Lost in Translation

Here some space for the peculiar and interesting words I continuously encounter in many cultures. Since it is a continuous collection this post will be periodically updated and enriched.

  • hyggelig – Bokmål, but as far as I know the word is used in entire Scandinavia. The literal translation would be “nice, pleasant” but in reality it’s just so much more. Just the way it sounds it seems as if it relates to something that is suited well for hugs. Hug-able. And having in mind the hugablity of a Norwegian lifestyle this undeniably becomes a highly descriptive word for the entire culture
  •  goedkoop – Dutch. And that might be the most Dutch word I might ever encounter. It means “cheap”, but however this is just the beginning. Analysing it as the compound that it is it literally means “a good buy”. In comparison in any other language I am aware of the word “cheap” has partly a negative conotation – relates to lack of quality or at least lack of pride. However for the greedy and calculating dutch nothing can be so cheap that it isn’t good anymore. If you have to pay less – it must be a good buy!
  • eigenartig – German, mostly used in Austria. And this is the key to understanding this word – it is mostly used in Austria, an ex-empire where manners and heritage decided your life. It means “peculiar, singular, characteristic”, when reading the compound it shall sound as “in its own way”. Now the interesting part comes when we discuss the use of the word. In any other language describing something or someone(!) as peculiar wouldn’t necessarily be good or bad, but that is not the case in conservative Austria. Using eigenartig to describe a person has automatically negative connotation. That perhaps might give you a clue about preferable manners in the country?
  • красний – Russian. The word means both beautiful and red. And whereas it is still not clear to me how this word came to be and why exactly connect these two rather faithful words for Russian culture, I find most bizarre the general confusion this small word causes – for Moscow’s Red Square is supposed to be the Beautiful Square and that is quite a bit of a stretch.


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