grammatically quite individual Bavarian).

Love this book here: Dictionary of Russian Slang & Colloquial Expressions
OK in parts quite saucy stuff, particularly the 1001 different ways to use the most notorious 3-letter word хуй, but extremely interesting (if you don't know it already).

lukkucairi 07-30-2007 10:36 AM

I love Fernweh :)

most of my indispensible words are Bahamian/Caribbean in origin - that's where I'm from and where most of my extended family still lives.

"grabalicious" I quoted before, but it's more nuanced than "greedy" - it denotes the kind of person who'll sell their own grandmother if they could turn a profit. "grabaliciousness" within a family is the sort of thing that causes feuds.

"broughtupcy" (brought-up-cy, formed similiarly to bankruptcy) - means, loosely, manners - but more the overall ability to get along in a civilized fashion with other people. If a Bahamian tells you you've got no broughtupcy, they're either joking or you've just committed a serious faux pas.

"boongie" - means arse :D
it's actually a low-level swear word in the Bahamas. A popular song containing the lyrics "shake that boongie" was bleeped out on the radio there :D

we also use words that are technically English, but that are sliding into archaism elsewhere: when was the last time you told someone you were "vexed" (only we pronounce it "wex") - instead of pissed off? There's a popular local newspaper column in Nassau called "Why You Vex?" where people write in to complain about the government and about each other.

"scornful" is also popularly used to denote disgust - "I'm scornful of her kitchen floor. It's filthy."

Stephi_B 07-30-2007 12:57 PM

^ Love how Bahamians/Caribbeans make use of the English language :)

auntie aubrey 07-30-2007 01:40 PM

you know what word i need? i need a word that more correctly applies in circumstances when we (collectively) use "irony" incorrectly.

i need a word that means "improbably coincidental." or "misfortunately contrary."

who's got a word for that?

brightpearl 07-30-2007 05:31 PM


Originally Posted by Stephi_B (Post 355961)

:eek: :eek:
Yes, that word is particularly...um...fertile.

Stephi_B 07-31-2007 07:34 AM

^ Nicely put, Pearl! ;)

craig johnston 07-31-2007 10:55 AM


Originally Posted by auntie aubrey (Post 355996)
i need a word that means "improbably coincidental." or "misfortunately contrary."

who's got a word for that?


brightpearl 08-05-2007 07:54 AM

My son still uses a word that he made up when he was 3 or so:

"actionative," meaning having a lot of action, such as a movie or pretend battle using your mom's childhood Star Wars figures. Like "action-packed" I guess, but I feel "actionative" really rolls off the tongue, and it doesn't make use of the rude hypen.

He also says "hunormous," which is like ginormous, yet seems to apply only to things that are big relative to other examples of themselves, but small compared to him, like spiders and stuff.

craig johnston 08-05-2007 08:04 AM

of course, it works the other way too. german doesn't seem to have a good translation of naughty, quite possibly my favourite word ever (i can't quite decide between naughty and cheeky).

how do they survive?


12"razormix 08-05-2007 08:21 AM


Originally Posted by auntie aubrey (Post 355996)
"improbably coincidental"


12"razormix 08-05-2007 08:26 AM


brightpearl 08-05-2007 08:30 AM

^You're right -- "naughty" has a nuance that "bad" doesn't convey. Harmlessly bad? Something like that. Surely there's an equivalent phrase?

Well, here's a word we have, but that isn't in common usage:
Peloria, meaning something that is supposed to be odd, but which is normal. It's a botanical term -- say a species of flower should have an odd number of petals, but this particular blossom has an even number. It's a peloria, and the adjective is pelorian.

In Japanese, they've adopted the term to apply outside of botany, specifically to the Pelorian movement of the 80's. It sounds kind of deep and interesting, doesn't it? Something to do with obscure German philosophers? Yeah, but actually it has to do with dressing up kittens in absurdly detailed little costumes. With reference to humans, kittens are weird -- no clothes, they don't go to amusement parks, etc. So let's make 'em do just that!!

The Calvin Pelorian Project.

I think it's high time we start using the word in common English. Here's a good example of when there's just no other word that comes close:

Frieda 08-05-2007 08:31 AM

ausstrahlung - uitstraling

être bien dans sa peau - goed in je vel zitten

vorgestern - eergisteren

ubermorgen - overmorgen

geisterfahrer - spookrijder

gemutlich - gezellig

sehenswürdigkeit - bezienswaardigheid

augenblick - ogenblik

kleinod - kleinood


Originally Posted by CJ
of course, it works the other way too. german doesn't seem to have a good translation of naughty, quite possibly my favourite word ever (i can't quite decide between naughty and cheeky).

how do they survive?

in dutch: stout.

i find it hard to translate the dutch word "lekker" into english. you use it when something tastes good (food, drink), feels good (weather, soft pillows, sex, anything really), smells good, etc!

brightpearl 08-05-2007 09:26 AM

^Hm. Pleasurable? That's not quite right, tho'. In English, "pleasureable" has a "naughty" vibe. :D

More Pelorian (regular/symmetrical when some degree of irregularity would be normal) as per my post on last page:
Stepford wives

The one guy in the middle is a real weirdo.

