Discover Benelux, Issue 30, June 2016

Page 98

Discover Benelux | Culture | Lifestyle

NEW LANGUAGE SERIES

Lost in translation This month sees the start of a new series aiming to enlighten and amuse. Here, writer Adam Jacot de Boinod breaks down some language barriers to help you on your colloquial journey in the Benelux, beginning with false friends and some common idioms involving animals. TEXT AND PHOTOS: ADAM JACOT DE BOINOD

False friends and imagined animals Faux Amis Those who learn other languages than their own will sometimes come across words which mean very different things from what they do in ours. Linguistic experts call these words ‘false cognates’ or faux amis (literally ‘false friends’). Below are some of the more beguiling from both the French language and Dutch. FRENCH incoherent inconsistent chariot a trolley prune a plum pourpre crimson groin a snout veste a jacket

It is interesting how often animals occur in offering a contrast to the human condition: Here are some examples… DUTCH zweet peentjes sweating like a pig (literally, sweating carrots) van een kale kip kan je geen veren plukken you can’t pluck feathers from a bald hen (you can’t get blood out of a stone) veel varkens maken de spoeling dun many pigs make the slops sparse (too many cooks spoil the broth) met een kanon op een mug schieten to shoot a mosquito with a cannon (to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut) het regent pijpenstelen it’s raining pipe stems (it’s raining cats and dogs)

agenda a notebook, diary gland an acorn FRENCH DUTCH baker a nurse blubber mud glad smooth drift passion angel a sting grind gravel rust rest, tranquility bang afraid bladder a blister twist a quarrel burgerstand middle classes roof robbery

98 | Issue 30 | June 2016

faire une queue de poisson to overtake and cut in close in front of a car (literally, to do a fishtail) avoir le cafard to be down in the dumps (literally, to have the cockroach) avaler les couleuvres to swallow grass snakes (endure humiliation) chassez le naturel, il revient au gallop chase away the natural and it returns at a gallop (a leopard cannot change its spots) mouton enragé a maddened sheep (said of an angry person who is usually calm avoir un velodrome a mouches to be bald (lit. to have a velodrome for flies)

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked for Stephen Fry on the first series of BBC programme QI. He is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books.