Language has the ability to fire the imagination. Can you imagine how much more boring the world would be if there were only one uniform language? Languages are fascinating – through them we can immerse ourselves in other cultures and become a part of them. As in many other languages, in German there are many wonderful word creations that cannot be translated.
Some of the following particularly beautiful word creations can elicit strong feelings of envy in other languages. Literally meaning ‘sorrow-bacon’, “Kummerspeck”, for example, is an imaginative description for the rounded body shape that someone gets when they eat too much to drown their sorrows.Whether that person is happy with the associated “Hüftgold”, or ‘love handles’, remains to be seen. An especially beautiful example of an undeniably untranslatable word is “Drachenfutter”. “Drachenfutter” (lit. ‘dragon-food’)refers to a present given by a man to his wife, partner or, as the cliché suggests, mother-in-law, in order to placate her. It’s not a particularly charming word but is nevertheless thoroughly entertaining.
From Kummerspeck to Torschlusspanik: creative coinages
At some point you’ll no doubt have had a “Schnapsidee”. You’ll therefore also have realised at the end of your plan to carry out your ‘crackpot idea’ that it didn’t turn out quite how you had envisaged. The word “Torschlusspanik” (lit. 'gate-shut-panic’) refers to the fear of missing out on something.This sensation can have various contexts but is mostly associated with the feeling that one’s goals are no longer achievable.
Another creative coinage, “Kabelsalat” (lit. ‘cable-salad’, meaning a tangle of cables), is unfortunately not edible, but in most cases will infuriate the person trying to untangle it.“Schadenfreude”(lit. ‘mischief-joy’), on the other hand, has a more pleasant meaning, describing the mischievous sense of elation that a person feels at the misfortune of another. Perhaps the unlucky person would prefer to feel “Waldeinsamkeit” (lit. ‘forest-loneliness’), in other words the sensation of being alone in a forest, or simply fall into a “Dornröschenschlaf” (lit. ‘Sleeping-Beauty-sleep’, meaning a deep slumber). After all, this sleep famously lasts for a very long time.
Untranslatable words in other languages
Other languages contain untranslatable words too. You may have already encountered the Swedish word “Fika” at some pointin a large furniture store. The explanation for this little word is beautiful, but very long-winded. It means ‘to meet someone in order to have a chat and a break from everyday life when you would otherwise just drink a coffee’. The Japanese word “Tsundoku” means ‘to leave a book unread after buying it and putting it next to other unread books’. In Malaysia, there is even a word for the time it takes to eat a banana: “Pisan Zapra”.
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