6 Foreign Words So Dark There Are No English Equivalents
Here at Cracked, we frequently search through foreign dictionaries to find the most kickass words that we wish we had in English. However, there are a handful of phrases from around the world that are shorthand for common situations that are so horrific, we're overjoyed we've never needed to adopt them into Americaspeak. For instance ...
Means: a person who deliberately drives into oncoming traffic.
Literally translated, geisterfahrer means "ghost driver." That's vaguely unsettling in a Nicolas Cage movie sort of way, but that's not why we've chosen it for this list. No, to learn why this word made the cut for "things we're glad we, as Americans, never have to say", you must consider a few things: A) The word is German, so automatically you get the sense of something sinister lurking just beneath the surface, like a troll in the basement of that delightful clock-making house in the Black Forest; B) This is a common enough occurrence in Germany to warrant its own word specifically designed to warn foreigners; and C) Germany is the home of the autobahn, which is the closest any of us will get to Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior in our lifetimes:
To be fair, our dad drove like this on American highways each and every summer vacation.
Now picture this madness, but with someone driving in the opposite direction into oncoming traffic. On purpose. That's a geisterfahrer.
Why would anyone do something so objectively insane? Well, some ghost drivers do it for nothing more than the lulz, bruh. Others are straight-up suicidal, such as the ghost driver who very nearly vehicularly manslaughtered the governor of Bavaria. In all honesty, this was a very Bavarian thing to do.
Of course, the German government couldn't officially have the world thinking that their highways are haunted by a bunch of reckless ghost motorists, so they decided to try and come up with a different name: falschfahrer, or "wrong drivers." This is admittedly a much less frightening phrase, but when you're trying to convey to tourists that your supersonic roadway is occasionally plagued by maniacs trying to cause head-on collisions at hundreds of miles an hour, maybe frightening is what you want.
Or at least frightening enough so that they don't laugh at your signs.
Means: It literally translates to cow, but in this context it's "a guy you take along on a prison break so you can eat him later."
The Russian Gulag system is one of the greatest examples of a government succeeding in exactly what they hoped to achieve -- a place where prisoners could literally work themselves to death generating free labor for the Motherland, because maintaining prisons where the goal is to keep prisoners alive is expensive, and executions cost money, too. Why not kill two birds with one rationed potato?
Scattered all across the country, these forced labor camps were not only where the Soviet Union stashed away their most violent offenders, but also those convicted of things as petty as theft or malcontent (the legal term for speaking ill of Joseph Stalin's mustache). At the system's peak in the mid-20th century, millions of people were interned in the prison camps. Conditions there were so subhuman that the only reason the Gulag's camps takes a historical backseat to the Nazis' concentration camps is that the Soviet Union helped defeat Hitler.
"Didn't you guys round-up like a billion Japanese people? Glass houses, comrade."
The point is, anyone stuck in these camps was probably thinking about escape more than half of the time. The problem with escape, beyond somehow getting past all the armed guards, was the fact that most of these camps were located out in the middle of frozen fucking nowhere. So even if you didn't get shot by snipers or torn apart by dogs while trying to escape, you would still wind up dying of exposure or starvation somewhere in the Siberian tundra like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
Resourceful inmates soon had a splendid solution for this, however. While they couldn't exactly pack a boxed lunch for their escape, they could pack something even more nourishing that -- best of all! -- didn't even need to be carried. We're referring, of course, to a korova: some simple-hearted, trusting (and preferably chubby) fellow inmate whom you invited to join your escape. Then, once you both made it out and into the icy wastelands, this sorry dupe became an unwitting slaughter animal, much like an actual cow.
"So how are the spices and sauces you brought supposed to help get past this?"
"Shut up and keep cutting!"
And in case you're not already gurgling out a horrified gasp through a barely contained mouthful of vomit, keep in mind that trudging across a frozen desert makes starting a fire damn near impossible. Therefore, the parts of a korova that were eaten were only those that could be consumed raw (like the kidneys), and washed down with a generous swig of warm blood from his gouting arteries. And all of this just so you can escape back to your life in Soviet Russia.
Means: shoving a horseradish root up an adulterer's ass.
Throughout history, governments have tried like hell to legislate the morality of their citizens, because if there's one thing that spells doom for any society, it's consenting adults having sex with each other in the privacy of their own homes. As such, historical justice systems notoriously devised extreme measures of punishment that were every bit as colorful as the alleged crime, if not more so. For example, the ancient Greeks -- creators of such lauded achievements as democracy and the God of War franchise -- devised a form of torture known as rhaphanidosis, which consisted of pantsing an adulterer and planting a horseradish root in the offender's anus. Please note that this practice does not result in the growth of a healthy new horseradish plant.
Now, in addition to looking like a ferocious monster dick, horseradish root is famously spicy. The oils in the vegetable would react violently with the delicate membranes of the rectum, resulting in the offender having to sit and think about what he'd done while his asshole was being torn apart by flaming beetles. We suspect it was only marginally preferable to being murdered by your paramour's husband, which he would have been totally within his rights to do.
"You know what? Go ahead and kill me. Here's a knife."
