When there is no word

April 30th, 2014

What do you do when there is no word to express what you want to say? And when on top of that you are not quite four years old?

My daughter takes advantage of her dual vocabulary and borrows from the other language when she doesn’t know a word. She shows off her new long “Rock” (German for skirt) to her French classmates, who will understand because they see the skirt flouted in front of them, or asks Mommy if she can watch a “dessin manimé” (dessin animé, French for cartoon).

But the other day she surprised me with her creativity when it came to a word that really does not exist in German: the “goûter”.

In France, children finish school around 4pm, and whether they go home or stay in after-school care, they will invariably take a snack, if only to survive from lunch (at noon) to supper (which may be served as late as 8pm). This snack, and by extension any afternoon food, is called goûter. Friends might invite you to “prendre le goûter” on a weekend, meaning a tea-time sort of invitation.

There is no German equivalent, not least because German school days work differently, lunch is later and supper earlier. So what do you do?

My daughter’s answer was to take the closed approximation she knew, in this case breakfast. Hence her list of what she did at preschool on a given day: “Ich habe gespielt (I played), gegessen (I ate), geschlafen (I napped) und gefrühstückt (literally: I had breakfast).”


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