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Community Comment

Mon., March 22, 2010, 3:46 a.m.

A Woird A Day — cloud-cuckoo-land

with Anu Garg

Languages freely borrow words from one another. Often a borrowed word becomes so assimilated we don't realize its exotic provenance. If you speak English, you know parts of at least a hundred different languages. Besides the usual sources -- Latin, Greek, German, French, etc. -- English has words borrowed from languages as diverse as Tongan (taboo), Hindi (cot), Hungarian (coach), among others.

Sometimes languages borrow only the idea from a language and translate a word literally. English skyscraper becomes rascacielos (literally scrape-skies) in Spanish, gratte-ciel in French, Wolkenkratzer in German, and so on. This process of borrowing is called loan translation or calque (from French calquer: to trace or copy).

German Gedankenexperiment becomes "thought experiment" in English through loan translation. French marché aux puces gets translated as flea market. The term loan translation itself is a loan translation of German Lehnübersetzung.

This week in AWAD we'll see five loan translations that have taken root in English, from Greek, Spanish, Latin, German, and Chinese.

cloud-cuckoo-land or cloud cuckoo land


noun: An idealized, unrealistic state; a place out of touch with reality.

Loan translation of Greek Nephelokokkugia, from nephele (cloud) + kokkux (cuckoo). The word was coined in The Birds, a comedy by Athenian playwright Aristophanes (c. 450-388 BCE). Nephelokokkugia was the name of a city in the sky, built by the birds in collaboration with some Athenians.

"'Retirement at 58 is cloud cuckoo land for most private sector workers, many of whom find their pension savings shot to pieces,' said Lord Oakeshott."
Holly Watt; The Million Pound Pension Pots of the Mandarins; The Daily Telegraph (London, UK); Jan 1, 2010.

Explore "cloud-cuckoo-land" in the Visual Thesaurus.

One cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole. -Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)

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Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.