Here are some more insights into the oddity of the German Language. The last “Fun with Translation” was indeed so much fun that I decided to do some more. German is often quite descriptive in naming things. The idea of smushing words together to describe something quite exactly is a germanlanguagetrait.
This gives some interesting translations of animal names when you go directly into English. Here are a few basic ones that make some sense in English, but are still cool.
- Wash-bear /Waschbär – Raccoon. It is a small bear-like thing that washes itself.
- Spiked-pig / Stachelschwein – Porcupine. I’ve never really looked at the face of a porcupine, but I guess it could be somewhat porcine. Definitely is spiky.
- Stink-animal / Stinktier – Skunk. Simple and explanatory.
- Shielded-toad /Schildkrote – Turtle. Again a straight forward explanation in the word.
- Belted-animal /Gürteltier – Armadillo.
- River-horse /Flusspferd – Hippopotamus. This ends up being just a translation of the Greek meaning of hippopotamus.
- Nose-horn /Nashorn – Rhinoceros. Like the hippo is a translation from the Greek yet somehow more descriptive. According to the translation site I use to double check spelling, the “white” and “black” rhino species in English are called the pointed-mouth-nose-horn and wide-mouth-nose-horn in German.
Animal or Baked Good
Ok, let’s play a round of Animal or Baked Good… <applause & flashing lights>
The word for squirrel that I learned is Eichkätzchen which would translated to something like “little oaken cat”, but this is apparently only said in the far north. Around these parts they call it an Eichhörnchen, which would mean “little oaken horn”. I guess the shape of the tail reminded someone of a curved horn. That word though makes me think of something you get in a bakery. The pastry is a Nusshörnchen, a curved thing filled with nut paste and covered in almonds. So without too much misspeaking you could order 2 pastries and squirrel. I don’t think you would get the squirrel though, they don’t fit in the bags so well.
Ok, a snail is Schnecke. It just means snail as far as I know, but it gets used to describe a lot of things that are spirals. My favorite breakfast pastry is a Nussschnecke (nut snail) which looks a lot like a cinnamon roll. There are Mohnschnecke (poppy snail) as well. The pastries are spiral tastiness. As a final parting shot in Animal or Baked Good, a slug is a “naked snail” (Nacktschnecke).
A Few Rodents Among Friends
First off, rodents are called “nibbling animals” (Nagetier).
Guinea pig as an animal is a Meerschweinchen, which means “little ocean pig”. No clue on the why. It is certainly an interesting name, but not so descriptive. However a guinea pig as a test subject is a Versuchskaninchen or “testing bunny”. A Gerbil is a Wüstenrennmaus or a “desert running mouse”. Umm ok, maybe someone knows the why?
The Final Reversal
Most good stories have a reversal right at the end. Here is this one. A snake is called Schlange. So far so normal, but a line of people waiting for something is also a type of snake. It is a waiting snake, “Warteschlange.” So the German language not only uses descriptive words for the animals, uses the animal names to describe the world.