Weird and wonderful language differences


One thing I’ve wanted to post about for a while is the weird and wonderful language differences I come across every now and then when learning German, whilst trying to teach English, too.

This post, as a lot of mine are, is going to be randomly written with no plan, so let’s just see how it goes. The main idea is to highlight words and phrases in German that are just plain weird and don’t translate very well into the other language.

There are obviously loads of words and phrases which have strange literal translations and other interesting things, but here’s a few which have stood out to me which I can’t help but have a chuckle at, or just be confused about (If there are any German speakers reading this, do let me know if I’ve got a word wrong or if you think the word I used isn’t actually that common – I don’t want to be learning wrong words after all!):

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der Wasserkocher

English: kettle

Literally: water cooker

This was one of the early ones I learnt, perhaps back in September. I just found it quite weird how Germans literally ‘cook water’ (‘Wasser kochen’), instead of boiling it, as if they’re making some sort of exquisite meal (but, then again, it may seem weird to the Germans that we ‘boil water’?)

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 der Computer hat sich aufgehängt

English: the computer has crashed/stopped working

Literally: the computer has hung itself

What a beautiful phrase! The computer has hung itself, meaning it’s stopped working. Though ‘the computer has crashed’ doesn’t make that much more sense, I can’t help but imagine a computer getting out a piece of rope and doing the deed, resulting in it no longer working. Though, from how I see it, if you have a crash, you could survive (i.e. if a computer crashes, it can start working again), but there’s something about hanging yourself which doesn’t seem like everything will be hunky dory afterwards.

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 die Handschuhe

English: gloves

Literally: hand shoes

I’m sure you German-speaking people out there expected this one. In German, a glove is literally a ‘hand shoe’ which basically just sounds really cute, to be honest. Or weird, which ever way you look at it.

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 das Veilchen

English: violet/black eye

Literally: violet

In English, when you get hit in the eye and it gets bruised, it’s a ‘black eye’. In German, you call it a violet (as in the flower). I guess that maybe makes it sound better because flowers are pretty?

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 sitt

English: ‘no longer thirsty’ (i.e. ‘full’ but in a thirsty sense)

A wonderful example of how German can put something into one word which English needs about 3 for. Though I know this word isn’t actually used that often, with it being a ‘künstliches’ word because the word for ‘full’ in a hunger sense is ‘satt’, I do quite like it.

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durch den Wind sein

English: to be stressed out due to a heavy workload

Literally: to be through the wind

A wonderful German idiom, creating more shortenings of what takes us a fair few words to explain in English.

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versichern

English: to ensure/to assure/to insure

Germans are pretty clever. The word ‘versichern’ can mean all of those English words, plus a few more. Why didn’t we take up on that, instead of having loads of different words which are actually hard to explain the difference of?

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 das Nashorn / das Flusspferd

English: rhinoceros / hippopotamus

Literally: nose horn / river horse

Two examples of more clever German ideas, literally taking the animal they see and describing it, rather than English where we use old Latin words which are quite difficult to pronounce.

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 der Möchtegern

English: wannabe

Literally: the ‘would like’

Quite a nice example of politeness here, where the Germans use the conditional tense to describe someone who wants to be something they aren’t.

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kauf dir mal ‘ne Tüte Deutsch

English: your German is rubbish!

Literally: buy yourself a bag of German

I’m not sure how impolite this actually is, so apologies to any natives who are reading this. And yes, I did steal this off Millie, so I apologise to you, too, but I did generally find this idiom interesting. At least in German, it’s suggested how you could improve the language, and in English you’re basically just told you’re rubbish (though there’s perhaps another phrase I can’t think of?)

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 mein Name ist Hase

English: I have no idea!/It’s got nothing to do with me!

Literally: my name is hare

My name is hare when it comes to this one (see what I did there? (I’m sorry) ) and I’m not sure why the Germans say that their name is hare when they don’t know something or they want to say that a certain situation you’re talking about has nothing to do with them.

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 unter vier Augen

English: in private

Literally: under four eyes

This is more me being a language geek (I’m sure/hoping some of you reading will understand), as I was quite impressed with how Germans say they’d like a chat in private. And it does make sense, because what is being said is only seen with four eyes (OK, so it’s more hearing, but that’s not the point).

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 mach’s gut!

English: see you later/be good!

Literally: do it well!

A nice little one to finish with. When you say ‘bye’ to someone, it’s common to say ‘mach’s gut!’ which literally means, as above, ‘do it well!’ The closest English translation could be ‘be good!’ but you wouldn’t exactly say that to colleagues…

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These are just a few examples of the many wonderful words and phrases I’ve come across in German which I enjoy, either from the literal translation, or purely because they’re just clever. As I said, if any Germans see any of these and think they’re wrong, please do tell me, and I’ll swiftly edit as if it looks like I know what I’m on about (I kid. But it would be nice to know if I’ve made any mistakes!)

I’ll perhaps do another language geeky post at some point in the future, maybe looking at English and how weird my mother tongue actually is…

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