About Us | What's New | Search | Site Map | Contact Us  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Mar 22, 2010
This week's theme
Loan translations

This week's words
moment of truth
bread and circuses
God's acre
paper tiger

Discuss this week's words
on our bulletin board:
Wordsmith Talk
Bookmark and Share Facebook Twitter Digg MySpace Bookmark and Share
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


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

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.

"'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.

See more usage examples of cloud-cuckoo-land in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

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)

A.Word.A.Day by email:


"The most welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass e-mail in cyberspace."

The New York Times

Sponsored by:

Give the Gift of Words

Share the magic of words. Send a gift subscription of A.Word.A.Day.

Anu on Words:
Writer Magazine
Globe & Mail


Bulletin board
Wordsmith Talk

Moderated Chat
Wordsmith Chat

Readers' Voice

Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2015 Wordsmith