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Shades of Renfield

Posted by Word Camel on February 07, 2002

In Reply to: Re: Hens, Roosters and Strange Translations posted by The Fallen on February 07, 2002

: : : : : Recently, I used the expression, "He as happy as a rooster in the hen house." when talking to a German friend. She said she didn't quite understand what I meant.

: : : : : After an awkward conversation of just why a rooster might be happy to be in the hen house, (she didn't know much about chickens - except that she thinks I'm wicked for eating them), I learned but that the same expression in German except that it's a fox, not a rooster, and the connotation is somewhat more sinister.

: : : : : Anyway, I'm curious about a few things: Does the fox version of the phrase exist in English or does the fox factor point to subtle differences in national character? Is the rooster version more British(because I almost certainly picked it up there? Are there other phrases like this that change like this across cultures?

: : : : : Just wondering,

: : : : : Camel

: : : : If those two sayings point to a more general difference between characters or cultures, it could be any of several sorts. English speakers overemphasize sex, or German speakers underemphasize it; or English speakers underemphasize hunger, or German speakers overemphasize it; and there are other possibilities. I don't have the answer, just some observations.

: : : : The saying that goes approximately "Don't set the fox to guard the chickens" shows that English speakers, like German speakers, have the fact of predation as part of their mental baggage.

: : : : The link below [Dead link - removed] goes to a page of German proverbs. Seems to me a rather high proportion of them concern eating.

: : : Interesting page - even more interesting translations. Take the first one: "All Anfang ist schwer." translates literally as All beginning is difficult. Our friends on the page have translated it "All beginning is difficult.The first million is the hardest." Where'd all this million stuff come from?

: : : And then further down the page, "In der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen." I am not sure of the exact translation, but it looks to me like "In need you wouldn't shun the Devil." (German speakers help me out here?) But it's been translated "Any port in a storm." It seems criminal to leave out the reference to the devil. It makes it so much more colourful.

: : I can't help out with the German translation. But back to the Germans and food thing. I read a family history about a branch of my family from what is now Germany. They were, the book says, blond barbarians who liked to grease their hair with butter. They liked to eat and drink but were content with one spouse. Sounds good to me.

: "In der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen." Literally, this means "In need, the Devil eats flies". "Any port in a storm" strikes me as a good translation. As a point of interest, the German verb "fressen" means "to eat", but, unlike the more usual verb "essen", it is used when animals eat, or if used of people, it has overtones of munching and mess.

Well I for one think the direct translation is more interesting - and I think "Any port in a storm." is cheating. It might have the same meaning but ships, storms and ports are a far cry from the devil and flies.

Contrary Camel