Le Mot Juste

This poster is at Biarritz, in the Basque country of south west France, very near to Spain, a resort made famous by wealthy 19th c. British visitors - hence the four languages. It's in fact at a beach where surfing was first introduced to Europe. In all four languages, the message is exactly the same, albeit expressed slightly differently.

However, in English it's not uncommon to use foreign words without translation. The meaning is widely understood and a direct translation may be quite difficult. This can be an advantage if it allows us to communicate a complex idea or one we hadn't thought of before.

So from French we have "faux pas", literally a false step, meaning an embarrassing error and, staying with the Fs, but more involved, "feuilleton" which is literally a small leaf, but meaning a magazine or newspaper, or a part of it, which publishes non-political news, literary and art criticism, fashion and society commentary, gossip and general lifestyle items. Phew!

German, which has many compound nouns, is particularly useful as a source of quite multidimensional notions that would take a long time to translate. For example there's "Schadenfreude", the joy in another's misfortune, that a lot of people recognise. More mundanely and more positively, there's also Hinterland, Abseil and Wanderlust, to name but a few from geography.


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