Means: murdering a random stranger with your sword.
Samurai radiated badassedness in Japan centuries before Westerners thought they were awesome enough to include in a Tom Cruise movie about Japan. They were so revered (and feared) that, legally, they were pretty much allowed to do as they damn well pleased. Nowhere is this more evident than the kiri-sute gomen prerogative, which literally gave them permission to "cut and leave." Basically, they could straight-up murder someone for little-to-no reason. It was justifiable punishment for acts such as, surliness, discourtesy, and inappropriate conduct. Basically, you could rip an errant fart next to a samurai, and he would have legal grounds to cut your fucking head off.
"Who had the asparagus?"
Now, normally, the bushido code prevented this right from transforming into a license to engage in killing sprees. But the samurai, as with any group, had their fair share of rule-abusing dickholes. This asshole contingent of the samurai pushed kiri-sute gomen to its absolute extreme by practicing tsujigiri, or "crossroads killings." Disappointingly, this had nothing to do with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, because Bone Thugs-N-Harmony hadn't been invented yet.
"Damn, man, I miss my Uncle Charuzu, y'all."
Tsujigiri is when a samurai would take his gleaming, murder-thirsty sword, wander out onto the road at night, and slash to death the first person who passed them. Because it turns out that giving a bunch of dudes swords and armor and carte blanche to do whatever the hell they please can be a catastrophically terrible idea.
Means: turning your daughter-in-law into your personal sex slave.
To understand the horrific family constellation that is snokhachestvo, we must first travel back in time to the Russian Empire. More precisely, to the Cossack villages on the eastern brim of Europe, at the very fringes of civilization. Families lived on tiny farms where everyone -- man, woman, and child -- had to work their fingers to the bone just to get by. To alleviate some of the burden, it was a widespread custom to force the boys of the house into early marriage, because then the new wife could move in and essentially become the real-life Cinderella of the household ("real-life Cinderella" is a term here meaning "domestic slave"). Stranded in a house full of complete strangers, she would be bullied around and expected to do all the shit jobs that even people who work shit jobs for a living don't want to do -- including having sex with her husband's father.
Cinderelly, Cinderelly, night and day, it's Cinderelly.
Make the fire, fix the breakfast, wash the dishes, do the father.
Many family patriarchs soon realized that having a young woman in the house who was basically required to do whatever you told her to do was an irresistible target for grotesque sexual assault. The sons couldn't provide much in the way of protection, because they were usually either still children or off serving in the military, so the father could have his way with his daughter-in-law to his creepy old heart's content. Now, in 2015, this sounds like the kind of thing that would be all over the news as part of a shocking expose, but back then it was just a part of life that everyone was resigned to accept. Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, a Russian journalist and newspaper editor, described snokhachestvo as such: "Nowhere, it seems, except Russia, has at least one form of incest assumed the character of an almost normal everyday occurrence, designated by the appropriate technical term."
Some scholars point out that snokhachestvo evolved into a specialized form of rape culture, where the humiliated sons perpetuated the practice once they had a family of their own. And when the practice was officially condemned by the Orthodox Church, the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of the daughter-in-law who had "sinned," rather than the father-in-law who had forced her to have sex with him, because history was just awful for women. For further proof ...
Wa'ada (Classical Arabic)
Means: to bury one's infant daughter alive.
Being a parent is hard work, because children are like little parasites who take everything they can from you (time, money, natural resources) and produce nothing in return. But we love them anyway, because for all the hard work it takes to be a parent, it's the most fulfilling job in the world (and also we're evolutionarily programmed to do so).
But this was less true among the tribes of pre-Islamic Arab people. They didn't specifically hate the idea of raising children, but the thought of giving birth to a girl was so abhorrent that they devised a horrific method to avoid it, post-factum. This method was called wa'ada, and you may want to take a tiny break to go roll around in a giant pile of puppies before we continue.
Here's a full basket to get you started.
When it came time to give birth, the expectant mother retreated to a ditch and waited there for her progeny to come screaming out of her vagina. If the baby was a boy, she swaddled him up and returned proudly back to her friends and neighbors. If the child was a girl, the mother would simply leave the girl in the ditch and unceremoniously fill it with dirt, burying the baby alive on the spot and thus avoiding the nasty social consequences of having produced female offspring.
This abysmal practice continued until a certain famous women's rights activist and perpetrator of reason came along and catapulted Arabic society into modern times. We're of course talking about Muhammad, beard enthusiast and prophet extraordinaire, who had a thing or two to say about wa'ada. Well, just one thing, really, which can be paraphrased as "That's freaking crazy, please knock it off." The spread of Islam abolished the unholy practice and upgraded a woman's worth from "broodmare" to ... um, as good as one-fourth of a man, in marriage. Still, that's progress, right?
Heyer would like to thank everyone who made suggestions in the comments, especially reader Komsomoletz for finding snokhachestvo.
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There are some words, though, the English language could desperately use. We can't be the only ones who have needed a way to describe singing a song without knowing the words, or "Quicker than eating a banana." See these and more in 8 Useful Foreign Words The English Language Needs To Steal and 31 Phrases English Needs To Steal From Other Languages.
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