Breast Warts

dictionariesI love languages. Spoken (and unspoken) languages, programming languages, secret underworld languages, creoles and pidgins—they’re all cool. You could say that I’m a… fixalinguist? One of the polyglotsessed? A linguiphile? I don’t know if there’s a word for someone who’s into languages, but whatever it is, that’s me.

Luckily for me, my sweetie is a bird of the feather. Our apartment is filled to the rafters with language resources and tapes: The entire Just Listen and Learn language library (from Arabic to Spanish, with stops in between for most of Europe and Asia); Norwegian for Travellers, Essential Kanji, El Principito (The Little Prince, in Spanish); at least a couple dozen dictionaries for all manners of tongue… we got ‘em all.

Notice, however, that I said I have a LOVE of languages—I didn’t say I could SPEAK them. That’s where Renée kicks my ass five ways to next Tuesday, as she speaks more languages than I even dream of. I’m still trying to learn my second (French), and some days I wonder if I have even the barest of facility with my mother tongue. I’m working on it.

Habits of the Language-Obsessed

One of the things I often do when I’m hanging out is to pull a random dictionary off of the bookshelf and start looking up words. This evening I was perusing a German-English dictionary (we have quite a few German books, because that’s one of the languages Renée speaks). If I can ever get to a good level in French, German will possibly be the next language I want to learn. I don’t know why—in many ways, learning Spanish or Chinese might be more immediately useful—but I think German is pretty neat.

Besides the fact that speaking it is just too much fun (I warned you I was a freak), one of the things I like about German is how logical it is. Just like English, many German words are just other German words smashed together. For example, one of my favourite German expressions is schadenfreude, which directly translates as schaden (damage) + freude (pleasure): the pleasure of seeing someone else suffer. Oh, those wacky Germans!

Word Arithmetic

Some of the other neat ones: onomatopoeia (words whose sounds imitate or evoke what they actually refer to, like boom, or squish) is lautmale’rei in German, which consists of laut (tone) + male’rei (painting), which is a beautiful way of describing what the word really means. Or, some grosser ones (because I’m totally infantile): bunion = entzündeter Fußballen which equals entzündeter (inflammation) + Fußballen (football); rectum, which is mastdarm, which turns out to be mast (fat) and darm (intestine). Hmm.

This is all well and good. Who was it, however, and what were they thinking when they coined the word for nipple? In German, nipple is brustwarze, which consists of brust (“breast”), and warze (“wart”).

Breast wart.

Isn’t language cool?

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