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I know you all love learning about German’s ‘untranslatable’ words, so here’s another – the first one of 2015, in fact! Today’s untranslatable German word is Die Gesichtsbremse.
What is the literal translation of Gesichtsbremse?
The word is made up of Das Gesicht (face) and Die Bremse (brake). So, it literally means ‘face brake’.
What does Gesichtsbremse mean?
There are two meanings for this word. The more common meaning is its literal meaning – a face that is used as a brake. When someone falls off their skateboard and lands face-first on the ground, that’s a Gesichtsbremse – because their face is literally stopping them in motion. Here’s a YouTube video of a Gesichtsbremse:
Then there is its other meaning – an insult. According to sprachnudel.de, „Eine “Gesichtsbremse” ist eine Person mit einem häßlichem oder verunstalteten Gesicht, die man nicht gerne ansieht, weil man sich ekelt.“ – „A Gesichtsbremse is a person with an ugly or unfortunate face that is not pleasant to look at, because it is so revolting“. Nice.
A person with an ugly face is probably called a Gesichtsbremse because – according to the person making the insult! – their face looks as if it’s been used as a brake.
How would you use it in a sentence?
Meaning one (a face used as a brake): Das war eine klassische Gesichtsbremse – That was a classic face-brake
Meaning two (someone with an ugly face): Schau dir diese Gesichtsbremse an – Look at that person with their hideous face
Now, the Germans can be very inventive with their insults, so it’s not surprising that there are several other words in the German language with the same (second) meaning as Die Gesichtsbremse. My two personal favourites are:
Das Arschgesicht – (Arsch + Gesicht) – “Arse Face”
Der Spiegeltöter – (Spiegel + Töter) – “Mirror Murderer”
Why not get creative and invent your own?!
What is the nearest English equivalent to Gesichtsbremse?
I’m actually misleading you all slightly when I call this an untranslatable German word, as there are English equivalents. However, this word is unique in that it has two meanings, and no English word (that I can think of, anyway) has these two meanings. In that sense, it’s still pretty difficult to translate accurately.
When used to mean ‘braking with the face’, something like ‘face-plant’ would be an appropriate translation of Gesichtsbremse. When used to describe someone with an ugly face, well… there are all manner of translations. Use your imagination!!
That concludes this post. I hope you enjoyed it! Any questions, comments, corrections (!), suggestions… please do leave them! Language learning is best when it’s interactive!