Some words do not travel well without an interpreter.
The Scots words couthie and dreich have no single-word equivalent in English.
Drachenfutter and schadenfreude don’t translate direct from German. But these quirky words tell us more about the humour and character of the native speaker than a text book ever could.
German, like Scots, is rich in such words. Drachenfutter (dragon fodder) is a gift of appeasement you buy for your other half from a late-night filling station or corner shop.
We are now familiar with schadenfreude the pleasure one takes in someone else’s pain. Schadenfreude has a cousin called fremdschamen.
It means to be ashamed for another. It is not the kind of embarrassment you feel when a relative sings at a wedding. Fremdschamen is an invisible arm of empathy you put round a friend who has made a complete clown of themselves.
Both words are reactions to someone in difficulty. I spent the other night recalling friends in dreadful situations and realised there is a need for a third word to sit between the two.
Here’s a couple of examples.A rugby pal who preferred practicality to style discovered that some emergency workers wore a sort of long john below their trousers in the winter.
My pal determined to follow this example but the closest he could find was his mother’s red lacy tights.
All day he boasted of the layered protection against the wind and the comfort. So comfortable, he forgot he was wearing them. That was until he stripped for rugby training. The team’s silence was only broken when the coach roared, “Get OUT of here you deviant”.That was fremdschamen without a doubt.
Then there was a pal in Aberdeenshire who saved buying two vehicles by fitting his work van with a row of seats for the kids. Quids in, he hitched his caravan and headed south on holiday.
Transit and caravan were turned away from campsites and moved on from laybys. Exasperated, they parked up in Blackpool and booked a hotel. Next morning their vehicles were surrounded by travellers’ vans and caravans and they had to fight off dogs to make their escape. Schadenfreude or fremdschamen? It’s that middle ground again!
Then there was a horror I witnessed while working in the dry dock at Nigg oil construction yard many years ago. An apprentice was caught short and disappeared behind an old railway wagon. It took a few minutes to dawn on him that the yellow material he had availed himself of was glass fibre. His initial relief turned to shock and, when the depth of the pain hit, he sobbed first then bawled like a child. He knew he was in it for the long haul. Neither schadenfreude nor fremdschamen. Just wide-eyed sympathy for a lad speechless with pain. Maybe German needs a Scots phrase like, help ma Boab, an expression of concerned surprise to occupy the middle ground. I wouldn’t like to try to translate it though.