Discover Germany | Culture | Language Column
TEXT: ADAM JACOT DE BOINOD | PHOTO: DREAMSTIME
On some rather interesting metaphors – The delights of the German, French and Italian vocabulary In this column, author Adam Jacot de Boinod explores the weird and wonderful world of German, French and Italian vocabulary, and discovers some rather interesting terms. Let us take a look at what he has found. German is highly imaginative in her adoption of phrases from their literal definition to be given a whole new metaphorical sense:
- an jemandem einen Affen gefressen haben: to be infatuated with someone (literally, to have eaten a monkey in someone)
- aufgetakelt sein: to get all dolled up (literally, with all sails set) - Besucherritze: the gap where the middle of three people lie when two single beds are pushed together (literally, a visitor’s trench) - Sitzfleisch: the ability to sit through long and boring events without losing concentration (literally, seat meat) - Staubsauger: a vacuum cleaner (literally, a dust sucker) - Flimmerkasten: television (literally, a flickering box) - Giftschrank: a cupboard where things are kept that may only be lent out to someone with special permission (literally, a poison cabinet) - Stutenbeißen: the special behaviour of women in a rivalry situation (literally, mare biting)
French has come up with some of the very best vocabulary:
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- xerox: an unoriginal or robotic person - dame-pipi: a female toilet assistant - accordéon: an extensive criminal record - bondieuserie: ostentatious piety - serein: fine rain falling from a cloudless sky - un petit cinq-à-sept: a quick five to seven o’clock (an afternoon quickie with your lover before going home to your spouse) - se ranger: to get married for domestic comfort and put life on a regular footing - lézarder: to lie around basking in the sun like a lizard - la mie: the inside of bread - chantepleurer: to sing and weep simultaneously
In English, we can be green with envy, see red, or feel a bit blue, and colours also have a strong symbolic force in Italian idioms: - romanzo rosa: a pink (i.e. romantic) story - di punto in bianco: suddenly, unexpectedly (literally, from a point in white) - un coro di voci bianche: a children’s chorus (literally, a chorus of white voices) - matrimonio in bianco: an unconsummated marriage (literally, a white marriage) - mettere nero su bianco: to write down (literally, to put black on white) - un libro giallo: a thriller book (literally, a yellow book) - giallo d’invidia: very envious (literally, yellow with envy)
Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the BBC panel game QI for Stephen Fry. He is a British author having written three books about unusual words with Penguin Press.
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