25 Foreign Words With Hilarious Literal Meanings

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Anyone who has ever studied a foreign language knows that translator apps, while helpful, aren’t always reliable. It's easy to tell when text has been fed through an online translator because certain words and phrases tend to get jumbled up in the process, as evidenced by the many mistranslations posted online every day. (See: The Iraqi hotel whose buffet sign misidentified meatballs as “Paul is dead.”)

On the other hand, when done correctly, word-for-word translations—also known as literal or direct translations—can help language learners understand a word’s origin while also providing interesting insight into how different cultures perceive ordinary objects. In this spirit, we’ve selected 25 of our favorite foreign words and their weird and wonderful literal translations.

1. CHUỘT TÚI// RAT POCKET

Meaning: Kangaroo
Language: Vietnamese

Many of the Vietnamese words for animals sound as if a group of comedians went to a zoo and started roasting every creature they saw. A shark is a “fat fish,” a skunk is a “stink fox,” and a baboon is a “monkey head dog,” which sounds like a terrifying mythical creature you wouldn’t want to cross paths with.

2. STROZZAPRETI // PRIEST STRANGLER

Meaning: A kind of pasta
Language: Italian

The legend of how this noodle got its name is just as twisted as the pasta itself. It allegedly stems from greedy priests who, upon receiving the dish from locals, scarfed it down so quickly that they choked, according to BBC Good Food.

3. SYUT GWAIH // SNOW CUPBOARD

Meaning: Refrigerator
Language: Chinese (Cantonese)

There's some crossover between Mandarin and Cantonese, two of the main languages spoken in China, but this term is solely used among Cantonese speakers, particularly in Hong Kong.

4. AMUSE-BOUCHE // MOUTH AMUSER

Meaning: A kind of appetizer
Language: French

This one doesn’t translate perfectly into English because the French truly have a monopoly on food terminology, but an amuse-bouche is basically a bite-sized hors d’oeuvre (appetizer, but literally “outside of work”). It’s also sometimes called amuse-gueule, meaning the same thing.

5. DEDOS DO PE // FOOT FINGERS

Meaning: Toes
Language: Portuguese

Why invent a new word when toes are basically the fingers of the feet? At least that seems to be the logic behind the conjoining of these two words in Portuguese, French, Arabic, and a number of other languages.

6. BRUSTWARZEN // BREAST WARTS

Meaning: Nipples
Language: German

While this may sound slightly off-putting to English speakers, many Germanic languages use the same word for “warts” and “nipples,” according to The Economist.

7. SMÖRGÅS // BUTTER GOOSE

Meaning: Sandwich
Language: Swedish

The word gås literally translates to goose, but the Online Etymology Dictionary notes that it also carries a second meaning: a clump (of butter). (Smör also means butter, making smörgås mean either "butter goose" or "butter butter.") Smörgås is taken to mean “bread and butter,” and thus a sandwich. Smorgasbord, which has been adopted into English, starts to make a little more sense when it's interpreted as a sandwich table, or more generally, a buffet offering various dishes. Are you following all this?

8. PAPIER VAMPIER // PAPER VAMPIRE

Meaning: Stapler
Language: Afrikaans

As The South African notes, there are several Afrikaans words that simply sound funny when they’re translated directly into English. Popcorn is “jumping corn,” a chameleon is “step softly,” and a weed is “look around tobacco.”

9. SURTAN ALBAHR // CANCER OF THE SEA

Meaning: Lobster
Language: Arabic

“Cancer of the sea” seems like a harsh moniker for a humble crustacean, but this appears to be another case of multiple meanings. According to the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic [PDF], the Arabic word for cancer stems from a root word meaning “to grab/to swallow,” which yielded the word for lobster.

10. NACKTSCHNECK // NAKED SNAIL

Meaning: Slug
Language: German

Itchy Feet, a travel and language comic by Malachi Ray Rempen, illustrates some of the amusing results when German is translated word for word into English. There’s “glowing pear” for light bulb, “go wheel” for bicycle, and “into-the-groundening” for funeral.

