Of mice and me

The other day, I learned a new word in Latvian – līķūdens – which translates into English as corpsewater. I was sitting on my sofa, minding my own business, when my phone rang and my rather merry Latvian friend started giggling down the line.

It turned out that she was staying at her country house with her boyfriend and a few friends. They’d been cooking up a storm all day (and drinking heavily by the sounds of it) which obviously required using water. It was only after they’d eaten and drunk their fill that they noticed the dead mouse in the bottom of the water container…

Luckily, the Latvian language, unlike English, has this sort of situation covered. Līķūdens.

I guess he wasn't prepared like this guy

I guess he wasn’t prepared like this guy

Naturally, they wanted to know if there was a word for this in English. (I was more concerned about how many mousy treats I’d unwittingly wolfed down as this was the house that I’d stayed at for Līgo – pork with a side of mouse anyone?) I said I didn’t know if there was a word for this in any language apart from Latvian but I’d be very interested to find out. (Yes, that’s a hint to all of you polyglots out there.)

Līķūdens is actually two words stuck together – corpse and water – and Latvians are very proud of this ability to stick two words together.

Jānis: Do you have one word in English for ‘day and night’?

Me: Umm, no, we just say ‘day and night’.

Jānis: In Latvian we do.

Me: OK.

Jānis: (expectant look)

Me: What is it?

Jānis: Diennakts.

Me: Well, really, all you’ve done there is just stick ‘day’ and ‘night’ together.

Jānis: And?

Me: Umm.

Latvian can be a confusing language at times. For example, the word for ‘pregnant’ and ‘state’ is the same – stāvokli – but I suppose if I ever got pregnant, I would be in a right state so that one actually works for me. However, there’s a question in Latvian that loosely translates as ‘What is your state?’, or ‘How are you?’ in other words. To the untrained ear, i.e. mine, it unfortunately translated as ‘Are you pregnant?’ and I spent the rest of the day sucking in my stomach and trying to look thinner.

The word for even is ‘pat’ and the word for self is ‘pats’. Now imagine that your name is Pat and you moved to Latvia. You’d automatically become ‘Pats’. If you wanted to say that Pat even did something himself, it would sound something like ‘Pats pat pats pat pats…’ There are also about 8 billion words with ‘dom’ in them. Suspicious is ‘aizdomīgs’, vanity is ‘iedomība’, thoughtful is ‘domīgs’ and so on.

But sometimes, Latvian can be (rather entertainingly) simple. For example, the word for car is ‘mašīna’. The word for lorry is ‘smagā mašīna’ or heavy car, and the word for airplane is ‘līdmašīna’, yep, you guessed it, flying car.

So ends today’s lesson. If you remember nothing else, remember that wine is definitely a safer option than water in Latvia.

(The image is from here as I didn’t have a mouse handy.)

About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
This entry was posted in Expat, Humor, Humour, Language, Latvia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

114 Responses to Of mice and me

  1. Pingback: Ice Ice Baby | Expat Eye on Latvia

  2. barbedwords says:

    Ha ha, this reminded me of the ‘Basil the Rat’ episode of Fawlty Towers, where the health inspector finds two dead pigeons in the water tank. I’m worried the Italians may have a word for ‘corpsewater’ too, so I think I’m going to boil any water I drink in future, just in case!

  3. Latvian Clone says:

    Thanks for the Latvian lesson. My favorite English word is shart, that is when fart and it was a #2!

  4. kukolina says:

    This was so disgusting and cool at the same time! HAHA I am never going to get to the end of all these comments and everyone is so interesting with what they have to say about the topic. Oh by the way, Hungarians and I think Germans also like to put two words together. We call them words that were put together. Here is one: rajzszög. Drawing + nail = draing pin.

    xoxo, Eszter

    • Expat Eye says:

      Germans do have an amazing knack for it by all accounts! The only Hungarian I know is ‘cheers!’ and I won’t even attempt to spell it! 🙂

