Bend it like the Azzurri

We were discussing which sports we enjoy in a recent German class and our conversation turned to the gamesmanship or otherwise displayed during the six nations rugby championship.

We came up with some interesting vocabulary around what is ‘gestattet’, ‘erlaubt’ or ‘verboten’ during play.

To bend the rules is a very typically English phrase, for which probably the best German equivalent might be ‘die Regeln beugen’. But thanks to my trusty Langenscheidt dictionary this morning, I have found a perfect definition for slightly less than sportsmanlike behaviour:

“Die Kunst, mit allen gerade noch erlaubten Tricks zu gewinnen”.



George Clooney reçoit son César d’honneur


Awarded a César at the French film awards ceremony on Friday evening, for services to film, George Clooney took the opportunity, during his 7-minute long acceptance speech, the simultaneous translation of which caused French actor, Clooney’s colleague and friend, Jean Dujardin, some difficulty, to allude to the political situation in the United States and the rest of the world.

‘Love trumps hate, courage trumps fear’

Read the full report in Le Figaro online.

English is a foreign language

Whilst discussing different modes of transport in a recent German class, I used the English phrase ‘to go by Shanks’s pony’ to mean to go on foot. The expression was met with complete surprise by several members of the group, who didn’t seem to have heard it before and certainly didn’t know what it meant.

This sent me searching for the meaning and origin.

It also got me wondering whether there are other words or phrases I use when talking with students, or generally, that are unfamiliar or misunderstood.We’re all familiar with old sayings and modern clichees, but they’re not necessarily the same ones.

I try to avoid those particular turns of phrase that only occur within families or close friendship groups. For example, in our house we never speak of lions roaring, because, since my son was about 3 years old, we have known, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the term for a lion giving voice is, of course, to ‘rart’.

”Raaarrrrrttt!” said the lion

My Mother was a great one for old country sayings. She would occasionally refer to people as being ‘three sheets to the wind’.  Another of ‘hers’ was ‘as dim as a Toc-H lantern’. I had no idea where this came from, but one of my students was able to relate it to a war time benevolent association. (I hasten to add that I wasn’t referring to a person when I used the phrase, but, instead, the lighting in our classroom, which is not very bright!) My Father’s favourite expletive is ‘flaming warships!’

I’ve collected an entire notebook full of Lincolnshire words and phrases I remember from my childhood. Many of them I still enjoy using. It’s keeping that old language alive and I can enjoy fond memories of my grandparents by repeating their words. Until we relocated from Kent to Lincolnshire, my husband, originally from Somerset, had never heard anyone outside our family talk about looking at someone ‘gone out’, whereas to me it is a frequent, more colourful way of saying ‘askance’ or ‘startled’. This is exactly the way Nigel looked at me in that German class when I mentioned Shanks’s pony!

My favourite Lincolnshire word is ‘stitherum’, again one of my Dad’s specials. Opinions vary as to what it really means. It comes to my mind when I find myself ‘getting in a right old stitherum’ trying to work out how to explain a particularly knotty bit of French or German and ending up in a state of confusion! It’s exactly the same when I’m knitting and my wool gets ‘taffled up’.

Then there are those awful ‘business speak’ coinings such as ‘pushing the envelope’ and the current, cringeworthy ‘reaching out’ to people, which doesn’t mean, as we might have hoped, we’ve been offered friendship and support or some kind of lifeline. All this really means is that they’ve sent us an email!

When we learn a new language for the first time, we learn set words and phrases to use in particular situations. With greater confidence and experience can we broaden our knowledge to embrace a whole raft of different ways of expressing ourselves, our thoughts, feelings and opinions.

Until then we can continue to share the richness of our own language and wonder at the courage and skills of others who learn it as adults!

A German puzzle!


Huge thanks to John and Christine for bringing back this wonderful gift from their recent trip to Germany. All 1,000 pieces are currently out on the table, waiting to be sorted and for the fun to begin. Judging by the picture on the box, I think this puzzle is going to keep me away from my knitting for some time to come. But I know it will be worth it in the end. I’m just hoping it doesn’t turn out to be one of those Dave Gorman style jigsaws!

David Sedaris and his technique with gender

There seems to come a point on every course I teach, where my lovely students begin to share their theories about why certain words in French or German are one gender or another. It’s a fascinating subject and one that continues to cause consternation class after class. The amount of careful thought and analysis that goes into this, in a tireless attempt to make sense of it and succeed where countless others have fallen down, is proof enough that this matter needs addressing.

I have occasionally admitted that my early strategy, adopted when I first visited Germany as a schoolgirl, was to put everything into the plural. In German this is particularly effective if you choose the dative plural!

Recently one of my students independently came up with the same idea.

At this point I should reveal that one of my very favourite writers, David Sedaris, also used this technique when he briefly went to live in France. I’ve been lucky enough to see David perform live a couple of times and I own several of his books and CDs. If you don’t know his work you can ‘meet’ him now and again  on Radio 4. However you find Mr Sedaris, I promise you are in for a real treat.

Why not start with Me Talk Pretty One Day and share with David his struggles to learn a foreign language?


Snowdrops at Hackthorn Hall


German student, Karan, is a keen gardener who has volunteered in the gardens at Hackthorn Hall for a number of years. Karan would like to invite everyone to join her on Sunday 12 February at the Hall for Snowdrop Sunday. Entry is £3.50 per person, but bring lots of spare change, too, for the plant sale! It promises to be a lovely visit and you can even stop by and say ‘hallo’ to Karan in the greenhouse as you buy your own Schneeglöckchen!