Word of the Week: Muskelkater

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muscle-catIn the last few days I have suffered from a male muscle cat! The image you’ll probably get in your head now might be something like the one you see here.

But what’s to suffer? Well, if you speak German and English, with a little combination this literal translation of “Muskelkater” makes sense! Well, maybe it doesn’t but it’s still understood.

Let me explain: The muscle bit is obvious, the interesting thing is the second part of the word, “Kater” which stands for a male cat. Don’t ask me why, but it is also used for a hangover…ah…ring any bells? But what’s a hangover got to do with muscles? Well, imagine you’ve been a bit over-ambitiously sporty and the next day you wake up with aching or sore muscles – well the translation would work here.

In German we say “ein Muskelkater”, a hangover of the muscles. Much like a headache after having drunk too much for which we have to pay with yet another ridiculous hangover, the Germans have “ein Kater”, literally translated as a male cat. This could lead to some funny situations if you had a linguistic fantasy, for example: Someone in the house wakes up and says: “oh dear, I have a male cat!” The British housemate, probably thinking “oh shit, what were we up to this time last night?!” and starts searching the house, while the exchange student from Germany would be laughing erratically!

Taking this a bit further I wonder what happened with “the booted male cat” which would be the literal translation of puss in boots – “booted” because in the famous German fairy it is used in passive; “Der gestiefelte Kater”, which in English has been translated with “Puss in boots”. Ok, it sounds nicer but is it not enough that you Brits give our cities strange names? Where will this lead to if protagonists of children’s stories become transgender?! No, seriously! But in a way, you’re right. Why  have two different words for male cat (“Kater”) and one for female cat (“Katze”)?

A cat is cat! With muscles or without!

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Discussion1 Comment

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    At one point in my life I was learning Spanish and French in the same year and had exams around the same time. My Spanish oral exam centred around the topic of ‘What I had for my Christmas dinner’ I trotted out the menu with some suitable adjectives as you do. “And for dessert?” asked the assistant native speaker. “Un gateau con fresas, muy deliciosa”. He looked aghast and then laughed. Too late I realised I had mixed my French with my Spanish. Instead of what I meant, “a cake/gateau with strawberries” I realised that what he must’ve heard was “gato” – the Spanish word for cat. Voila, I eat cats for dessert. At Christmas no less. 🙂

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