11. DIAN NAO // ELECTRIC BRAIN

Meaning: Computer
Language: Chinese (Mandarin)

Chinese can seem quite poetic to non-native speakers. This is partly because it's a logogram-based language, meaning that a character represents a word. Instead of inventing a new character to represent computer, pre-existing characters are combined to yield an entirely new concept. Hence, electric brain.

12. BERGMAL // ROCK LANGUAGE

Meaning: Echo
Language: Icelandic

As Iceland Naturally explained, this translation is fitting “because an echo typically is bouncing off surrounding rocks or walls, as if it were their way of communicating.” If only someone could translate what they’re saying…

13. TOILETBRIL // TOILET GLASSES

Meaning: Toilet seat
Language: Dutch

Alternate definition we're proposing: the figurative glasses you wear when you're half-asleep at 3 a.m., feeling your way through the darkness in search of the bathroom.

14. JOULUPUKKI // CHRISTMAS GOAT

Meaning: Santa Claus
Language: Finnish

Translating to Christmas Goat or Yule Goat, joulupukki was historically a very different character: a “troll who used to threaten children who were naughty,” The New York Times reports. Over the years, the idea evolved and became conflated with Santa Claus, but the term stuck.

15. SCHLAGZEUG // HIT STUFF

Meaning: Drums
Language: German

According to Your Daily German, the word zeug ("stuff") originally meant “pulling something to you” in order to use it—or in other words, a tool. It’s used to describe a number of things, including an airplane (flugzeug, or “flight stuff”), lighter (feuerzeug, or “fire stuff”), and toy (spielzeug, or “play stuff”).

16. MONTAÑA RUSA // RUSSIAN MOUNTAINS

Meaning: Rollercoaster
Language: Spanish

Rollercoasters are called “Russian mountains” in Spanish and several other Romance languages because the early predecessor to the ride—a slide placed on an ice-covered hill—was invented in present-day Russia in the 15th century. In other languages, a rollercoaster is a “train of death” (Croatian), “wavy iron road” (Hungarian), and “American hills” (Russian).

17. SPOOKASEM // GHOST BREATH

Meaning: Cotton candy
Language: Afrikaans

To be fair, the English phrases “cotton candy,” “fairy floss” (Australia), and “candy floss” (UK) don’t make perfect sense, either. But ghost breath? It gets points for originality, at least.

18. GAESALAPPIR // GOOSE FEET

Meaning: Quotation marks
Language: Icelandic

Icelandic is notoriously hard to learn, and a look at some of its words seems to show why. A comic strip series on Bored Panda highlights some of the odder literal translations of the language, such as “animal garden” for zoo, “womb cake” for placenta, and “bride to buy” for wedding.

19. AIN HTAUNG // HOUSE PRISON

Meaning: Marriage
Language: Burmese

Speaking of marriage, Icelanders aren’t the only ones to take a dim view of the institution—linguistically speaking, at least. Used as a verb, the Burmese word ain htaung can be understood as “fall into marriage” and is used in the same way as htaung kya, or “fall into prison.”

20. NIU ZAI KU // COWBOY PANTS

Meaning: Jeans
Language: Chinese (Mandarin)

Chinese isn’t the only language to associate blue jeans with American culture and the Wild West. In Spanish, they’re called vaqueros ("cowboys") or tejanos ("Texans"), and in Danish they’re cowboybukser, also meaning "cowboy pants,” according to the Denim and Trousers ebook by Marquis Schaefer [PDF].

21. HABLEÁNY // FOAM GIRL

Meaning: Mermaid
Language: Hungarian

Haven't you ever seen The Little Foam Girl? It's a Disney classic!

22. KANTH LANGOT // LARYNX LOINCLOTH

Meaning: Tie
Language: Hindi

According to the book Chutnefying English, many Hindi words were introduced to push back against English terms that had been standardized under British colonialism:

“The admission of loanwords into the active lexicon of Hindi speakers has been patchy, with some of the more absurd formulations (such as lauh-path gaamini or 'iron-path traveller' for 'train,' and kanth-langot or 'larynx loincloth' for ‘necktie’) the butt of well-earned mockery.”

