Jan 20 | Got cat?!

When I was 10 years old, I started to learn English in school.

I loved it.

Ever since I can remember, foreign languages were a door to a world unknown, waiting to be discovered.

In high school, French followed English, and Spanish followed French. Latin had its time, too, but it opened a door to worlds I don’t intend to go back to nowadays. It was useful, though, in pushing the other doors wider ajar.

After finishing school and college (studying abroad, for more immersion, right?!), I added Japanese to this illustrious collection (I never was a big “going to the gym” fan, but exercise for the mind was more than okay).

My Spanish and Japanese skills are not really up to scratch these days. Spanish still has a slight edge over its Asian sibling in the department of “Learned and (almost) Forgotten”, but more when it comes to reading and deducting.

However, all of these languages are beautiful (some though only in their own particular ways). And useful. Not only for work, but also to meet people, exchange opinions, talk about what you take as a given in different words and thus see these things through different eyes.

You might wonder by now (if you haven’t stopped reading yet) how the cat from the title fits into all of this.

Ever since we moved to a country where a previously foreign language is my daily language, I notice on a daily basis how crucial it is to understand the people around you. Not only when it comes to errands and necessities, wanting and/or needing things, but also on more complex levels.

You rarely have second thoughts about your mother language until you are faced with a new linguistic environment. You have the words you need to express yourself, often also in more than one way.

When immersed into another language, what you want to say is often right there, on the tip of your tongue. But sometimes, it just doesn’t want to come out. Vocabulary is missing. Word-by-word translation just does not fit the bill (and it often doesn’t). You had a brilliant pun in mind and you totally ruined it – because the original is hilarious in your language, but it doesn’t apply equally well to ‘the other side’.

And there’s the cat. In German, when you have a hangover, you have a cat. Let it be understood, a male one of course. Nothing more, nothing less. It is called “einen Kater haben”. If you are REALLY hung over, you even have a “fürchterlichen Kater” or a really terrible (male) cat.

Doesn’t translate well, does it?

There are countless collections of perfect puns gone bad over translation, so I will spare you the pain of adding one more to the list (if you want one, let me know in the comments, I will gladly provide my favorite examples).

But since I spend my working days “obsessing” over correct localization* (unless I am bothering my colleagues or doing other fascinating things),  it got me thinking a lot about how languages evolved, how much they have in common, and how far they have diverged over centuries if originating in the same language family. Interesting, isn’t it?

That’s why I thought I’d share. Hope you liked it.

What opens doors to foreign worlds for you?


* Localization [ˌloʊkələˈzeɪʃən]
The practice of adjusting a product’s functional properties and characteristics to accommodate the language, cultural, political and legal differences of a foreign market or country.



One comment

  1. Love this! Of course coming from a much more limited toolkit for languages, when i try to understand German or French, i find i often stumble over the gender of words. Why a hangover has a [male, feline] gender is a very funny abstraction.


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