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:

Hasenbrot: a sandwich that has been taken to work or school and is now rather stale (literally, a hare sandwich)
Futterneid: the desire to eat what is on another person’s plate (literally, feeding envy)
Schlurfbude: a fast-food restaurant (literally, a slurp dump)
Politpopper: politically correct and correctly dressed (literally, a square politician)
da lachen die Hühner: you must be joking (literally, this makes the chickens laugh)
Gesicht wie ein Feuermelder: to be so angry that one’s face turns red (literally, a face like a fire extinguisher)
krankfeiern: to call in sick (literally, to celebrate illness)
Leichenschmaus: the meal after the funeral (literally, a corpse banquet)

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

le rouquin: red wine with a lot of body (literally, the red-haired one)
être rouge comme un tomate: blushing from embarrassment (literally, to be as red as a tomato)
jaune d’envie: yellow (i.e. green) with envy
rire jaune: to give a forced, insincere laugh (literally, to laugh yellow)
voir jaune: to be pessimistic (literally, to see yellow)
un jaune: a strike-breaker (literally, a yellow)
faire quelqu’un marron: to cheat on someone (literally, to make someone brown)
être marron: to be cheated, fooled (literally, to be brown)
un médecin marron: a bad/poorly educated/fake doctor (quack) (literally, a brown doctor)
un avocat marron: a crooked lawyer (literally, a brown lawyer)
voir des éléphants roses: to be high, to hallucinate (literally, to see pink elephants)
être gris: to be drunk (literally, to be grey)

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

cicisbeo: an acknowledged lover of a married woman
mammismo: maternal control and interference that continues into adulthood
sgasata: a sudden and violent acceleration
scrostarsi: to remove oneself as if one were a scab (to move or go away because one’s presence is not desired)
ubbriaco come un marinaio inglese: as drunk as an English sailor
menefreghista: a person who has an ‘I don’t care’ attitude
carita pelosa: generosity with an ulterior motive
biodegradabile: someone who falls in love easily and often
borsetto: a man’s handbag
ammazza: it’s a killer!, wow!

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 Scan Magazine Ltd.’

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