  5. Anita says:

    Well, my boyfriend could talk hours about confusing Latvian language, including also words which are written the same, pronounced almost the same (or the same if you are a foreigner as you can’t hear the difference), but have 3 meanings…
    How about zāle – a gym, medicine, drugs and grass, depending on the pronunciation?
    Or mērs – a mayor or a measure, not to be confused with mēris (plague).
    Of course, I won’t mention even situations with kazas (goats) vs kāzas (wedding) which can be highly funny if you are trying to pass a naturalisation exam or write online without diacritics…

    • Expat Eye says:

      Wow, that was amazing timing! I’d just written about zāle on my FB page and how it was enough to make my head explode 🙂 And Latvians say the language is easy to pronounce – they lie 😉 There are so many subtle distinctions like that one! Although the mayor/plague one is quite fitting for anyone reading in Toronto 😉

  6. Jarro says:

    As it was already told earlier, there is nothing about floating bodies and “līķūdens”.
    That’s a part of historical Latvian burial ritual where the body is washed.
    Quick google gave me this:
    (some sayings about burial ritual)
    Now it’s just an old word that lived through centuries to be now-days wrongly used.

    On the similarity note, I was quite surprised about English term “breaking fast” when it’s used in place of breakfast.
    Breaking – that’s when you brake something and it needs fixing.
    Fast – it’s like quick.
    Some may agree that they brake fast every morning with the first sound of alarm.
    So I can break a glass fast by slamming at the table.
    When it’s in a sentence of “I will go to kitchen, boil some eggs, and brake your fast!” all it takes is to skip on “R” to make a lol.

    Of course after some research found out that fast in this case actually means “gavēnis” – a prolonged time of not eating, and breaking is ending it.


    • Expat Eye says:

      It’s ages since I’ve thought about the proper meaning of the word ‘breakfast’ – such a lovely concept 🙂 A little worried about you trying to break glass all over your kitchen though – just as well you googled first 😉

    • Splinter says:

      I wish I had not looked at that link. There are some dreadful burial rituals. They are quite controversial, some say you should and some say you shouldn’t walk over the place where the corpsewater was discharged, but some are truly horrifying, like the one that suggests that corpsewater should be used to treat children that have spots on their skin (and the hand of the corpse is even better, if the corpse is still in the house). Actually I cannot think of a suitable word instead of “treat” other than “practice magic” but the latvians have a bunch of words for magic rituals and incantations.
      But you must remember that these rituals were used long ago when most people lived in the country, death was a part of everyday life and elderly people had their own caskets waiting for them in the attic.

  7. eNVee says:

    Hello Linda!

    Thank you for this funny blog, that describes Latvia, our language and other things (yes, I am latvian)! As it was said before by someone – I do not agree with many things, but enjoy the way you present them.
    I would like to add my 5 cents about “līķūdens”. So far you’ve got few versions there already:

    1) Meat soup for vegetarians;
    2) Water with some dead body in the container;
    3) Water used for washing the corpse before funeral.

    And there you go with 2 more:

    1) “Dead” water – boiled, distilled, contains no bacteria;
    2) Underground water, that comes out of cemetary, that might flow into some lake/pond and is pontentially polluted, meaning – should be avoided for any kind of use (drinking, swimming). And as far as I know – this is the original idea of “līķūdens”. Don’t ask me why it was ever invented. I might be wrong though.

    Unfortunately Latvia is not the only place in the world where you can find some corpse in the water… ha ha!

    • Expat Eye says:

      We’ve had a fair few in Ireland – oddly, most of our fishermen can’t swim 😉 Thanks for the info! Glad you kind of/sort of like the blog 😉 Linda.

  8. um. this post should have come with a ‘don’t eat your lunch while you read this…wait til after or preferably before if you want to be skinny’ sign. because…..i have a situation.

  9. What the hell is a “lorry”?

  10. kalnina says:

    ´Likudens´ actually originally describes the water with which a dead body was washed before funeral, but since people now mostly use burial services it is no surprise many have not heard this word before.
    Now it is used figuratively to describe a gross liquid, but I guess in your friends´ case it was actually quite close to the original meaning (if they washed the mouse first:))

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, I don’t think they washed the mouse! 🙂 I don’t know if they buried him afterwards either – hopefully they’re following the comment chain and can let us know 😉 Linda.

