Heidi Trautmann

Heidi Trautmann Column 22 - Let's talk about culture and .....the richness of language

Poor language, rich language…it used to depend on the conditions one grew up in, if one grew up with the ‘golden spoon in the mouth’, had the chance for proper education, to have books, good books available to read, and the language parents, neighbours and friends were using. Today the chances are much better and above that there is the internet. Even in poor houses today you’ll find electronic equipment, so the chances to learn and improve your language are made available without much ado, you don’t even have to go out of the house. We can download books; we can look for any literary papers to any topic you might want to read; you can join language courses on the internet; do any courses in open universities, even do art classes I heard. At least that is what it could be.

I read of a literature teacher who had invited her students to join her in a very interesting project: Searching for words, expressions, synonyms in old books of literature and poetry to replace the today most commonly used colloquial language; it ended up in great fun for the kids to do this detective work and they ended up with some very satisfying results.

Replacements for sort of umbrella terms young people are using such as frustration, super, cool, although these are already old fashioned,… with other words to enrich their vocabulary.

I enter facebook quite regularly to see what the circle of friends, groups of artists, musicians are up to, they don’t send invitations out but put all announcements into facebook and if you want to keep up with them you have to ‘howl with the wolves’. I am really amazed how romantic some of my young friends are, the newest trend is to place wise phrases, especially by Paulo Coelho, or quotes by other famous authors or poets, which they have received by other facebook friends or copied somewhere in the internet. You see, they admire phrases that come to the point, or nod their heads over a wisdom that was written some centuries ago.

By Paulo Coelho are the following phrases: It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.Or:Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own’. Or: ‘The dunes are changed by the wind, but the desert never changes’. 

Sir James Dewar, Scientist (1877-1925): ‘Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open.

Mark Twain (1835-1910): ‘Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first.

Author unknown: ‘Friendship isn’t a big thing –it’s a million things’.

A very big asset in our languages are proverbs, conclusions in a concentrated forms made by our ancestors and repeated from generation to generation and still valid, that is the amazing thing; and…you’ll find them in many other languages I have learnt, for example:

‘All’s well that ends well’;  ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’; ‘All that glitters is not gold’; ‘As you make your bed you must lie on it’; ‘Attack is the best form of defense’; or: ‘Barking dogs seldom bite’.

There are some German proverbs with other words in English but both versions are funny:

Translated from German: ‘Don’t cut off the branch you are sitting on’, that would be in English: ‘Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face’.

Or:In German: Fight the devil with Satan; in English: Fight fire with fire;

In German: ‘The apple does not fall far from its tree’; in English: ‘Like father like son’


There are some proverbs in German I have not found the equivalents in English, but I am sure there are: ‘Wait and have a cup of tea’ or: ‘Even on the highest throne you sit on your own bottom’;  ‘You cannot stand on one leg alone’; It’s better to have the sparrow in your hand than the dove on the roof’; ‘The egg wants to be more clever than the hen’; ‘A cat will not give up hunting mice’.

When our children were teenagers they moaned whenever I delivered one of my proverbs instead of making a long speech but when they had their own children I surprised them using the same old words. I know from my Turkish speaking friends that there are very similar proverbs to situations in everybody’s life. A North Cypriot literary friend and author, Mustafa Gökçeoğlu, is a preserver of  the Cypriot Turkish language and over the years he often sat in cafés with friends, listening to them, asking them about such things which he collected and published in his wide collection of dictionaries. Oh yes, it helps you to save words which you would have to invent anew, but as another proverb says :

‘Brevity is the spice of the wit’.

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