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Andromeda321
2005-Dec-18, 07:11 PM
Hey everyone,
While I was procrastinating exam studying I came accross the list of words most difficult to translate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Words_hardest_to_translate). I found it kind of interesting but got me wondering: for those of you who speak other languages what is a word that you find difficult to translate into a language like English? Of course you have to try your best at telling us what the word means lest we explode from curiousity. ;)

Monique
2005-Dec-18, 08:37 PM
I must give some thought. I believe most difficult is structure for English different from structure for French. I do not think like someone who speak English.

Dr Nigel
2005-Dec-18, 09:03 PM
As I understand it, a language such as French has many concepts that have no direct equivalent in English (degustation springs to mind). I think the loose structure and grammar of English pose more problems to a non-native English-speaker, though. For example, pronunciation of letter groups. I think English has six different ways to pronounce the group "ough" (enough, though, bough, through, thorough, ought), and there must be other examples. Then there are homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings depending on spelling, such as rite, write, right and wright). And so on.

ngc3314
2005-Dec-18, 09:24 PM
It's not all that difficult to translate, but subtly different in connotation: Dutch employs a verb zwijgen for "remaining silent", but suggesting that a more active decision was involved. Willem de Zwijger is thus known in English histories as William the Silent. (Hmm, "William who continually sat on his hands and bit his tongue to avoid telling his allies what windbags they were" would be rather unwieldy in comparison).

More treacherous perhaps are false cognates - a bad translation of the French demandez led to a diplomatic crisis, and one often encounters speakers of continental European languages carrying over the wrong cognate meaning of "actual" to mean current or contemporary. And in this group, we'll all remember the trouble caused by Schiaparelli's use of canali.

sarongsong
2005-Dec-19, 07:36 AM
Waiting breakfast in Yosemite, I asked a German tourist what the German word for 'toast' was. He laughed and replied, "Toast".

mahesh
2005-Dec-19, 10:41 AM
at a garden party....
Mrs British Ambassador: T?
Mrs Spanish Ambassador: C!

Argos
2005-Dec-19, 01:17 PM
I think the most difficult words are the unsuspected ones, like Latin words. They can take on different meanings in English. False cognates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_cognates) are also a challenge.

Fram
2005-Dec-19, 01:32 PM
I don't think the French 'on' (and the Dutch 'men') has a good translation in English.
'Men zegt' and 'Zij zeggen' both gets translated as 'They say'. 'Men' is unpersonal, and 'Zij' is personal, though. Perhaps 'men zegt' can be translated as 'It is said', but then you are making the active sentence into a passive one.
It will remain understandable, of course, but the full meaning (and the feeling of it) can easily get lost.

Cougar
2005-Dec-19, 03:04 PM
I lived in Japan for a year when my wife was a visiting professor there. I figured I would pick up Japanese pretty quickly, particularly since I learned Swahili in a month or two when I lived in Kenya. But I found there were only a few Japanese words that translated to English in a one-to-one correspondence. (E.g., sumimasen = "Excuse me." That's one of the few.) It seemed like the entire language was like translating poetry. Then there was the fact that Japanese uses three different alphabets, all at the same time. I threw up my hands.

Of course, somebody who knows Japanese probably sees the situation differently....

SeanF
2005-Dec-19, 03:14 PM
I think English has six different ways to pronounce the group "ough" (enough, though, bough, through, thorough, ought), and there must be other examples.
How are you pronouncing the "ough" in "though" differently than in "thorough"? They're both ō. However, the word "hiccough" has another pronunciation of "ough." :)


I don't think the French 'on' (and the Dutch 'men') has a good translation in English.
'Men zegt' and 'Zij zeggen' both gets translated as 'They say'. 'Men' is unpersonal, and 'Zij' is personal, though. Perhaps 'men zegt' can be translated as 'It is said', but then you are making the active sentence into a passive one.
It will remain understandable, of course, but the full meaning (and the feeling of it) can easily get lost.
Context should tell you that. In English, "they say" can be either personal or impersonal, depending on context.

At least, that's what they say. :)

Andromeda321
2005-Dec-19, 05:16 PM
Nifty. :)
By the way one of my friends told me there were two words in German that she always liked, one of which roughly translates into "world-ache" (where you feel bad for everything going on in the world) and "searching for I know not what" (not quite the same as angst and such but still a good word for a teenager). Anyone know what the actual words are?

