:fa_film: Or The Subtitles of Idiots?



  • And yeah, I know that with a pretentious title like 'On The Subtleties of Idioms', I'm just begging for someone to change it to something silly, but WGAF.

    Anyway... most languages have more than one way of expressing similar ideas, especially English, which seems to rip off words and phrases from other languages with an almost gleeful abandon. These idioms often carry nuances that aren't always obvious, especially to someone learning the language as an outsider. When you consider cross-cultural differences, you get some pretty remarkable variation in meanings of what on the surface look like the same statement.

    Consider the following phrases from different countries, all of which basically mean 'there's nothing we can do to change this', and look at the cultural values each one expresses.

    American English: "Shit happens." Expresses anger and frustration, a desire to change what you know you can't.

    British English: "Keep a stiff upper lip." Originally was a call to keep going with a duty, but today mostly is sarcastic and implies a sort of weary humor. From what I've heard, it's not as common as it used to be, as the American phrase seems to be replacing it.

    French: "C'est la vie." Encourages taking a philosophical view of the problem - that's just how it is, and in the long run will it really matter?

    Mexican Spanish: "Ni moto." Similar to Shit Happens, but more negative - implies a slow burn or a building anger at impotence in the face of adversity.

    Japanese: "仕方がない". Do your duty without complaint, bury your feelings and keep going as if there's nothing wrong.

    Russian: "ничего." Utter fatalism and despair in the face of the inevitable.

    That's my understanding of them, anyway; if I got any of these wrong, let me know. Most of these are used more casually than this most of the time, but the implications are still there and color the tone of the conversation.



  • Was expecting a Hipster poem. Was disappointed.

    Regarding the topic: Not quite sure where this is supposed to lead?

    In German it would be "Dumm gelaufen", by the way. Roughly translated as: "Not the cleverest of moves."



  • Preserved the title for future generations.

    Anyway, yeah, this is interesting. Each generation is shaped by thoughts and ideas they are able to express through their native tongue. But they also add their own ideas and memes into the language, which will then shape the next generation. Given enough time, you end up with diverse cultures, where biologically similar people have very different social values and ways of looking at the world.

    Reminds me of the idea from 1984 the novel, where government is trying to shape culture by changing words in the language. If you can't express a dissenting thought to other humans, can you even express it to yourself. Or is it just a vague feeling you have within yourself?

    The American and Russian have similar feelings, but because one expresses them by cursing jokingly and the other through a "nichevo" shrug, you end up with two very different ways of looking at the world.


  • mod

    What interests me is that 仕方, "c'est la vie", and "shit happens" all have almost identical denotations: Sometimes bad things happen and there's nothing you can do about it.

    But Americans connote "And that's awful", the French connote more of a "so why worry about it?", and the Japanese connote "So pretend everything's fine".



  • @ScholRLEA said:

    American English: "Shit happens." Expresses anger and frustration, a desire to change what you know you can't.

    Anger? No. Frustration maybe.

    I've never heard anybody say "shit happens" in anger.

    @Yamikuronue said:

    But Americans connote "And that's awful", the French connote more of a "so why worry about it?",

    I think both the American and French meaning is "so why worry about it?"

    Meh. Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.



  • @ScholRLEA said:

    there's nothing we can do to change this

    Polish: "chuj z tym." Self-explanatory.



  • @ScholRLEA said:

    Russian: "ничего." Utter fatalism and despair in the face of the inevitable.

    I'm not sure about that. I've always understood it as "there's nothing to worry about" instead of "threre's nothing we can do".



  • @ScholRLEA said:

    "Ni moto."

    huh? that doesn't make sense in spanish(altough, i'm not mexican so there)

    in my part of the patagonia the nearest one that i can think is: "Son cosas que pasan"

    one that i find interesting is: Maktub


  • :belt_onion:

    @Jarry said:

    one that i find interesting is: Maktub

    That is an Arabic word, could be reminiscent of Ottomans in the Spain?



  • probably, there are lots of arab words in spanish from that time
    it isn't that common, but i've heard it a few times


  • mod

    @ScholRLEA said:

    American English: "Shit happens." Expresses anger and frustration, a desire to change what you know you can't.

    Not really the way I've heard it used. Generally heard it in situations when something unexpected ruins your plans. "Shit happens," is a way of expressing frustration and shrugging it off all at once.



  • @abarker said:

    @ScholRLEA said:
    American English: "Shit happens." Expresses anger and frustration, a desire to change what you know you can't.

    Not really the way I've heard it used. Generally heard it in situations when something unexpected ruins your plans. "Shit happens," is a way of expressing frustration and shrugging it off all at once.

    Exactly what I was thinking but expressed better. Thank you!



  • OK, fair enough. I did say that most of the time these phrases are used more casually than this, but yes, that's a good point, I have to think about it there.

    That having been said, I've usually heard anger in it. Maybe that's just me.



  • Dutch: “Pech gehad,” often shortened to just “pech.” Says that it’s not your fault, nothing to be done, carry on. (With different intonation, it also means, “Whatever — see if I care.”)



  • Weird - "pech" means "bad luck" in Polish too.



  • @Gaska said:

    Weird - "pech" means "bad luck" in Polish too.

    It may well have come from one of the Germanic languages - while Polish is a Slavic-Slavonic language, there was plenty of cultural exchange with Germany and Denmark (most of it unwilling on the part of the Poles), including vocabulary. 'Bad luck' sounds like something Poles might have picked up from, say, the Teutonic Knights who were sacking their towns a few hundred years ago while being all 'chivalrous' in the name of the HRE or what have you ("We're here for your taxes!" "But you already took all our food!" "Well, that's just your bad luck, isn't it?").

    Filed Under: And the descendants of both that peasant and that knight led eventually to... me. No wonder I'm so fucked up.



  • ScholRLEA, would you consider adding the literal translations for each of the languages listed? For example, C'est la vie" means, "That's life."



  • @Gaska said:

    "pech" means "bad luck" in Polish too

    Also in German, so there’s a kind of continuum of bad luck running west to east here it seems.



  • Well, Dutch and German are both Germanic languages, while Polish is not - so it's more interesting.


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