Discover Germany | Culture | Language Column
On some rather interesting terms 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.
to hallucinate (literally, to see pink elephants) - être gris: to be drunk (literally, to be grey)
TEXT: ADAM JACOT DE BOINOD | PHOTO: DREAMSTIME
German is highly imaginative in her adoption of phrases from their literal definition to be given a whole new metaphorical sense:
- Hasenbrot: a sandwich that has been taken to work or school and is now rather stale (literally, a hare sandwich) - Futterneid: the desire to eat what is on another person’s plate (literally, feeding envy) - Schlurfbude: a fast-food restaurant (literally, a slurp dump) - Politpopper: politically correct and correctly dressed (literally, a square politician) - da lachen die Hühner: you must be joking (literally, this makes the chickens laugh) - Gesicht wie ein Feuermelder: to be so angry that one’s face turns red (literally, a face like a fire extinguisher) - krankfeiern: to call in sick (literally, to celebrate illness) - Leichenschmaus: the meal after the funeral (literally, a corpse banquet) In English we can be green with envy, see red, or feel a bit blue, and colours also
have a strong symbolic force in French idioms: - le rouquin: red wine with a lot of body (literally, the red-haired one) - être rouge comme un tomate: blushing from embarrassment (literally, to be as red as a tomato) - jaune d’envie: yellow (i.e. green) with envy - rire jaune: to give a forced, insincere laugh (literally, to laugh yellow) - voir jaune: to be pessimistic (literally, to see yellow) - un jaune: a strike-breaker (literally, a yellow) - faire quelqu’un marron: to cheat on someone (literally, to make someone brown) - être marron: to be cheated, fooled (literally, to be brown) - un médecin marron: a bad/poorly educated/fake doctor (quack) (literally, a brown doctor) - un avocat marron: a crooked lawyer (literally, a brown lawyer) - voir des éléphants roses: to be high,
Italian has come up with some of the very best vocabulary: - cicisbeo: an acknowledged lover of a married woman - mammismo: maternal control and interference that continues into adulthood sgasata: a sudden and violent acceleration - scrostarsi: to remove oneself as if one were a scab (to move or go away because one’s presence is not desired) - ubbriaco come un marinaio inglese: as drunk as an English sailor - menefreghista: a person who has an ‘I don’t care’ attitude - carita pelosa: generosity with an ulterior motive - biodegradabile: someone who falls in love easily and often - borsetto: a man’s handbag - ammazza: it’s a killer!, wow!
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.
Issue 75 | June 2019 | 97
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