Wednesday, May 20, 2015

International pet names

I've always loved to learn new languages because they show so much about the people who speak it and their culture. Somebody once told me there are several words for "sand" in the languages of people who live in the desert. Equally, the choice of words for "ice" seems to be huge among the languages spoken in the Arctic, and in Asia, there's a bigger variety for "rice" than anywhere else.

In Germany, we have an extensive variation for . . . (can you guess?) . . . rain. Nieselregen (very fine rain), Wolkenbruch (literally translates as broken cloud and signifies a downpour), Landregen (ordinary rain, rather persistent), Dauerregen (rain that never stops), the expression "es giesst in Stroemen" (it rains like a river), Schauer (if you translate it as shower, you get the meaning - short and strong), Sommerregen (summer rain), Schneeregen (sleet) . . . in general, the English language has more words than German, particularly when it comes to verbs, but in rain, we can hold our own!

Now why do I talk about rain? I didn't want to talk about weather at all, but about sweet pet names in my blog today. Because I realized that the funniest words you can learn in another language are pet names . . . names of endearment . . . I mean the names you give to your lovers and and your children, something very important for romance writers!

In American English, as everybody knows due to Hollywood movies, you can safely start with "honey" or "sugar". I once started to call my daughter "sugar" in German, which is the word "Zucker". Not only does it sound too harsh, but everybody stared at me and thought I was trying to be too smart. So I stopped doing that and now call her rabbit, which is perfectly acceptable in German, not only for kids but also very popular for couples. A normal phrase in a German household could be "Rabbit, have you seen my glasses?" However, the standard German endearment of a man to a woman is "mouse", made stronger by "Mäuschen", little mouse. Try that on an American woman!

In return, the standard German pet name of a woman for a man is "bear". I assure you it doesn't sound strange - you can even buy postcards, pre-designed, from "mouse" to "bear".  I don't know what an American woman would do if you addressed her as "mouse", but if a man really wants to insult a German woman, he should start calling her "baby" - she'll think he's the most chauvinistic male on earth. I admit I still balk whenever I read it in an American romance.

The French have their own funny pet names. A mother or father often calls a child "mon chou", which can be translated into two things . . . a "chou" is either a cream bag or a cabbage. Picture a mother pulling her daughter's pigtails and saying "yes, my cabbage".

But if you look at certain German variations, you come up with even stranger things. "Meen soeten schietbueddel", for example, is Plattdeutsch, an old German language spoken in the North of Germany. I'm not sure if I wrote it correctly, but that's what it sounds like. It's used from a parent to a child and means "my sweet shit-bag". Now, can you top that?

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  1. Fun post, Beate. Pumpkin is used sometimes.

  2. That was fun, Beate. I always had silly nicknames for my kids and often for the students I taught. I loved to tease my big, trying-to-be-tough eighth grade boys by calling them my 'chickie babies'.

  3. What an awesome post! I love reading about different languages and cultures. I guess the only language that's truly universal is the language of love! Although, the way we express endearments certainly seems to differ. Too funny about "mouse" and "bear." I think I'll call Hubby my "big bear" tonight and see how he likes it. :)

  4. He, he, Ginny, let us know how it worked!
    Margaret, I love pumpkin as an English endearment. In German, it sounds much like an insult, though! :-) That's the difficult thing with languages - what might be right in one language can be so wrong in another.
    Patricia, I bet your boys weren't amused . . . I bet they took their (private) revenge and gave you a nickname, too!

    1. He loved it, Beate. In fact I think he growled! He has a great sense of humor. As an aside, my mom (who is from another culture) always laughs when she hears me call my hubby "honey." She says, it reminds her too much of "honey-baked ham..." LOL

    2. He loved it, Beate. In fact I think he growled! He has a great sense of humor. As an aside, my mom (who is from another culture) always laughs when she hears me call my hubby "honey." She says, it reminds her too much of "honey-baked ham..." LOL

  5. Very fun read. And there are also those cute combinations like Hasenspatz (rabbit sparrow) or Mausebär (mouse bear). I also like to give my kids vegetable names like meine kleine Zwiebel (my little onion) or Gürkchen (little cucumber) or Erdbärchen (a word play on strawberry and little bear). The possibilities are endless ;-). Though, I think they prefer their pet nicknames :-).

  6. Fun and interesting post. I like it when my husband calls me "sweet-tea."

  7. I see there's plenty of scope for nicknames! Though "my little onion" is certainly the most unusual one I've heard so far!
    Ginny, which culture does your mother come from?

  8. I've just given away the free copy of A New Life to JimNLaurie who commented at our Café on Facebook. It seems that quite a few people had trouble posting here, so they left a comment there, and I promised that I would count both.