Monthly Archives: March 2015

Squirrel: the hardest word in any language?

I am grateful to the BBC for drawing my attention to some entertaining language facts. And before you ask, yes, the word ‘squirrel’ does feature in one of them. But more of that later.


In their ‘Language’ section, on a page that must be old or considered unimportant because it’s archived and no longer updated, you can find a section called ‘weird words’, where people could send in their own favourite examples of unusual, difficult or just embarrassing (because they had got them wrong) words, from a multiplicity of languages. And as a company that is trying to promote the hashtag #welovelanguage, this is just great for us and for all those who, whilst not academic/professional linguists, are translators, interpreters or just love words. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favourites from across the world or, specifically in this instance, Germany.

For a start, try “Streichholzschächtelchen”. Despite its impressive size, it’s a diminutive. What’s worse, is that it’s a diminutive of “Streichholzschachtel”, which itself isn’t a particularly big thing, being a matchbox.

Or if you think that’s not a big enough word, how about “Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzungsüberschreitung”, which (and I’ve checked) means ‘to exceed the speed limit’.

Some wit posted a retaliatory message in the ‘German’ section, telling us that for native German speakers one of the hardest English phrases to say is “Wombles of Wimbledon”. Well, yes. Always assuming the Germans have heard of the Wombles, it’s not likely to come up in conversation as often as ‘matchbox’.

Finally, to return to our friend the squirrel, this was the first item I found under the ‘weird words’ section. Specifically, the comment was that this word is one of the hardest to say in a “multitude of languages”. Unfortunately, only two languages were given as examples, but to be fair, when you learn that ‘squirrel’ is Eichörnchen in German, Eekhoorn in Dutch, you see the point that was being made. It’s all enough to drive you nuts…..

David Orr, Director, Global Connects

If you’d like to see a few more of these, here’s the link!

Toilet humour: so English, so Welsh?

article-2386778-1B328C80000005DC-265_634x972 If you’re following this series of little blog posts, we’re trying to get people involved in #welovelanguage, our campaign to encourage people to enjoy and hopefully learn more about the wonderful world of foreign languages, especially as they affect us in our daily lives and our businesses in this global economy in which we live.

I am unashamedly trawling the BBC’s Language website’s ‘weird words’ section to find entertaining, indeed at times impossible to say, foreign words. Having looked at Germany and Finland, now we’re focusing on some toilet humour from Wales!

One of the posts on the BBC site was from a lady who recounted how a charming couple near to her decided to call their cottage “Ty Bach”, which they thought meant “little house”. This was perhaps, she thought, to remind them of a much remembered holiday in Wales. People queued up in further blog posts to agree with her assessment of the inadvisability of using this Welsh expression. You probably don’t have to be a genius to work out that “little house” might be better translated as “outside toilet”.

Foremost in the queue to agree was a chap who admitted that he was born in Wales, but, in his defence he said, to a non-Welsh speaking family. As school, he was told to write an essay on any subject, so he confidently wrote about the place he lived, which was a “little house”, or so he thought. His Welsh language teacher soon put him right, and didn’t spare his blushes in front of the entire class!

I will leave my reader to work out what confusion there might be in Wales in roads maintenance departments over the Welsh expressions “twll dyn” and “twll din”. The former is a “manhole” (twll – hole, dyn – man) where as twll din is, well, I’m sure you’re ahead of me.

Finally, to show that languages adapt and adopt, I can’t leave the Principality without mention of the glorious Welsh word for microwave oven. In the unlikely event you haven’t heard this one, it is, and I kid you not, “popty ping”.

David Orr, Director, Global Connects

If you’d like to see a few more of these, here’s the link!





As a company that makes its living from language, #welovelanguage is our campaign to enthuse others about our peculiar world where the wrong accent or two transposed letters can totally alter the meaning of a translation (and lead to an unhappy client!). Languages are our daily bread and as there are, literally, thousands of them, we are very interested in everything about them.   We’d like to share this enthusiasm with you, hence the hashtag. Please use it where you can and let’s turn the whole of the world on to the pleasures (and perils) of languages, translation and interpretation!

I have been mining the BBC’s Language website’s ‘weird words’ section to illustrate just why and how languages are so fascinating – and indeed at times the source of much amusement, to everyone around the world.

It is, of course, easy for us English speakers to laugh at ‘foreigners’. However, I can assure you that this also happens ‘in reverse’.  That said, I did enjoy one of the stories on the BBC site, which recounted a lady whose German husband had a particular difficulty with “Lawful wedded wife”, which he tended to render as “Awful wedded wife”.

Then there is the Russian word for (photographic) film – плёнка, which is pronounced “plyonka”. Fine if you’re Del Boy, but not otherwise!

Tagalog is the main language in the Philippines. In Tagalog you can actually have the following conversation. “Bababa ba?”, to which the reply is “Bababa” The first means “Is it going down?” (for example in a hotel lift), and the answer means “It’s going down”. Yes, that’s a one syllable conversation!

Then there is a short word which the Yaghan Indians of Tierra del Fuego in southern-most Argentina and Chile use – Mamihlapinatapai – which means “To look at each other, each hoping the other will offer to do something which both parties much desire done but which neither is willing to do”. We all know that sort of situation, but it takes a few more words in English!


I also enjoyed the Turkish word “sümüklüböcek”. Sümük is the Turkish word for snot, sümüklü is snotty and böcek is bug. To be more precise, it’s something that you wouldn’t want to find in your lettuces, because sümüklüböcek is the Turkish for slug!

And finally, a lady told of a visit to a Russian boyfriend and a trip to Sergiyev Posad – the site of the greatest of Russian monasteries. Having returned to her boyfriend’s parents’ house, she said to his mother, “i ya tam videla mnogo pop”. This caused some consternation, not to mention laughter. She had meant to say, “I saw many priests there” but actually said, “I saw many bottoms”. Her mistake was using the feminine instead of the masculine. She should have said “mnogo popov”. Fortunately, that’s not really a problem we have in English, but I hope that this series of blog posts (more to follow) will inspire you to learn more about languages and possibly even to go and learn a new one! Or, because this is our business blog, if you would prefer just to get a translation, let me know and we’ll do what we can to help!

David Orr, Director, Global Connects

If you’d like to see a few more of these, here’s the link!