HenrikOlsen
2005-Dec-19, 05:19 PM
Weltschmertz \Welt"schmertz`\, n. [G., fr. welt world + schmertz pain. v. i.]
Sorrow or sadness over the present or future evils or woes of the world in general; sentimental pessimism.
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

Can't guess the other

ngc3314
2005-Dec-19, 05:30 PM
Nifty. :)
By the way one of my friends told me there were two words in German that she always liked, one of which roughly translates into "world-ache" (where you feel bad for everything going on in the world) and "searching for I know not what" (not quite the same as angst and such but still a good word for a teenager). Anyone know what the actual words are?

The second could be Sehnsucht. That's a bit far afield from my professional writing, but I did manage to begin a paper a few years ago describing our Ansatz. Next up: Weltanschauung!

Disinfo Agent
2005-Dec-19, 06:50 PM
Hi. I speak a few languages besides English. When people say that a word is 'untranslatable', what usually happens is that that word has several possible translations, depending on the context where it's used. In other words, you can't translate it always the same way. But there usually is a translation for each particular case.

The only real problem I've had with translation is that sometimes language A will have a word with no equivalent in language B, because the concept the word designates is not current in the cultures that use language B. Even then, you can usually come up with a long phrase in language B that describes the original concept; it's just not very elegant.

Puns are also a pain to translate.

hhEb09'1
2005-Dec-19, 07:31 PM
I think the most difficult words are the unsuspected ones, like Latin words. They can take on different meanings in English. False cognates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_cognates) are also a challenge.Another group of difficult words are those that Disinfo Agent alludes to, I think. Words where even the native speakers are in disagreement. What is the literal meaning of the word literal, after all?

Candy
2005-Dec-19, 08:15 PM
I find Science words confusing, too. :shifty:

It's like you have to ask, "What are you talking about?", before you understand.

I can usually grasp foreign translations (depending on the person and/or circumstance). I do get a kick out of the multi-interpretation part before "you" both agree. It's a hoot. ;)

peter eldergill
2005-Dec-19, 08:53 PM
Most of my students don't speak english as a first language and sometimes that can be a pain. Try explaining what a "canoe", "kayak" or a "corral" is to a kid from Somalia...Now that I've taught for a while, I've realized how many words in English can have several meanings, depending on the context.Also, miss one letter and they really get confused...corral becomes coral....slightly different meanings!

II can't think offhand any words with 2 different meanings at the moment....maybe that's another thread that goes on and on...

Later

Pete

Gillianren
2005-Dec-19, 09:33 PM
Isn't it "coracle"?

GDwarf
2005-Dec-19, 10:16 PM
Isn't it "coracle"?
That's the boat, Corral is... well, I'll let Dictionary.Com do the explaining.

cor·ral
n.
An enclosure for confining livestock.
An enclosure formed by a circle of wagons for defense against attack during an encampment.

Enzp
2005-Dec-20, 09:51 AM
Hey Herb, herd them cattle into the coral. Then fetch them in the coracle. When you're done, we'll go see the chorale singing in the corral.

I think you get in trouble putting your cows in the coral.

Then there is JFK's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner." Apparently meaning I am a jelly doughnut.

01101001
2005-Dec-20, 10:03 AM
I can't think offhand any words with 2 different meanings at the moment....maybe that's another thread that goes on and on...
How about some English words with two different meanings -- that are opposites?

Autoantonyms (http://www.fun-with-words.com/nym_autoantonyms.html)

Like overlook: to watch over, or to fail to notice. (If your boss says, "I will overlook your work," you might want to ask for clarification.)

paulie jay
2005-Dec-20, 10:26 AM
How are you pronouncing the "ough" in "though" differently than in "thorough"? They're both ō.
In Australia we pronounce the word "thorough" as "thurruh", "borough" as "burruh" or "bruh" eg Edinborough would be pronounced Ed-in-BRUH.:)

SeanF
2005-Dec-20, 02:33 PM
Then there is JFK's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner." Apparently meaning I am a jelly doughnut.
Urban Legend (http://urbanlegends.about.com/cs/historical/a/jfk_berliner_2.htm). :)


So, while the proper way for a Berlin native to say "I am a Berliner" is "Ich bin Berliner," the proper way for a non-native to make the same statement metaphorically is precisely what Kennedy said: "Ich bin ein Berliner." In spite of the fact that it's also the correct way to say "I am a jelly doughnut," no adult German speaker could possibly have misunderstood Kennedy's meaning in context.


