Monday, April 25, 2011

Wanderlust and False Friends

Wanderlust. Do you know that word? It's the itching in your heels that makes you leave the safety of your known surroundings. It's the conviction that the grass on the other side of the fence is greener - or maybe just different - but that's enough to girdle your loins and to leave . . to seek something new, turn your nose into the wind and test what's going on in the parts of the world so far unknown to you.

Wanderlust is a German word, and I was surprised to discover it in an American text. Isn't it funny how some words sneak out of foreign languages and appear again in English, and sound so much more intoxicating? Think caffè latte, for example. Milk-coffee doesn't come anywhere near it. Italian and French words, no matter if they appear in English or German, always sound sexy and appealing. Quite often, they are used in connection with food.

German words, however, have a tendency to be heavy and serious. GESUNDHEIT means health. I almost fell off my chair when I heard an unknown guy say "Gesundheit" after I had sneezed during my first stay in New York. I thought it was a fellow German, and somehow, my sneeze had transferred that knowledge to this mysterious stranger. I had learned that you say "bless you" in English - but that was more the British version.

ANGST means fear. Funny enough, Americans use the word angst when something stronger than fear is involved, something deeper, more fundamental. In German, "Angst" can be used in a more superficial way - in combination with the fear of getting a cold, for example. To SCHLEPP something is a colloquial expression of carrying heavy stuff around - both in the exported version as in the original one.

WANDERLUST is a combination of two words and correctly translates as "Hiking Desire", but if you look at the individual words, some subtle differences exist in the meanings. You know the word "wander", too - as in wander around. In English, "wander" is without a clear purpose, without aim and goal, either accidental or on purpose. "Wandern" in German has more purpose (like getting to the top of the mountain and back), but it's always something you do for fun. Hiking is the correct translation, but to me, "hiking" sounds more stressful or sportive than "wandern". It's funny how a translation into another language changes the meaning of a word in a very subtle way - even if the translation is 100% correct.

The same goes for the word "Lust". We have exactly the same word in English and in German, and yet, they have very different connotations. "Lust" in German can be of the passionate variety (as it is in English), but it can also be something you just feel like doing. You can have "lust" to eat strawberries. You can have "lust" to sing a song. Or you can have "lust" to go out and "wander". See, you can almost speak German now!

Now, if someone with a non-too-profound knowledge of English wanted to translate "Wanderlust", he would find both words in English - but if he translated them as Wander-Lust and non of you had ever known the word as such, you would be very confused - a carnal drive to amble aimlessly around - what on earth does that mean?

My teacher called these "false friends". They are the same words in two different languages but mean something totally different. Isn't language a fascinating thing?

8 comments:

Jayne Ormerod said...

Beate, Great blog post! I do beleive I am very close to being bi-lingual now. :)

I love the word WANDERLUST but never knew its derivation! My husband and son both have it. I am, I fear, wanderlustless. :)

Sandy Cody said...

Wanderlust - what a great word. Just the sound of it makes me want to get up and go somewhere - anywhere. Yes, language IS a fascinating thing. Thanks to your informative posts Jayne and I may become gi-lingual too. I wish!

Sandy Cody said...

Obviously I meant "bi-lingual". Will I ever learn to proofread BEFORE pressing post? Is there such a thing as "gi-lingual"? Maybe Beate cana tell us.

Beate Boeker said...

he, he, Sandy, I love the world gi-lingual. Sounds so much more impressive than bi-lingual! And I think the word "wanderlustless" is priceless, Jayne. Thank you for your fun comments!

Sarita said...

Interesting post. I love learning new things, and this one will stick with me. :)

Loretta C. Rogers said...

I've heard the term "wanderlust" since I was a child. I had an uncle born with this phenomenon. He'd just up and take off without telling anyone. A few months later, he'd call and say he was in California, etc. My sister was also bitten by the 'wanderlust' bug. This is probably why she was a flight attendant for 32 yrs. Me, I love the safety of 'arm chair' traveling. I can kick back in my recliner with a good book, a box of chocolates and never have to leave home. So, Jayne, does that make me 'wanderlustless', too? Great post, Beate. You've given us something to smile about.

I.J. Parnham said...

Wanda Lust, sounds like a great name for a femme fatale.

Beate Boeker said...

Loretta, I also have the "wanderlust bug", but at the same time am security oriented, so I often travel via reading novels only, just like you . . . it IS a safe way of experiencing foreign worlds!
Ian, what a fun idea. I had to chuckle when I read your comment (as always). We should all write a story about her, each one of us one sentence :-)!