There are a lot of unique expressions in German that don´t translate well into English. I´m sure you have heard of some, the word Wanderlust recently became a popular German word that was adopted into the English language - to the point where you will hardly hear a German use it. It´s the desire to wander. Another German term that you might here is Ohrwurm or ´ear worm,´ which just sounds gross in English - but it´s what a German would call a song that easily gets stuck in your head (or your ear, I guess). One of my personal favorites is Fernweh, which directly translated means distance pain; it is the antonym to ´home sickness´ or Heimweh. Fernweh is a general longing to be somewhere else, or to go on vacation. That restless feeling you get when you want to travel (yes, this term is very similar to Wanderlust, but more likely to be used by a German). Another great term is Kummerspeck, which stands for the weight you´ve gained through emotional eating. Kummer meaning something like sorrow and Speck meaning fat (or Bacon, in case you ever see the term on a menu). Or maybe you know someone with a Backpfeifengesicht, I know that´s a mouthfull: I´d say it´s pronounced something like Bak-Feif-En-Geh-SiCHt. The ´CH´ is prounced like a cat hissing. This is a term for someone who has a face that´s just begging to be punched. Yep, we all know there´s that one guy or gal whose face is just irritating to us. So now you have a word for it.
Despite the fact that the English language is full of its own expressions, there are still phrases, and especially jokes, that can´t be translated. As a student of Anthropology (the study of human kind; culture, linquistics, archeology, etc.) I have discussed this topic in great depth with my bilingual mother. She said that because German is her Muttersprache or ´mother language´ - which is again, one of those phrases you can´t really translate, that it´s often easier for her to find the right words in German. Jokes, in particular, are hard for her to bring over, because Germany has a different Witzkultur or ´joke´ culture than America does. Something you may realize if you´ve ever heard the prank calls on the German radio (yes, that´s what that is) or seen the absurd political floats in a parade. To summarize I´d like to include a quote from Laura Ahearn´s book Living Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology.
"Every time a child, adolescent, or adult enters a new school, region of the country, religious community, profession, or other social group, the general process of becoming socialized into that community is accomplished largely through linguistic interactions and is often accompanied by the learning of new words or usages. Conversely, as people gradually become competent members of a new community, their relationship to both written and spoken language often changes."
I hope you can all enjoy your time in Germany, embracing the challenges and changes that can occur when living in a new country. It´s a wonderful experience, and there are many things to see, do, and learn!
- Written by Pia Barney
- Category: Magazine
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