In Australia we pronounce the word "thorough" as "thurruh", "borough" as "burruh" or "bruh" eg Edinborough would be pronounced Ed-in-BRUH.:)
Now that you say that, I've heard that pronunciation of "thorough." I should've thought of that. :doh:

Laguna
2005-Dec-20, 03:12 PM
The second could be Sehnsucht. That's a bit far afield from my professional writing, but I did manage to begin a paper a few years ago describing our Ansatz. Next up: Weltanschauung!
Sehnsucht...
If you have "Sehnsucht" you know what you are missing...
You could translate it with longing or yearning.
longing for something or
to have a desire for something

Weltanschauung..
I would translate it with philosophy of life.

Fram
2005-Dec-20, 03:14 PM
Fingerspitzengefühl (I hope I spelled it correct). I don't think there is a good short English translation (there is no Dutch one). It has a certain je ne sais quoi :lol:

Laguna
2005-Dec-20, 03:21 PM
Fingerspitzengefühl (I hope I spelled it correct). I don't think there is a good short English translation (there is no Dutch one). It has a certain je ne sais quoi :lol: Maybe you could translate it with flair.

From Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

a skill or instinctive ability to appreciate or make good use of something

Dr Nigel
2005-Dec-20, 06:35 PM
How are you pronouncing the "ough" in "though" differently than in "thorough"? They're both ō. However, the word "hiccough" has another pronunciation of "ough." :)

OK, in British English, "though" rhymes with "owe" and "thorough" rhymes with ... er ... well, nothing else that I can think of that doesn't also end in "ough". But it is pronounced "thurrer" and does NOT rhyme with furrow.

Dr Nigel
2005-Dec-20, 06:36 PM
The second could be Sehnsucht. That's a bit far afield from my professional writing, but I did manage to begin a paper a few years ago describing our Ansatz. Next up: Weltanschauung!

That sounds about right. I've seen Sehnsucht translated as "longing".

Dr Nigel
2005-Dec-20, 06:39 PM
In Australia we pronounce the word "thorough" as "thurruh", "borough" as "burruh" or "bruh" eg Edinborough would be pronounced Ed-in-BRUH.:)

Very helpful, except that Edinburgh has had its ending contracted, so it more closely resembles the way it is said. I really cannot see how anyone would ever pronounce it "Edinburrow", yet I have heard it said that way.

Philip A
2005-Dec-20, 06:52 PM
There was a book released recently over here of strange words from around the world called The Meaning Of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod. It did quite well! My favourite term is 'Bakku-shan', a Japanese word for 'girl who looks prettier from the back than from the front'.

Arneb
2005-Dec-20, 10:01 PM
Another group of difficult words are those that Disinfo Agent alludes to, I think. Words where even the native speakers are in disagreement. What is the literal meaning of the word literal, after all?.

Literal = "By the letter" (from Latin littera, ae, fem., letter).
By the way, the German word for literal is contructed in the same, only from the German word, Buchstabe: Buchstäblich.

Now that's a literal translation. :)

Doodler
2005-Dec-20, 10:36 PM
Weltanschauung..
I would translate it with philosophy of life.

I've seen that also translated to "worldview" in a political context.

paulie jay
2005-Dec-20, 10:47 PM
Very helpful, except that Edinburgh has had its ending contracted, so it more closely resembles the way it is said. I really cannot see how anyone would ever pronounce it "Edinburrow", yet I have heard it said that way.
In Australia we still have many "borugh" style place names without the contraction - Maryborough for example.

Laguna
2006-Jan-18, 07:30 PM
I guess I have a hard one to translate .

Eierlegende Wollmilchsau.

How would you translate this one?

Halcyon Dayz
2006-Jan-18, 10:45 PM
A literal translation makes no sense what so ever.

Egg-laying unskimmed-milk-sow?

Van Rijn
2006-Jan-18, 11:01 PM
Google is your friend. I found a few references to the egg laying woolly milk sow. Sort of the ultimate do-everything farm animal. Apparently it refers to something that tries to be everything for everybody. It wasn't clear if that is supposed to suggest something that can do everything well. In english, a JOAT (Jack of All Trades, Master of None) refers to someone that can do most jobs, but doesn't excel at any. It is meant to suggest the danger of overgeneralization.