  11. Aussa Lorens says:

    Ha– that’s hilarious! I love “daynight” <– look its a new word! And that's way gross about the mouse in the water but I suppose what you don't know can't kill you. Until it does, that is.

  12. Anna says:

    After very extensive research – nope, no ‘corpse water’ in Russian, either linguistically or conceptually. I mean..WTF is that? Who comes up with it? Why is there a need for it? Is Latvia plagued with dead bodies just floating around?
    PS – that mouse is adorable. I love mice. I once saved my office mouse from the exterminators, spent 5 hrs luring her into a bag with granola, then cabbed to Central Park to release her (her name was Lucy)

  13. xyz says:

    When I read the word “likudens” I had this vague feeling I have heard it before… but at the same time term “corpsewater” didn` t make sense to me… but I remembered where I have heard it!!!! this is how zealous vegeterians reffered soup with meat in it: likudens (corpsewater) 🙂

  14. Claire Duffy says:

    The Swedes do that too! They’re very proud of it, but it’s annoying as hell when you have to pick apart a word into 8 pieces before you can even begin to translate it. Like tvåbarnspappa – dad with two kids. Or my favourite, snuskhummer – which translates as filthy lobster, but means pervert.

  15. linnetmoss says:

    Started to LOL as soon as I saw the term “corpsewater”! Maybe they also need special terminology for other beverages, like “corpsewine” (White Zinfandel)

    • Expat Eye says:

      My Italian friend just told me she was off to wash her hair before it turned into ‘corpsehair’ – I think this thing could run and run! 🙂

  16. C2C says:

    Glad lady of the cakes covered the German for us as I have no idea! I bet I see it tons from now on though!

  17. Daina says:

    This post and all the comments are hilarious! Interestingly, I do think that I’d heard the word before – although probably only once or twice. One of the great things about learning other languages is finding words such as this that have absolutely no equivalent. l love the word “bezgaiss” in Latvian, which literally means the room which you are describing has no air. In English we’d say stuffy. But if you’ve been in Latvia on a hot summer’s day working in the basement of a horrible Soviet-era building lacking both air conditioning and seemingly air circulation altogether, then ‘stuffy’ isn’t adequate. ‘Lack of air’ is the better descriptor. 🙂

    German is notorious for stringing together not just two, but three or four words in order to create some crazy new word. Bizarrely, the word for appendix in German is “Blinddarm”, and inflammation is “Entzundung” (with an umlaut on first u), so – clearly – appendicitis is Blinddarmentzundung. Best word I learned while studying in Germany during university! 🙂

  18. bevchen says:

    Mouse water… lovely :-/
    Lady of the Cakes already has German covered and I don’t know any other languages well enough to contribute.

  19. Juris Kaža says:

    I think I am near natively fluent in Latvian (it was my first language as a child of Latvian refugees in the US) and I have never heard of līķūdens :). However, mašīna actually means “machine” and a car is automašīna shortened either to auto or mašīna.

    • Expat Eye says:

      It’s taken me over 3.5 years to hear it 😉 The song ‘Kur ir mana lidmašīna?’ was one of the first Latvian songs I heard when I got here. It’s very catchy and I like singing/shouting along to it – but it also makes me wonder how someone can misplace an AIRPLANE? 😉

  20. pollyheath says:

    Hm, I would be extremely reluctant to live in a country whose language required a word for “corpse water”. Thank you for providing me with another useful criteria for choosing my next country!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, yes, it’s never been something I would have considered before either! Now we know, eh?! I take it there is no word for it in Russian then? Russian was sort of my last hope 😉

  21. I’m sort of staring at this comment box wondering what to say, and my head just keeps asking why on earth anyone has a word for corpsewater. How does it come up? And that’s before I get to the amusing confusions over Pat getting himself pregnant.

    I should learn more languages.

    • (In my question “how does it come up?” I’m actually including the scenario you described. I’m not sure I adequately understand how they managed to drink water with a dead mouse in it. But I will definitely follow the tip about the wine.)

