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.
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.
Jānis: (expectant look)
Me: What is it?
Me: Well, really, all you’ve done there is just stick ‘day’ and ‘night’ together.
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.)