Untranslatable German Words: Teil 1 Posted by Constanze on Jun 9, 2014 in Language
I am fascinated by words which exist in other languages, but which we do not have in English. I think my fascination stems from the question I ask myself when confronted with one of these words: Why does it exist in one language, but not in another? Sometimes, this is obviously for cultural reasons, but a lot of the time there seems to be no reason for it. Then I am often left wondering why we don’t have these wonderful words in the English language, too.
German is a prime example of a language full of words that do not exist in English. Perhaps the main reason for this is the way that German can combine nouns to create new words –thus using one word to explain something we would have to use an entire phrase for in English.
For example, in English we have to say “tomato soup” using two words. But in German, “tomato soup” is one word: Tomatensuppe. This goes for many other German words, too. Here are just a few examples, to give you an idea:
Apfelsaft (Apfel + Saft) – Apple juice
Sicherheitsdecke (Sicherheit(s) + Decke)– Safety blanket
Abfalleimer (Abfall + Eimer) – Rubbish bin
Wasserflasche (Wasser + Flasche) – Water bottle
However, the above examples are all fairly straightforward (and can be translated – as you can see). But there are many creative, interesting, and sometimes very funny words in the German language that we don’t have in English. So each week, I will discuss some of those ‘untranslatable’ German words with you here.
To kick things off this week, I’ll start with the word Drachenfutter.
What does this literally translate to?
The literal translation of Drachenfutter is ‘dragon fodder’.
What is the meaning of Drachenfutter?
It refers to a gift, either physical or in the form of a favour, which men give to their wives or girlfriends to say sorry for staying out late. For example, if a man has stayed out all night he might buy her chocolates to stop her from getting angry at him. So, in other words, he is feeding the dragon! However, I think this can refer to any situation where you buy a gift/do something for someone to stop them from being angry at you.
How would you use it in a sentence?
„Ich bringe Blumen mit mir als Drachenfutter, damit meine Frau nicht böse mit mir ist.“
“I’m bringing flowers with me as Drachenfutter, so that my wife doesn’t get angry at me.”
If you had to find one, what would be the English equivalent?
It’s not a noun, but the phrase that springs immediately to mind is “buttering up”. For example: “He was buttering her up to ask her to finish his work.” It’s not exactly the same, but it’s the closest thing I can think of, and the image it conjures up is similar to that of Drachenfutter (well, they both involve food…)
Do you have a better English translation? If so, please share it in the comments! And come back next week for more weird and wonderful, untranslatable German words! 🙂