(In-) Convenient

A few years ago while chatting with a friend who, like me, has a German spouse, I had a mini-revelation:

“There is no German word for convenient,” I said.

After a pause, my friend the English teacher says, “Well that explains a hell of a lot.”

Both fluent German speakers but without a dictionary in front of us, we racked our brains for a potential German equivalent to the English word convenient. Or convenience. Or conveniently.

Fitting to our search, we brainstormed the antonym: Inconvenient = Umständlich. My go-to translation website leo.org gives this word circuitous, cumbersome, laborious and involved, which are all certainly inconvenient, but it does not mention inconvenient as a translation. This is interesting, and perhaps an example of different usage of the word. Or perhaps an example of misunderstanding by a foreigner!

I am aware that leo.org has numerous translations for the word convenient, based on the context. Follow this link to see a few.  Notice, however, that this entire list actually translates to words that aren’t exactly, well, convenient.
Fitting, comfortable, serviceable, situated, practical, these are all fantastic synonyms based on the context. None of them, however, encapsulates the entire meaning of the word convenient.

Here we have a prime example of language influencing culture. For how can we expect a culture to value a trait for which it has no words?  This topic actually fascinates me, and I love dissecting cultural norms and expectations related to language.

There are certainly more examples of this phenomenon, and if you can think of some, please share them in a comment. What about German words that have no equivalent English concept? Schadenfreude is a well-known example of a German word with no English equivalent, but we certainly are familiar with the concept. Fahrvergnügen (the joy of driving) is an even better one, particularly well-suited to the Autobahn and German car culture. What else can you think of?

4 thoughts on “(In-) Convenient

  1. The word »gemütlich« comes to mind. Although it usually translates to ‘cozy’, I think those of us who have experienced it know that it goes deeper than that.

    • Absolutely – Gemütlichkeit is something uniquely German, and although we experience it elsewhere, I don’t think we have a description for that feeling in English.

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