In this column, author Adam Jacot de Boinod explores the weird and wonderful world of German, French and Italian vocabulary, and discovers some rather interesting terms. Let us take a look at what he has found.


German is highly imaginative in her adoption of phrases from their literal definition to be given a whole new metaphorical sense:

aufgetakelt sein: to get all dolled up (literally, with all sails set)
Besucherritze: the gap where the middle of three people lie when two single beds are pushed together (literally, a visitor’s trench)
Sitzfleisch: the ability to sit through long and boring events without losing concentration (literally, seat meat)
Staubsauger: a vacuum cleaner (literally, a dust sucker)
Flimmerkasten: television (literally, a flickering box)
Giftschrank: a cupboard where things are kept that may only be lent out to someone with special permission (literally, a poison cabinet)
Stutenbeißen: the special behaviour of women in a rivalry situation (literally, mare biting)
an jemandem einen Affen gefressen haben: to be infatuated with someone (literally, to have eaten a monkey in someone)

French has come up with some of the very best vocabulary:

xerox: an unoriginal or robotic person
dame-pipi: a female toilet assistant
accordéon: an extensive criminal record
bondieuserie: ostentatious piety
serein: fine rain falling from a cloudless sky
un petit cinq-à-sept: a quick five to seven o’clock (an
afternoon quickie with your lover before going home to your spouse)
se ranger: to get married for domestic comfort and put life on a regular footing
lézarder: to lie around basking in the sun like a lizard
la mie: the inside of bread
chantepleurer: to sing and weep simultaneously

In English, we can be green with envy, see red, or feel a bit blue, and colours also have a strong symbolic force in Italian idioms:

romanzo rosa: a pink (i.e. romantic) story
di punto in bianco: suddenly, unexpectedly (literally, from a point in white)
un coro di voci bianche: a children’s chorus (literally, a chorus of white voices)
matrimonio in bianco: an unconsummated marriage (literally, a white marriage)
mettere nero su bianco: to write down (literally, to put black on white)
un libro giallo: a thriller book (literally, a yellow book)
giallo d’invidia: very envious (literally, yellow with envy)

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the BBC panel game QI for Stephen Fry. He is a British author having written three books about unusual words with Penguin Press.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Germany Magazine.’

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