23. STOFZUIGER // DUST SUCKER

Meaning: Vacuum cleaner
Language: Dutch

Laura Frame, an illustrator from Glasgow, Scotland, created the “Amusing Dutch Words” series to share some of her favorite literal translations of Dutch, including “mirror egg” for fried egg, “garden snake” for hose, and “wash bear” for raccoon.

24. JAGUCHI // SNAKE MOUTH

Meaning: Water faucet
Language: Japanese

This creative interpretation isn’t too much of a stretch—a faucet does look a bit like a snake’s mouth, if you use your imagination.

25. GAVISTI // DESIRE FOR CATTLE

Meaning: War
Language: Sanskrit

Popularized by a scene in the 2016 sci-fi thriller Arrival, audiences learned that one of the Sanskrit words for war (there are a few) has a peculiar literal translation. This dates back to the early Aryans, who sometimes carried out attacks against aborigines “for the purpose of getting cattle,” according to an article published in The American Journal of Theology.

6 Facts About International Women's Day

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iStock.com/robeo

For more than 100 years, March 8th has marked what has come to be known as International Women's Day in countries around the world. While its purpose differs from place to place—in some countries it’s a day of protest, in others it’s a way to celebrate the accomplishments of women and promote gender equality—the holiday is more than just a simple hashtag. Ahead of this year’s celebration, let’s take a moment to explore the day’s origins and traditions.

1. International Women's Day originated more than 100 years ago.

On February 28, 1909, the now-dissolved Socialist Party of America organized the first National Woman’s Day, which took place on the last Sunday in February. In 1910, Clara Zetkin—the leader of Germany’s 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party—proposed the idea of a global International Women’s Day, so that people around the world could celebrate at the same time. On March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held; more than 1 million people in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Denmark took part.

2. The celebration got women the vote in Russia.

In 1917, women in Russia honored the day by beginning a strike for “bread and peace” as a way to protest World War I and advocate for gender parity. Czar Nicholas II, the country’s leader at the time, was not impressed and instructed General Khabalov of the Petrograd Military District to put an end to the protests—and to shoot any woman who refused to stand down. But the women wouldn't be intimidated and continued their protests, which led the Czar to abdicate just days later. The provisional government then granted women in Russia the right to vote.

3. The United Nations officially adopted International Women's Day in 1975.

In 1975, the United Nations—which had dubbed the year International Women’s Year—celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8th for the first time. Since then, the UN has become the primary sponsor of the annual event and has encouraged even more countries around the world to embrace the holiday and its goal of celebrating “acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.”

4. International Women's Day is an official holiday in dozens of countries.

International Women’s Day is a day of celebration around the world, and an official holiday in dozens of countries. Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, Uganda, Mongolia, Georgia, Laos, Cambodia, Armenia, Belarus, Montenegro, Russia, and Ukraine are just some of the places where March 8th is recognized as an official holiday.

5. It’s a combined celebration with Mother’s Day in several places.

In the same way that Mother’s Day doubles as a sort of women’s appreciation day, the two holidays are combined in some countries, including Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, and Uzbekistan. On this day, children present their mothers and grandmothers with small gifts and tokens of love and appreciation.

6. Each year's festivities have an official theme.

In 1996, the UN created a theme for that year’s International Women’s Day: Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future. In 1997, it was “Women at the Peace Table,” then “Women and Human Rights” in 1998. They’ve continued this themed tradition in the years since; for 2019, it's “Better the balance, better the world” or #BalanceforBetter.

8 Enlightening Facts About Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu
Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu

For decades, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer has used television, radio, the written word, and the internet to speak frankly on topics relating to human sexuality, turning what were once controversial topics into healthy, everyday conversations.

At age 90, Westheimer shows no signs of slowing down. As a new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth, gears up for release on Hulu this spring, we thought we’d take a look at Westheimer’s colorful history as an advisor, author, and resistance sniper.