      • Expat Eye says:

        Me too 😉 I can only guess that they took water from the lake in some sort of non-transparent container! The mouse was a little surprise when they’d got through enough of it 😉 Ew. 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      So far Latvian seems to be the only one that has a word for corpsewater so you could start there 😉 Poor Pat – his head would be spinning 😉

  22. RuncZ says:

    Well believe it or not but I had never heard the word ‘līķūdens’ before even though I’m a native latvian. (No, my name is not Jānis. :))
    As for the pregnancy – ‘stāvoklī’ is somewhat new word for it. There’s also some older forms like ‘grūta’ or ‘grūsna’ (the latter is mostly used for animals) and ‘grūtniecība’ for pregnancy. These are actually a bit clearer and I have no idea how or why ‘stāvoklī’ got mixed in there. I certainly wouldn’t have used it.

    P.S. Thanks for this blog. It is really interesting to read how foreigners see Latvia and latvians and even though I mostly do not agree with what you are saying I like the way you do it. So keep up the good work. 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thanks ‘not Jānis’!! Is grūta anything to do with difficult? 🙂 As for the word līķūdens, I guess it takes a special set of circumstances for it to come up! You should probably feel lucky that you haven’t heard it!!

      • Indeed, grūta means difficult. Another expression is “uz grūtām kājām”. But they are archaic and not used by younger generation. The formal language used by doctors is “viņai ir grūtniecība”. It is too formal for colloquial use though, so it morphs to “viņa ir stāvoklī” which is shortened from “grūtniecības stāvoklis”.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Good to know! The short form is much easier for me to say so I’m happy about that 😉

      • Antuanete says:

        There is another rather poetic term, “gaidībās”, as in “being waiting [for the child]”. But it’s not used so often as “stāvoklī”.
        Speaking on confusing words with several meanings – in English the same word “state” means “stāvoklis” and “valsts/štats”, so don’t even start to blame us for inventing this… 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha! No, I fully accept English’s guilt on this one! A state of affairs, state of mind, state of emergency, state of the art, liquid state etc, to state… 🙂 I could continue 😉

  23. Mr Kev says:

    This made me laugh a fair bit. You know, in Polish, the word for car is “samochod” and this actually means “goes by itself”, while the word for aeroplane is “samolot” – “flies by itself”. Similarly bizarre.
    I am reliably informed there is no corpsewater, though and one has to wonder – why would you NEED a word for it!? :\

  24. nancytex2013 says:

    Oh the poor uninformed Pat who ill advisedly moves to Latvia.

  25. Hahahahaha eewww Now I can’t stop thinking about it. Both. The dead fella and if there’s a word. LOL

  26. Interesting, in Spanish to be pregnant is ’embarazada’ embarrassed. The corpsewater, is a difficult one, we mostly refer to things in the water rather than the water itself. I love the little idiosyncrasies of languages. More lessons please.


  27. German would do the same thing and create “Leichenwasser”, but we don’t have any sayings/expressions going with this, as far as I’m aware. However, we also have “Wasserleiche” (watercorpse), which you see in the newspaper every time they find a body floating in a lake or a river.

  28. 1WriteWay says:

    Maybe that’s why in the “olden” days, people’s health fared better if they drank wine instead of water. Who knows? But if I were you, I’d give up drinking water unless I can see the bottom of the container first 🙂

  29. We even have a saying: `it tastes like līķūdens`, when a drink tastes bad :))
    When I think about it from foreigners perspective, it is gross, indeed :))

  30. astrameklere says:

    So, hope, some of your Oxford English PhD friends will help us with the translation of lìkjùdens? Hope they read your blog! Otherway we will register it as a culture inheritage in UNESCO! 🙂

  31. Kaufman's Kavalkade says:

    I do not think there is such a word. And if there is, it’s horrible to have such a word for such a situation, haha. Gross….

  32. It brings back my days studying Slovak and having to actually speak it to real people. The endings of words change a lot, but the emphasis is usually always on the first syllable of the word. Because I was unsure of the verb endings, I’d stress the first syllable and then sort of mutter off. Most of the time it worked.

Comments are closed.