Stille Post

At Language Log, Geoffrey Pullum points out that the headline's thesis of Jason Wire's article "20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World" is pretty much defeated by the body of his text. Pullum provides a handy table of the words, including "in each case a translation (derived from what Jason himself supplies in his article)" and points out that the term translatable does not imply using the exact same number of words. Let me note in passing that every language, just like Yagan, should have a single word for "meaningful look between two people each reluctant to be the initiator" and move on to criticize Pullum's two entries from German, Torschlusspanik and the inevitable Schadenfreude.

Pullum translates Schadenfreude as "glee at another's misfortune". That's fine as a paraphrase, but in my humble experience, the English term for Schadenfreude is schadenfreude (335,000 Google results for English-language pages only). Sure, you might object that English simply imported the German term, but certainly a linguist like Pullum wouldn't want to argue that Germans don't have a single term for e-mail? (My attempts, inspired by Finnish, to replace the English-based term with the properly Teutonic Blitzbrief for a specific e-mail and Blitzpost for the phenomenon more generally were met by the community of German speakers with blank indifference.)

According to the table, Torschlusspanik translates as "gate-closing panic as age begins to close off opportunities". You may or may not accept this as an accurate paraphrase of the meaning as given in Pullum's source, which is: 'Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.” (Altalang.com)' Both of these strike me as inaccurately specific - Torschlusspanik refers to worries due to any type of situation in which time is running out. If we click on the link given, we find a less incorrect description:'this word literally means “gate-closing panic” and is used to describe the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages. This word is most frequently applied to women who race the “biological clock” to wed and bear children.' The phrase "is used to describe" is literally correct, but probably the source of the inaccurate paraphrases on the other pages. And I'm not sure about the "most frequently applied" bit.

If this post gave you a Jieper for "more, more, more", you ought to check out Andrew Hammel's amusing and informative German Word of the Week series, in which he covers the really-tough-to-explain stuff like lichterloh (with discussion), the bizarre & obscure like Touristenblutwurst, as well as the beautiful & evocative like Karteileiche.

P.S.: Stille Post = Chinese whispers

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