My fave:
Talking points. You'd expect some variation, but apparently the press has been genetically altered.

Stephi_B 08-05-2007 04:43 PM

^^ Dutch is something like a cute-sounding German ;) Lekker you're back Frieda! :)


Originally Posted by Frieda (Post 357310)
i find it hard to translate the dutch word "lekker" into english. you use it when something tastes good (food, drink), feels good (weather, soft pillows, sex, anything really), smells good, etc!

Interesting, we got the same word lecker but apply it to a smaller range of things: to 'what tastes/smells good' just the same, but in the category 'what feels good' strangely only to men('s bodies, asses in particular :D) as far I heard/used it. Must do some investigations on why Germans don't think women, weather, soft pillows, sex etc. simply lecker! Should start in a male toilet... (my otherwise very open guys at work did never use the word out in the open terrain, so maybe one has to dig deeper...) Or, do you know something, CJ? About calling chicas lecker? :confused: ;)

Frieda 08-05-2007 04:49 PM

we call everything lekker i guess.. also in sarcastic ways.. like when you're having a bad day and just miss the bus.. you can say "oh lekker.." and go pff

but we call everything's lekker

mmmMMMmmm, lekker! ;) :D

Stephi_B 08-05-2007 05:06 PM


Originally Posted by craig johnston (Post 357306)
how do they survive?


That's a good question! Not only we have no naughtyness - cheeky=frech I'd say - at least not in form of an own word, but most of our time awake we spend with Nabelschau (extremely excessive selfreflection, literally 'navel-watch') which due to our national character all too often ends in Selbstzerfleischung (tearing oneself metaphorically to shreds), Endzeitstimmung (apocalyptic feeling), Weltschmerz...
Ach, already feel this wonderful melancholy creeping inside me again! ;)

But at least in my native tongue, we got a noun: When a female behaves naughty, she 's called a Matz in Bavarian (that's what my grandpa calls me when he's just not calling me Wackerl :D), but it's not purely naughtyness, it also contain's 'being a trickster'/'getting away with everything'. This quality is even more present in the male equivalent Hundling. Actually both of these words can be used in the whole palette reaching from bad cursing at someone to attributing one's total respect to somebody. Originally both words also contained 'morally loose' in a negative connotation, but nowerdays it's overwhelmingly used in a positive sense - so there's hope for the rednecks in Stoiberland! :)

Et maintenant, mesdames et mesieurs, excusez-moi:
Have to watch my navel... not that I become un-German here!

Actually a beautiful navel. Well for that belly above it I should start doing these sit-up thingies again. Should I pierce my navel? That's so out now, it should soon become in again, or? ... Oh, ****, am not good at Nabelschau, do I have to give back my passport now?? ;)

Frieda 08-05-2007 05:18 PM

^ navelstaren! :D

Stephi_B 08-05-2007 05:19 PM


Originally Posted by Frieda (Post 357350)
we call everything lekker i guess.. also in sarcastic ways.. like when you're having a bad day and just miss the bus.. you can say "oh lekker.." and go pff

but we call everything's lekker

mmmMMMmmm, lekker! ;) :D

THE secret of the Dutch way of life! (unearthed here and now live @ Zefrank) Lecker-schmecker Oranjes! :) ;)

Stephi_B 08-05-2007 05:20 PM


Originally Posted by Frieda (Post 357364)
^ navelstaren! :D


Like I said, Dutch = the cuter German :)

Jack Flanders 08-06-2007 02:07 AM

Does Dutch have the gender article rules? Masculine, feminine, neuter. I took German in high school and at university level and found it very difficult. I know a little Norwegian because of my grandparents and dad speaking it and have been there a few times visiting cousins.

Frieda 08-06-2007 01:24 PM

not sure we have the gender thing.. it's pretty difficult to look at my own language this way!

we use either "de" or "het":

het boek - the book
de auto - the car

but it's
de boeken - the books
de auto's - the cars

but that's all we do with it, no weird grammatical rules i think. :eek:

edited to add: if you know norwegian, you should be able to understand dutch if you read it out loud (and vice versa). for some weird reason lots of words sound the same!

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