Thursday, September 9

What's in a Word?

I loved this post from Up Your Bottom! It really shows how you can sum up a culture in just one word.  Read more...

The ups & downs of word translation

Funny how the same thing is seen from different angles, just because we call it differently. This is an excellent international dinner party ice breaker...

We all know what a Rollercoaster is. That is how American English christened the amusement park ride that children and the children still inside adults enjoy so much. Well, the word they chose reflects very well North American thinking: orientation towards results. If an extraterrestrial were to land in USA, she would not know what to look for. She would know what the darn thing does - it rolls and it coasts - but would have no idea of its dimensions, what it looks like, nor how would one build it. But if it rolls and coasts, probably it would be enjoyable.

So, our extraterrestrial explorer would fly into Germany, and be told about an "Achterbahn". Again, the same thing, but a totally different Weltanschauung - a different word, a different way to approach the world. It is not what it does, but how it is engineered: a "Bahn" -  a rail - made into an "eight". One can imagine carriages going round on it, but not why they do (to roll and coast). And it would not be an extremely exciting one - at least in its first incarnation.

A bit disappointed, our extraterrestrial travels to France, where she finds some exciting - "Montagnes Russes". Same thing, but, alas, another way of looking at it in a word. It is not what it is or what it does. It is what it reminds you of (mountains) and where it historically comes from, giving credit to another culture (Russia - from the East, where the travelling gypsies with the first mobile amusement fairs came). No wonder French is "the language of diplomacy". However, no idea on how a German would be able to build it, having received a full blueprint in the single word they use. So, no idea on how to build it.

Last, the extraterrestrial lands in Italy, where she finds an "Otto volante". She is puzzled. Yes, it is made into an "eight" form, but does it "fly"? Obviously not. It is how you feel when you are on it. Hence the Italian flair for that immaterial special thing that makes you feel something you cannot describe. It does not matter if you are not able to build it, if you are misguided on what it is supposed to do (flying is not rolling and coasting!), nor if you have no idea where it comes from. Just enjoy.
Vittorio M., Switzerland

Put them all together, and our extra-terrestial might think it's a flying saucer that does 'figure 8s' that you use to climb up Russian mountains!  Which is probably not unlike the outcome of much of the EU-talks on any given issue...

You can find a lot more great language mishaps on the Up Your Bottom! website - be sure to submit your own!


Vicki said...

The coliseum burning was really great. Do you know what the music is in the background?
I love reading your blog.

Irreverent Italy said...

It seems like original music, but you'd have to post a comment on their youtube site to get a response! Thanks for the support --