Don’t let the door hit you on the way out
January 18, 2012 Leave a comment
I suppose that’s a rather Schadenfreude-filled way of encapsulating the meaning of another difficult-to-translate German noun, Torschlusspanik. The word makes a top-10 list of the world’s most untranslatable words. The literal meaning is “gate-closing panic”; a fuller definition would be — and I quote the listmaster — “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages, … most frequently applied to women who race the ‘biological clock’ to wed and bear children.”
It’s a useful word. But some of the others on the list make me really wish we had words like that in English. “Prozvonit,” in both Czech and Slovak, means to call someone but only allow their phone to ring once, so that they have to call you back and thereby get stuck with the bill. “Tingo,” in a language spoken on Easter Island, means to borrow a person’s possessions one by one until you’ve taken everything they own. The Congolese word “ilunga,” considered by many to be the most untranslatable word, is roughly “a person who is ready to forgive any abuse the first time it occurs, to tolerate it the second time, but to neither forgive nor tolerate a third offense.”
But the most useful of all, to me, is the Scottish verb “tartle,” meaning “to hesitate while introducing someone due to having forgotten his/her name.”
I, I must confess, tartle on a near-daily basis.