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Community Comment

A Woird A Day — cloud-cuckoo-land

A.Word.A.Day
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

PRONUNCIATION:
(KLOUD-koo-koo-land)

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

ETYMOLOGY:
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.

USAGE:
“‘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.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
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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