The Wrong Words

Mistakes happen. Two of my many language mistakes happened while playing cards with friends. I wanted to say cut the cards! what I said translates into get out of here! or Get lost! (for the people out there who know Swiss German, what I said after putting the shuffled deck in front of them was “Hau ab!” instead of “abheben”) But thankfully they knew what I meant and weren’t offended. The second one happened when we were trumping but the opponents had ALL the winning cards. We were doomed to a counter-match, they knew it, we knew it but they were enjoying themselves, playing the moment big and said things like ‘Hmm, what card should I play?’ or ‘Oh, this is diff-i-cult!’ What I wanted to say was Don’t be so hypocritical! or phony, the correct German word would be “Scheinheilig”. The right word for the right situation. I had heard this used before but this was the first time I had tried to use it. For some reason I only used the last part of the word “Heilig” which translates into Don’t be so holy!

In different Latin languages quite often the same words are used and sometimes just pronounced differently. In German, for example: Haus and house, French: façade and facade, Italian: macaroni and macaroni. There is a lot of mix and matching going on and the more languages you know, I’m told the easier it gets. Getting the right word and pronouncing it correctly isn’t just a problem for English speaking people learning another language. It happens to people trying to speak English, too. When I was having problems and making blunders sometimes my Swiss friends would tell me the wrong words they used when they were speaking English. It made me feel better, so if you are having problems learning a language I hope this makes you feel better, too.

Tired was the word she wanted but didn’t know. She used the French fatigué and shortened it to fat. While she was walking with friends this person wanted to know if the others were also tired. “I’m fat, you look a little fat too, are you fat?”.

Vegetables was the word he wanted but didn’t know. He used the French word légumes with an American accent. “I’d like some ‘ledge-ums’ with that, please”.

Pass the buck was the idiom he wanted to use. He had heard it used before and the first time he tried to use it, it didn’t come out perfect. “Don’t try to pass the bucket to me!”

Full was the word he wanted but didn’t know. He found some English words he thought were right. After a large meal he was offered seconds but he refused because he was full, “I’m sorry, I’m fed-up.”

Order a rare steak was what he wanted to do. He used the German word bekommen which means ‘to get’, and didn’t know the word ‘rare’. At a restaurant “I become a bloody steak, please.”

Sheets was the right word used in the right sense, but unfortunately somewhat mispronounced. At a hotel: “Are the shiits clean?”

When was the word they should have used. The German word would be wenn which translates into English either as if or when. So you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right. In a travel guide for Germany there was a description about going up some stairs in a house and what you will see and then you must come down: “If you come down, on your left you will see…”, or you could just stay up there forever.

Holiday was the right word used in the right sense, but mispronounced. He was talking to an American in Switzerland and wanted to say that today is a holiday: “Today is a holy day”.

One person wanted to end a letter with something like sending you big kisses ( or I give you a big kiss on your cheek) and translated it directly from Swiss German without looking the words up in a dictionary, the result was “ I kiss you to the very power of your back”.

Grated was the word she wanted but didn’t know. She went to French and came up with râpé. Since the Swiss German is similar to the French she was sure the English must be a variation of that too. At the cheese counter in a store: “Do you have raped cheese? If you don’t, would you mind raping it for me?”. Now that got some raised eyebrows.

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