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Funny Language Comparisons

Updated on November 14, 2016
Sue Adams profile image

I grew up in Paris and Amsterdam, lived and worked in Berlin, London, and currently live in Spain. I now speak 5 languages by necessity.

Funny, multilingual secrets lead to a greater tolerance of foreigners.
Funny, multilingual secrets lead to a greater tolerance of foreigners.

International Humor

The interesting, and often humorous findings that follow, will show that the very nature of an individual language, with its origins and evolution, reflects national identity. This may sound like a gross cliché, but to experience it first hand, is both entertaining and instructive. With globalization being the future, now is the right time to take note of some hidden secrets in languages for a better understanding and tolerance of foreigners. But first, let me introduce myself.

My Credentials

The reason I consider myself qualified to write about national identity in language is simple. I speak five languages fluently through no fault or merit of my own. Born in Budapest, Hungary, my family fled Russian oppression when I was only 3 years old, for Paris, France. Having enough problems of their own, post-war French people didn’t like refugees. In fact, we were bullied at school for being foreigners. So to fit in, to no longer be called “Les sales étrangés” (the dirty foreigners) by our peers at school, we completely stopped speaking Hungarian, even at home. The consequence was that I forgot my own mother tongue. But bear with me, that was just the beginning.

My dad couldn’t find work in Paris, so he returned to Hungary. The iron curtain fell and my father was stuck there, never able to return to his family. Then, when I was eleven, my mother met a Dutchman who took our family to Amsterdam (Holland). At eighteen, I joined a ballet company in Berlin (Germany). When my dancing career was over, I moved to London (England) for many years. Finally, to put the icing on the cake, I now live in sunny Spain.So I ended up speaking 5 languages fluently by pure necessity rather than ambition. That is the reason I feel qualified to share with you, a few interesting linguistic discoveries I made along my travels. The first one exemplifies the linguistic conundrums and possible misunderstandings arising from when people from different countries are introduced to each other.

I am delighted, enchanted, encantada, verrukt, to make your quaintance!
I am delighted, enchanted, encantada, verrukt, to make your quaintance!

How do You Do? Delighted / Happy / Pleasure to Meet You

When the French get introduced to someone they say: “enchanté/e“ (enchanted). It is obviously derived from the word ”chanter” (to sing). In Spanish, the same: Encantado/a, comes from Cantar (to sing). So the Latinos sing with joy when they meet you, whereas the English are usually delighted to meet you - they receive light? Or rather venerably switch the spotlight from themselves onto the person they meet, by de-lighting themselves? Could this explain the famous English trait for politeness? That is plausible. Although the noun “delight” translates into; (French) délice, (Spanish) alegría, (Dutch) genot, and (German) freude, which brings us back to square one, happiness!

Hey ho, we seem to be going around in circles here. No wonder there are so many unintentional misunderstandings, disagreements, and wars in the world. People seem to believe they say something different, when in fact, they very often mean the same thing. And it’s all down to deeply embedded idioms in their respective languages. I better draw up a comparative table to clarify the situation.

Languages Comparison


Unintentional Misunderstandings

* By the way, the Dutch word for "enchanted" is “verrukt”. But be careful, you Dutch people, because in German, “verrückt” means “crazy”. Now I ask you! Imagine...

A Dutchman is being introduced to a German.

“Ich bin verrückt Sie zu treffen!” = I am crazy to meet you!

When he should have said: “Ich bin entzückt, Sie zu treffen.”

I am enchanted to have made the previous, to me, interesting observations. Now here is a less hidden secret: without a little help from the French, the English would not have found their national identity at all.

Posh English is French

The English language evolved from Anglo-Frisian, a language that was spoken by Germanic tribes in Northern Europe. Later on he Romans influenced the English language so many English words have their roots in Latin. Less know is that the English language has adopted over 1,700 actual French words in their vocabulary. Where do they come from?

In the olden days, English aristocracy spoke French when they didn’t want their servants and children to hear what they were talking about. This behavior has embedded itself into modern English.

For example:
"Before saying adieu, the bon vivant with a laisser faire attitude had a déja vu of the woman's décolleté that triggered their affair after an apéritife and an à la carte *entrecôte consumed with good étiquette in an après-ski chalet restaurant."

b.t.w. * entre = between + côte = rib, i.e. an entrecôte is the bit of meat between the ribs.

So what about a spare rib, the most inexpensive cut of pork and beef ribs? Is it called a spare rib because the animal they came from had a spare one that he didn't need anymore? Which brings me to the most peculiar attitude the English have towards eating meat.

Said the sheep: I hope I don't turn into mutton any time soon!
Said the sheep: I hope I don't turn into mutton any time soon!

As if Meat Didn't Come from Living Animals

The unlucky animal that has been slaughtered for an English dinner plate suddenly acquires a French name.

  • Beef comes from the French “Boeuf”, an ox. But in English, beef can also come from a cow. B.t.w. an Ox is a castrated bull (taureau).
  • When you eat veal, the French “veau”, you are eating a cow’s child.
  • Mutton comes from the French animal “mouton” that was a sheep when still happily grazing in the field.
  • Pork is meat from the French animal “porc" or "cochon”, a pig.
  • Poultry (chicken and turkey), relates to “la poule”, a French chicken, regardless of gender.

Also, the English do not like to kill animals en masse, no, they prefer to “cull” them. So what does that say about English national identity? English people, well known for their compassion, are perhaps a little squeamish about eating and killing animals.

