Today, we have a guest post written by Martha Simons!
One of the defining aspects of a continent is it languages. Even when visiting the different countries in a continent, among the many things you could be interested in is the unique language spoken there. In fact, you will be tempted to learn a few words just to identify with the locals or have something to take back home. Europe is no different from other continents since the languages here have pleasant surprises for you.
Some European languages are known to have oddly long words, for instance, German. However, in other instances, an European language speaker will find a correct word for something or situation and render the rest of the world, including English speakers, speechless for the lack of a suitable translation to match that. Even a polyglot will have a hard time if faced with such a situation. Here is a look at some of these words from Europe that will make you doubt your linguistic skills.
Words that are strangely long
Long words can be complex. They increase your chances of missing a letter or two when writing or biting your tongue severally when pronouncing. What’s more, some of these words are hard to translate fully to other languages. Here is a look at some examples;
This is not only long, but also “clumsy” as Mark Twain would put it, referring to its arrangement. Freund means “friend” and the correct translation of the word Freundschaftsbezeigungen is “demonstrations of friendship.”
It’s no doubt, German is known for its long words. Surprisingly, they are not rare or special words in this language as you are likely to come across them regularly in a conversation or when reading printed materials such as newspapers. Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung is one of these words and it stands for liability insurance for the motor vehicle.
This is another of the dauntingly long terms in German. In most languages, this term is composed of at least four words. It is used to denote “meetings of the legislature.” Won’t it be just easier to break it into “general states representatives meetings”, then find a German term for each word to form a sentence? Probably, but that’s German for you!
You will not find these long words in German only. European languages have quite a number of them. Here are other examples:
This is French for “unconstitutionally.”
This is the longest common term in French with 27 letters. The equivalent English word for this term is intergovernmentalization.
If you stop over in Norway, menneskerettighetsorganisasjonene is a common term you are likely to hear yet it is 33 characters long. It is used to denote the human rights organizations.
Words that are hardly translatable
Transverse various European countries and you will come across words that you cannot find a straightforward translation for without losing part of their meaning. The best you can do with such words is to describe them so the other party can understand the meaning. Here are examples of such words.
It could be among the most beautiful words that exist, but hard to translate fully. Saudade is a Portuguese term describing that feeling of yearning for an absent loved one or the longing for something that you love but it is missing. It also carries the impression that the person or something yearned for has no chances of returning. For instance, a dead relative or a missing person whose whereabouts no one knows.
Toska is a Russian word with various shades. From an English perspective, you can hardly come up with an equivalent of this word without losing some bit of its meaning. The closest English terms for this word are sadness, dismal, and melancholia.
Here is how Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian-American entomologist, and author, describes it; “At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases, it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level, it grades into ennui, boredom.”
This is a Czech word used to describe the state of the human heart in “agony and torment” after the unexpected encounter of one’s own misery. Of course, this description doesn’t fully exhaust the real meaning of litost. Some definitions connect the feeling of insult, humiliation, and misery to revenge such that the person in this state may desire to hit back at their source of misery.
In its literal translation, this Germany word stands for “gate-closing fear.” However, it is used to signify “that fear caused by the notion that one’s opportunities will diminish because of their advancing age.” It is common when describing the situation with women who are concerned about their “biological clock ticking.”
This is a famous German word but no other language has an equivalent for it. It describes that feeling of fulfillment and pleasure experienced when one sees the misfortune of another.
This Spanish word might catch you off guard. This is because its original meaning was “a legendary spirit kind of being that possessed humans and made them feel the awesomeness of their natural surroundings.” Today, its meaning has changed to denote that mysterious influence a work of art has on a person. You have to be well-versed with the Spanish cultural trends to get this right in today’s conversations.
Hyggelig can be used in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. In Danish, it means happy, while in Norwegian it means nice or pleasurable, and in Swedish it is used for pleasurable. Unfortunately, these terms do not capture the entire meaning of hyggelig since it describes a feeling coming from a personal experience. For instance, it describes that feeling of having good friends or a warm fire.
14. L’appel du vide
This French expression is used to refer to the intuitive push to leap from high points. However, its literal translation comes to “the call of the void.”
Words that are written or pronounced the same but have a totally different meaning
This French word is pronounced the same as the English term “preservatives.” Be careful though before you relate it to jellies or jams since “préservatifs” is the term used for a condom in France. There are also other European languages that use variations of the term “preservative” to refer to a condom.
A gesture of goodwill in the UK and other English-speaking nations, gift is totally a different thing in Germany. This term is used to signify “poison.” You cannot possibly be willing to accept that, even from your dearest German friend.
While in the UK you’ll use this word when referring to a spoilt child, in Poland, Russia and Ukraine brat is a term used for “brother.”
The English word for “passing the wind” means speed in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.
The term used to denote odor in the UK, it describes a sudden loud voice (a bang) in Norwegian.
This is a devaluing English term used mostly on women. Nevertheless, in Sweden, you may come across terms like Slutspurt meaning “final sale” or a slutstation used for “the final destination of a train route.” In other words, the term slut in Sweden stands for “final or end.”
Whether you are looking for a befitting translation or trying to write and pronounce some of the long terms, the above collection of words is likely to challenge your linguistic skills. You can be a polyglot or a mere student of any of the European languages, but such words are sure to give you a headache. Which other European words have you tried that made you doubt your linguistic skills?
Martha Simons is a freelance writer and editor. She has a solid experience in marketing and is fluent in 4 languages. Martha’s goal is to help people around the world communicate more effectively and benefit from it. She currently works at Translateshark.com