Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Folk translation

The phony war refers to a period at the beginning of World War II when there was little or no actual fighting. In French, it is rendered as 'le drôle de guerre'.

A tax haven is a jurisdiction with low or zero taxes. In French, it translates as 'paradis fiscal'.

'Drôle', of course, means 'funny', not 'phony'. And 'paradis' means 'heaven' rather than 'haven'.

In each case, it seems, an unfamiliar word has been reinterpreted as a very similar sounding but more familiar word which still makes good sense in the context.

It's a sort of folk etymology across the language barrier. I wonder if there are other examples.

Not quite the same thing, but I remember reading in a German women's magazine that English speakers have a special view of close relations because they call them 'next of skin'. Or there are those 'English' ads in Germany that were shown to be misunderstood by the public: the cosmetics store Douglas used 'Come in and find out', and it was apparently thought to mean 'Come in and then find your way out'.
'next of skin' fits the bill, I think. Of course it would have to have been translated. But Germans don't translate English any more, it seems.
I can think of several such examples, e. g. the German word "Fisimatenten", apparently it comes from French or Canadian soldiers coming back to where they were staying way after the time they should have, and saying by way of an excuse "J'ai visité ma tante". Rumour also has it that "mutterseelenallein" has a similar background (rumour in this case being my Dad the German teacher), coming from "moi tout seul". There are also many words derived from Latin sayings in church services which people transformed, alas I can't think of any right now...
Your second example seems to be a case of regular folk etymology, along the lines of 'Jerusalem (girasole) artichoke' etc.

The first one is purely phonological and doesn't involve any element of translation.

Nice words, though. Hadn't come across them before.
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