Ben Schott’s Fremdwortschöpfungen: Creating Words for Wordless Things

April 12, 2018 § Leave a comment

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I like making up new words and phrases for things as yet unnamed. But I’ve found it’s easier to come up with unnamed things than it is to name them. British author Ben Schott has solved this problem by making up simple English labels and then exotifying them by translating them into German. Thus, his Eisenbahnscheinbewegung, formed from the German for “railway illusion motion,” is “the false sensation of movement when, looking out from a stationary train, you see another train depart.”

Schott published a whole dictionary of his made-up words in 2013, calling it Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition. And I’ve got to hand it to him. Coming up with new German words is harder than it sounds. I thought it would be clever and use Google translate to make my own German invention for “foreign word creations.” So I coined Fremdwortschöpfungen . . . but then I searched the web and found out that that word already exists.

It would be easy to dismiss Schott’s creations as not-real words, but all new words started once as not-real in the minds of their creators. Of course, it’s a little harder adding to someone else’s language. But even that can be overcome if you have a third party with an audience, say, for instance, “General Hospital,” to help spread the word (so to speak).

If you’re more into expanding your vocabulary with actually-real foreign words—new to you, rather than new to humanity—there are resources for that, too. I’ve listed a few below to get you started. And who knows, after looking at some of these, you may be inspired to try your hand at making up, like Schott, some new foreign words of your own. You don’t really have to have an expert’s grasp of your target language. In fact, my experience learning languages has taught me that not knowing a language very well is extremely fertile ground for making things up.

Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon

In Other Words: A Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words around the World

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from around the World

The Meaning of Tingo: and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World

Other-Worldly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from around the World

They Have a Word for It: Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words & Phrases

The Untranslatables: An Illustrated Miscellany of the World’s Most Intriguing Words and Phrases

[photo: “Geschichte der Deutschen Marine 1871-1914,” by Clemens Vasters, used under a Creative Commons license]

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