Google translates

I’ve been sleeping most of my days away, not happily, so not advancing on raunchy appetizer boards and the like. Thanks to Hana Filip, reporting on Google Translate, for today’s Mary, Queen of Scots Not Dead Yet posting.

Today on Facebook, from Hana:

Discussion (somewhat edited):

— AZ: So near and yet so far. Of course the translation is supplied by an AI program, not a human being, so the oddity of a German word being translated into an English word that is a direct borrowing from another German word just floats by. Same lexical field, but culturally very different. (What I’m about to say is meant for readers in the Anglosphere; I certainly don’t intend to be instructing Hana in German culture or the German lexicon.)

The first point is that the two words have slightly different literal meanings: desire for distant places, desire to travel. Beyond that, the first is a poignant, even painful, desire (Weh ‘woe, pain’), while the second is a heartier, pleasurable enthusiasm (Lust ‘desire’ (in a range of senses)).

But, crucially, the first calls up the desire for warm exotic places, especially during the winter (Goethe’s “Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn” is going to be in the back of your mind), while the second is likely to call up images of the extraordinary German passion for das Wandern ‘hiking’ in wild country.

So my first response to seeing Fernweh translated as ‘wanderlust’ was to laugh.

— HF > AZ: Fernweh is the [Portuguese] saudade [‘longing’] one feels when one cannot travel to warm exotic places, and yes to those locations “wo die Zitronen blühen”, and can only wistfully dream about going there.

As you say, Wanderlust connotes ‘hearty enthusiasm’, back to nature, at first tied to the 19th century Romanticism, and then to the various back-to-nature movements in the early 20th century, and also subsumed protest movements against industrialization; their proponents were called Wandervogel (‘wander-bird’).

Which took my associative mind to “The Happy Wanderer”. From Wikipedia:

“The Happy Wanderer” (“Der fröhliche Wanderer” or “Mein Vater war ein Wandersmann”) is a popular song. The original text was written by Florenz Friedrich Sigismund (1791–1877).

The present tune was composed by Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller shortly after World War II. The work is often mistaken for a German folk song, but it is an original composition

The first verse in German:

Mein Vater war ein Wandersmann
Und mir steckt’s auch im Blut;
Drum wander’ ich froh, so lang ich kann
Und schwenke meinen Hut.

A pretty literal translation (not the standard English words at all):

My father was a wanderer
And it’s in my blood too
So I wander happily as long as I can
And wave my hat

I do not give you the chorus, or a link to a performance in either language, because the song is a powerful earworm in both languages. Flee now, if you can.

2 Responses to “Google translates”

  1. Robert Southwick Richmond Says:

    I think Heimweh is better translated ‘nostalgia’ – Greek nostos ‘ homecoming’ (what Odysseus does) and algia ‘pain’.

    The Happy Wanderer – in English – was one of our favorite songs to sing on the bus when I was in a US military dependent high school in Germany back in the mid Fifties.

    I was an expert leader in songs on the bus way back when. My older daughters were of course mortified by it, back when they were in school.

  2. Gary Says:

    Heimweh (the feeling when you are not at home and wish you were) has been around for a long time. I think Fernweh was built on that model to mean the opposite (the feeling when you are at home but wish you weren’t).

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