One of my favorite things about learning a new language is discovering cool translations. It’s one thing for a word to be similar, like how railroads are iron roads in Bulgaria. I get a big thrill when a word communicates its meaning using totally new signifiers. A good example is the the German word for a lighter, feuerzeug, which literally means “fire thing.” No one can say it’s not a “fire thing,” that’s for sure.
As I learn Bulgarian, I’m encountering some of these cool translations. Here are 7 of my favorites so far:
7. Curiosity (Любопитство) — “Love-to-ask”
Living outside the States for the first time, I have a mighty lyubopitsvo (to Huelo’s probable annoyance, I imagine) about everything we encounter. Every few minutes, it’s “sweetie, who was ‘General Totleben’?” or “Wait, what village did Baba Stoyanka live in, again?” Unfortunately, I don’t bring this curiosity to my language lessons, which is why it took me 7 months to learn the words for left and right. Actually, maybe that makes the Bulgarian word more apropos for me: I definitely love to ask more than study.
6. Slug (Гол охлюв) — “Naked Snail”
Bulgarian isn’t always like German, whose compound words make it so every animal is a different animal with an adjective. For instance, what could a “shield toad” be but a tortoise? My university mascot, the Gol ohliov, is the first Bulgarian critter I’ve discovered so far who gets stuck with this ignominious convention. “Naked snail”: not only is it evocative, it’s adorable. As a less PG-13 entry, Bulgarian also borrowed another German compound-name for something else. It’s a part of the anatomy, and it’s been dubbed “shame lips.”
5. Impression (Впечaтление) — “En-stamp-ment”
When something makes an impression on someone, it imprints itself in their memory. The image conjures up the empty space that’s left after something comes into our lives momentarily and departs, and the contours that leave its shape behind. Bulgarian has a similar word, with a pechat, a stamp, doing the impressing.
4. Hospitality (Гостоприемство) — “Guest Acceptance”
If there’s one thing that a visitor to Bulgaria is likely to take away, it’s the gostopriemstvo. Bulgaria’s guest acceptance is superb. It’s interesting to think that “hospitality” implies a relationship between guest and host, whereas “guest acceptance” is unequivocally guest-centered. America will have to develop a much more robust home-wine-making infrastructure before it can even hope to compete with the sheer quality of stuff given away to Bulgaria’s guests.
3. International (Международен) — “Between Peoples”
Meждународен has a special place in my heart because it’s the first long Bulgarian word whose meaning I surmised on my own. I knew Naroden, or “People,” from Bulgaria’s Communist name, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. When I learned that Mezhdu meant “between,” it clicked. Something transcending borders is “between peoples,” it sounds so irenic.
2. Literally (Буквално) — “Letter-ally ”
I’m not one of those basic neckbeardy types who wrings their hands over non-standard uses of English, but I really miss the word literally. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% for language evolving; be it in the form of slang, dialects, or appropriating words to bridge a linguistic gap. Using they as a gender-neutral pronoun? I love it– it ain’t “wrong” if everyone understands it.
However, now that literally also mean figuratively, it joins the pile of meaningless words to just be thrown around, next to random.
At least in Bulgarian, (I think) literally still means “I mean this the way it sounds, period.” And the word itself is Bukvalno, which in essence means “to the letter.” We have some time to go before it morphs into “to the figure.”
1. Sunday (Неделя) — “Not doing”
And on the seventh day, God decided to like, burn one and just binge watch whatever Netflix recommended.
The US routinely lags way behind most other industrialized countries when it comes to work-life balance. As far as work itself, Americans hate their jobs more than any other country polled. One of my favorite things about Bulgaria is the healthy southern European attitude towards work, where work is something at best grudgingly tolerated.
And Sunday, the Xtian calendar’s traditional day of rest? That name breaks down to Not doing, as in “we’re Sunday a damn thing today. Just like yesterday. And maybe tomorrow.”
Come to think of it, Sunday sounds like a sick joke: some Puritan trick to make the one Biblically mandated free day bleed into all the others. “Sunday? Sure, there’s sun today, ha ha, but seriously, we have to do some work tonight before tomorrow rolls around. You know how Mondays are.” No thank you, this is do nothing day.