Version française ici
A shorter version of this article was published on Matador Network
French is famous for its unique food-related terms; Dutch nautical terms have conquered the world; English is known for its capacity to invent new terms out of multiple-word combinations.
Sometimes, some words in a language have come to carry such a specific meaning that few other languages have come to create its exact equivalent. Becoming “untranslatables” is often a sure sign that words have literally hiked their way into the language.
Let's follow the trail of 7 such words in French!
1. Pack all your stuff into huge backpack: Barda
A barda is an oversized, heavy backpack, typically like the one you shoulder for a long backcountry hike. It is originally a military term borrowed into French in the 19th century, from Arabic berdâa "packsaddle".
2. Arrive at your destination: Dépaysement
Dépaysement qualifies the feeling of "unusualness" one feels when arriving in a place that is very different from one's usual home. It refers to the change in habits, scenery, climate that this "unusualness" entails.
Dépaysement is very different from "homesickness", as it doesn't imply any nostalgia or negative feeling. Dépaysement can be something you're actually looking for during a trip. It is derived from French pays "country", and literally means "un-country-fication".
3. Go on a hike: Crapahuter
Crapahuter means going on a long backcountry hike, on difficult terrain. This is originally French military slang that ended up in the everyday language. It comes from crapaud "toad", the name of an animal but also of a training device with which you exercised, looking like a toad.
4. Stop enroute for a snack: Gourmand
Someone who is gourmand loves to eat refined food, generally made with very sweet or rich ingredients, in reasonable and appropriate proportions. This iconic French word is derived from the no-less iconic word gourmet, and dates back to the 14th century... when it was borrowed from English grom (today become groom) which at the time meant "valet in charge with the service of wine".
5. Use this break to explore your surroundings: Flâner
Flâner means to daydream by walking around in a leisurely, aimless way (without the sense of losing one's bearing that one finds in wander).
As opposed to what many people think, flâner is actually very recent in French: it was borrowed in the 19th century from Norman French, and ultimately comes from Old Norse flana "to get into something heedlessly".
6. Discover something inspiring: Trouvaille
Trouvaille is an unexpected discovery that made your day because it is original and interesting. It can refer to an object (like that nice abandoned hat you found in a tree) or a place (like that secret bivouac spot). Trouvaille is poetic to the core, as it is derived from the French verb trouver "to find", itself derived from Vulgar Latin tropare "to find the proper words to compose a poem"... which was precisely the job of trouveres and troubadours, those traveling medieval poets in France.
7. You set up camp for the night: Bivouac
You know that word: it was borrowed from French into English, and means "a temporary camp", typically a one-night camp during a backcountry hike. This word is actually more at home in English than in French, as it was borrowed into French in the 17th century from Alemanic German biiwacht which refered to the reinforcements for a guard. After its slight change of form and meaning, the word traveled back from French to the other European languages (including English) during the Napoleonian wars in the 19th century.
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