1. The Nazis devastated her childhood.

Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928 in Wiesenfeld, Germany, the only child of Julius and Irma Siegel. When Ruth was just five years old, the advancing Nazi party terrorized her neighborhood and seized her father in 1938, presumably to shuttle him to a concentration camp. One year later, Karola—who eventually began using her middle name and took on the last name Westheimer with her second marriage in 1961—was sent to a school in Switzerland for her own protection. She later learned that her parents had both been killed during the Holocaust, possibly at Auschwitz.

2. She shocked classmates with her knowledge of taboo topics.

Westheimer has never been bashful about the workings of human sexuality. While working as a maid at an all-girls school in Switzerland, she made classmates and teachers gasp with her frank talk about menstruation and other topics that were rarely spoken of in casual terms.

3. She trained as a sniper for Jewish resistance fighters in Palestine.

Following the end of World War II, Westheimer left Switzerland for Israel, and later Palestine. She became a Zionist and joined the Haganah, an underground network of Jewish resistance fighters. Westheimer carried a weapon and trained as both a scout and sniper, learning how to throw hand grenades and shoot firearms. Though she never saw direct action, the tension and skirmishes could lapse into violence, and in 1948, Westheimer suffered a serious injury to her foot owing to a bomb blast. The injury convinced her to move into the comparatively less dangerous field of academia.

4. A lecture ignited her career.

 Dr. Ruth Westheimer participates in the annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2015 in New York City.
Robin Marchant, Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald

In 1950, Westheimer married an Israeli soldier and the two relocated to Paris, where she studied psychology at the Sorbonne. Though the couple divorced in 1955, Westheimer's education continued into 1959, when she graduated with a master’s degree in sociology from the New School in New York City. (She received a doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1970.) After meeting and marrying Manfred Westheimer, a Jewish refugee, in 1961, Westheimer became an American citizen.

By the late 1960s, she was working at Planned Parenthood, where she excelled at having honest conversations about uncomfortable topics. Eventually, Westheimer found herself giving a lecture to New York-area broadcasters about airing programming with information about safe sex. Radio station WYNY offered her a show, Sexually Speaking, that soon blossomed into a hit, going from 15 minutes to two hours weekly. By 1983, 250,000 people were listening to Westheimer talk about contraception and intimacy.

5. People told her to lose her accent.

Westheimer’s distinctive accent has led some to declare her “Grandma Freud.” But early on, she was given advice to take speech lessons and make an effort to lose her accent. Westheimer declined, and considers herself fortunate to have done so. “It helped me greatly, because when people turned on the radio, they knew it was me,” she told the Harvard Business Review in 2016.

6. She’s not concerned about her height, either.

In addition to her voice, Westheimer became easily recognizable due to her diminutive stature. (She’s four feet, seven inches tall.) When she was younger, Westheimer worried her height might not be appealing. Later, she realized it was an asset. “On the contrary, I was lucky to be so small, because when I was studying at the Sorbonne, there was very little space in the auditoriums and I could always find a good-looking guy to put me up on a windowsill,” she told the HBR.

7. She advises people not to take huge penises seriously.

Westheimer doesn’t frown upon pornography; in 2018, she told the Times of Israel that viewers can “learn something from it.” But she does note the importance of separating fantasy from reality. “People have to use their own judgment in knowing that in any of the sexually explicit movies, the genitalia that is shown—how should I say this? No regular person is endowed like that.”

8. She lectures on cruise ships.

Westheimer uses every available medium—radio, television, the internet, and even graphic novels—to share her thoughts and advice about human sexuality. Sometimes, that means going out to sea. The therapist books cruise ship appearances where she offers presentations to guests on how best to manage their sex lives. Westheimer often insists the crew participate and will regularly request that the captain read some of the questions.

“The last time, the captain was British, very tall, and had to say ‘orgasm’ and ‘erection,’” she told The New York Times in 2018. “Never did they think they would hear the captain talk about the things we were talking about.” Of course, that’s long been Westheimer’s objective—to make the taboo seem tame.

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