Blog post

Useful German Words That English Is Missing

There's a List of "25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In English" going around. A lot of those words seem more esoteric than handy to me, so here are three I'm more likely to use in day-to-day conversation.

Übermorgen - the day after tomorrow

Vorgestern - the day before yesterday

Doch. - The word "doch" kann have several meanings, but the one I'm thinking of is to give a positive answer to a negative question. If someone answers "Don't you like strawberries?" with "yes", do they mean "yes, you're right", or "yes, I do like strawberries"? "Doch" is an unambiguous one-word answer meaning "you're wrong, I do."

What's a word in another language that you wish English had? Or what's a concept you'd like to have a specific word for?

ETA: There are more comments on the mirror on LJ.

Blog tags: Language


It seems every few months another article pops up with germane words the English language lacks, yet I always forget the great terms I've read. "Ubermorgen" makes sense and I'd coin it into our tongue.

I agree with all those words. I like 'em all, particularly "doch". It's an elegant way around questions like you describe. (Similarly, I tend to respond to things like "So you don't have any spare liver flukes?" with "correct" so's not to be ambiguous.)

I like little linguistic logic traps, like the famous "have you stopped beating your wife yet?" to which the answers "yes" and "no" are both rather awful. The best one-word response to that question is "mu", a word that certain old-school geeks use in a pseudo-Buddhist sense to mean "I can't answer that question because it contains invalid assumptions". So that's a word I'd like to see adopted into wider English useage.

The great thing about English is that we're shameless about stealing words we like from anywhere we see them: witness "schadenfreude", which we strip of its capital letter, and "esprit d'escalier". The words we steal and incorporate at different times are a little glimpse into history - for example, all the words we stole from Hindi while we sat on our fat imperial bums all over that subcontinent. Magpies represent!

IIRC in French "si" is the same as "doch".

Speaking of one word answers, in German for "would you...?" questions there are "gern" (or "gerne"), which means "with pleasure", and the counterpart "ungern", so that'd literally be something like "unwillingly", and in context means "If it's really necessary, I'll do it, but I'd really rather not". Obviously something you're more likely to use with close friends or family you can be honest-bordering-on-rude with.

I've come across "mu" once before, in an anthology of 24 hour comics. That one story was about someone meditating.

Looks like it in French. A bit confusing with Spanish if used in English, though...