Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Trouser support – a case for social services?


Raising children with an American husband in the UK can be quite a linguistic challenge. For the most part, English people understand Americans and nod kindly when they hear the word “diapers” for “nappies” or “laundry” for “the washing”. Of course, we learnt quickly that it is advisable to use the word “trousers” rather than “pants” when referring to outer leg wear. Having lived in the US and the UK, I am used to adapting my language. Hence I thought it was quite amusing how my husband learnt to do the same.

Here is a scene from the local Mothercare where my husband once went shopping for our 2year old daughter:
 “Excuse me, do you have any suspenders?”
 “For whom do you want to buy these?”
 “For my daughter here.”
 “Suspenders?”
 “Yes, suspenders.” My  husband now moved his arms away from his chest as if suspending straps.
“Oh, you mean braces!”

My husband was crushed when he finally understood what the lady thought he had wanted to buy. We were both relieved that she did not immediately contact the police or social services and that he was not mistaken as a fetishist or worse.
In American English, braces are devices you put in your mouth to have your teeth corrected. Apparently this is also the case in British English. However, here braces are also used to hold your trousers in place. Suspenders on the other hand are garters in American English, i.e. devices to keep your stockings from falling down, which for a 2year old child would indeed have been a curious purchase.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists both suspenders and braces as “One of a pair of straps of leather or webbing used to support the trousers” next to the other meanings of how both suspenders and braces hold things (teeth or stockings) in place. For suspenders, it is added that the meaning “to support the trousers” is American. Since we had learnt this through practice, this set of definition was not too surprising. Going through the list of meanings for braces, however, I also found this: “A leathern thong which slides up and down the cord of a drum, and is used to regulate the tension of the skins, and thus the pitch of the note.” The term “thong” caught my attention here because it opens a whole new dimension of meanings, depending whether you are in the UK or in Australia. Maybe it was a good thing that we were only looking for “a pair of straps” to hold up trousers rather than “thongs” for a toddler (in a shoe store).

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

What translators and coasters have in common


German is just fascinating! 

Look at what happens when we exchange the prefix in: Übersetzer (which means both translator and somebody who ferries you over, although literally it is "to sit above").

Über- means “over, above” and is sometimes even used in English to express a superlative. The opposite of “über” is "unter" - and indeed there is also one word where Unter is used with respect to language: subtitles are Untertitel.

But an Untersetzer is a coaster. Always. 

An Übersetzer might use an Untersetzer – but the reverse is rarely the case. An Übersetzer must dransetzen (give it his all) everything to get the right message across (über) and if he does, he might end up as the total Überflieger! Flying above! But that requires stamina – Durchsetzungskraft or the power to “sit” (read “push”) through. Can I draufsetzen (add) one more? Or was the play with setzen and what the various prefixes do überzeugend (convincing)?