Forget meat and animals for now, and let me share a more personal experience which lead me to find out which language best conveys the feeling of "Happiness".

A Happy Car Journey

Singing out loud in the car is very therapeutic.
Singing out loud in the car is very therapeutic.

Which Language is Happiest?

On a beautiful sunny day in the car, I began to sing an improvised song which went something like this: ‘I am happy, oh so very, very happy’. Then, just to amuse myself, I began uttering such utopian feelings in a number of different languages. This accidental experiment lead me to the question: Which language can best express happiness?

To me, the English way of shouting out and feeling exhilaratingly happy, sounds like a cockerel exuding his dawn wake up call. In French, the same words: ‘Je suis tellement heureuse’ sound much more poetic, gentle. I tried to say the same words of happiness in German: ‘Ich bin so glücklich’ but here, the words seem too serious, too determined. Besides, moving your tongue inside your mouth to pronounce the word "glücklich" doesn't make me feel "glücklich" (happy) at all. It feels like I am about to vomit. You try saying "glücklich" and feel happy while doing so.

Then, still driving in my car along the motor way, with the window open, I sang out loud the same words in Dutch: ‘I voel me zo lekker, ik ben zo gelukkig’ and I noticed that in the Dutch language, the tone and mood of the words sounded very childlike and genuinely enthusiastic.

Was I happiest in Amsterdam?
Was I happiest in Amsterdam?

Hmm, Interesting!

Interesting, I thought. Is this a valid linguistic phenomenon, or just my own personal interpretation of those four languages, meaning I must have been happiest when I lived in Holland as a teenager; probably a bit of both. The other interesting thing is that in German and Dutch, the words for happiness: “glücklich” and “gelukkig” both contain the word ”luck”. In other words, in Germany and in Holland you are lucky when you are happy. Or one could reverse it, and say that you are happy when you are lucky. Not so in French or English. In French: “bonheur” (happiness) literally translates to “good hour”, implying that you can only be happy some of the time, at a certain hour. How negative!

I concluded that only the English word “happy” is a truly independent word, conveying the emotion of feeling very well, and very good, by its sheer happy sound. Think about it, when you laugh, you utter the sound "hahaha...". Sometimes you nearly pee yourself with laughter. is that where the word "happy comes from? I doubt it, but it is a funny thought nevertheless. So thumbs up for the English language on expressing happiness.

Have a God Laugh Before You Go

I so much appreciate readers getting to the bottom of my articles; I like to reward you with a good laugh. Watch this hilarious video:” Do You Speak English” by Simon Pegg and the Big Train comedy sketch team, on the life of an English tourist in France.

How Many Languages do you speak?

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Sharing the Fun

Comparing several languages leads to the discovery that every language hides some deeply rooted secrets about their respective national identities. Sharing those secrets is both entertaining and educational. It may even be a way towards greater intercultural tolerance. I could only cover the tip of the iceberg, so why not write down your own idioms causing embarrassing misunderstandings or other funny language anecdotes in a comment below?
© 2016 JULIETTE KANDO - You may link to this article, but you may Not copy it. Copied content will be reported with a DMCA notice and will be removed.


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    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 17 months ago from Long Island, NY

      Great additional info Sue. You should really put that stuff directly in your hub. As for using the word "article", I do the same thing when I refer to it for other readers because I realize that people who come from Google don't know what a hub is. So you and I are on the same page with that idea.

      Hey, is that another idiom? "Same page" - you probably know the answer.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 17 months ago from Andalusia

      PS: The French equivalent to " let the cat out of the bag" would be "le grand mot est lâché" (the secret is out) or "éventer la mèche", i.e. to fan the fuse that will detonate an explosion, a metaphor for revealing a shocking truth.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 17 months ago from Andalusia

      According to another article I wrote here, "English Learning made Easy", English has its roots partly in Germany and the Netherlands plus French, a Latin based language.

      Good one, Glenn, if you said to a Frenchman: "Tu laisses le chat sortir du sac" (You let the cat out of the bag), he would go: "Quoi?" (What? which cat? what bag?).

      We didn't know it at the time, but my brother and I used to make interlinguistic idiomatic jokes all the time when we were kids like saying: "T'es completement marteau!" (You are totally crazy) to Dutch kids: "Je bent helemaal hamer" (You are a total hammer), a meaningless statement to those Dutch kids.

      But the same idiom "T'es completement marteau!" said to an English person could be misunderstood as: " You are totally hammered!" Instead of "You are completely crazy". It is true however, that when you are pissed out of your brains in England, you act totally crazy.

      On a side note: Don't you think we should refrain from using the word "hub" for "article" in case our "hubs" get transferred to other sites?

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 17 months ago from Long Island, NY

      It looks like English is becoming the language of the world. It is spoken in so many foreign countries already. As you said, English has evolved from other languages, such as French and Latin.

      Much of the problem with foreigners misunderstanding one another through translation is due to idiomatic expressions.

      I guess you let the cat out of the bag with your hub. Ha ha. Try translating that one for the same meaning. Since it's an idiom meaning to divulge a secret, it applies well to this hub. Doesn't it? (I'm just having some fun with you here. Anyway, you did ask for my own most entertaining language comparison).

      I found it very interesting when you tried to express happiness without using words that made you feel unhappy. It was a good example of the fact that the feelings behind words might not necessarily match the meaning.

      The video at the end got a few chuckles out of me.