Laguna
2006-Jan-19, 12:47 AM
When you refer to the "Eierlegende Wollmilchsau" in german you mean an "all-in-one device suitable for every purpose". So something you can use to do anything.
I think the JOAT would be the right translation.

Candy
2006-Jan-19, 12:54 AM
Translate English to English... Tally Ho! I've never understood exactly what it means. :o

snarkophilus
2006-Jan-19, 01:06 AM
I lived in Japan for a year when my wife was a visiting professor there. I figured I would pick up Japanese pretty quickly, particularly since I learned Swahili in a month or two when I lived in Kenya. But I found there were only a few Japanese words that translated to English in a one-to-one correspondence. (E.g., sumimasen = "Excuse me." That's one of the few.) It seemed like the entire language was like translating poetry. Then there was the fact that Japanese uses three different alphabets, all at the same time. I threw up my hands.

Of course, somebody who knows Japanese probably sees the situation differently....

Ha ha... I'm on my third attempt to learn Japanese, and for once I have hit upon a slightly successful scheme. I just use one alphabet (I'll learn the others later). I watch lots of Japanese TV shows. And when I write to friends in Japan, I force myself (sometimes) to use only Japanese. I don't care about getting the politeness levels and all that correct. I'm just concerned with the grammar, and the vocabulary is following. And the grammar is beautifully simple, once you wade through the initial difficulties.

Even your translation of sumimasen doesn't quite cut it, because it's also used for "sorry," which is kind of the same thing but not quite. :) I've also heard it in other situations where "excuse me" might cut it, but isn't exactly what is meant. There are also different ways of writing that one word.

The one Japanese word for which I've never found a satisfactory translation, but whose meaning is completely obvious, is "banzai."

snarkophilus
2006-Jan-19, 01:09 AM
Puns are also a pain to translate.

Oh, but when you get a pun that works in two different languages at once, it is a thing of beauty.

Halcyon Dayz
2006-Jan-19, 01:25 AM
The one Japanese word for which I've never found a satisfactory translation, but whose meaning is completely obvious, is "banzai."
Banzai (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_thousand_years) literally means "Ten Thousand Years" and can be
translated as "Long Live The Emperor."

Van Rijn
2006-Jan-19, 01:56 AM
When you refer to the "Eierlegende Wollmilchsau" in german you mean an "all-in-one device suitable for every purpose". So something you can use to do anything.
I think the JOAT would be the right translation.

We might also say "Swiss army knife" for that. Talk about english imports!

The Supreme Canuck
2006-Jan-19, 02:56 AM
Ambiguity is a problem not only with words, but also with phrases.

Latin:
Magister noster mē laudat et tē crās laudābit.

English:
Our teacher praises me and will praise you tomorrow.
Our master lauds me and will laud you tomorrow.
Our schoolmaster praises me and will praise you tomorrow.
Our director quotes me and will bear favourable testimony to your character tomorrow.

And my personal favourite:

Our friend the instigator names me and will deliver a eulogy for you in the future.

The list goes on. And this is a very simple Latin sentence.

Anyone want to give the following a try?

Nōn omnēs eadem amant aut eāsdem cupiditātēs studiaque habent.

HenrikOlsen
2006-Jan-19, 05:02 AM
The one Japanese word for which I've never found a satisfactory translation, but whose meaning is completely obvious, is "banzai."
While preparing for combat:
Then he tore a thin strip off the bottom of his robe, held it dramatically in both hands, and tied it around his forehead.
'It's part of the ethos,' he said, in answer to their penetratingly unspoken question. 'That's what the warriors on the Counter-weight Continent do before they go into battle. And you have to shout -' He tried to remember some far-off reading.'- er, bonsai. Yes. Bonsai!'
'I thought that meant chopping bits off trees to make them small,' said the Senior Wrangler.
The Dean hesitated. He wasn't too sure himself, if it came to it. But a good wizard never let uncertainty stand in his way.
'No, it's definitely got to be bonsai,' he said. He considered it some more and then brightened up. 'On account of it all being part of bushido. Like . . . small trees. Bush-i-do. Yeah. Makes sense, when you think about it.'
'But you can't shout "bonsai!" here,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'We've got a totally different cultural background. It'd be useless. No-one will know what you mean.'
'I'll work on it,' said the Dean.

A bit later, when combat actually happens:
'Topiary !'
'What the heck do you mean?'
'Topiary! Get it? Yo!'

I always think of that when I hear "Banzai" mentioned:)