21 December 2009

A pig that does it all!

I am fascinated by languages. My native language is English, of course, and because I am of Polish heritage I know a "smattering" of Polish. The word "smatter", by the way, is very interesting. To "smatter" is to speak a language with superficial knowledge or understanding and thus to smatter is to dabble or even to babble. Now it just so happens that my family name, “Mrotek”, comes from the Polish root meaning “babbler” or “one who babbles”. Perhaps my ancestors were present at the construction or destruction of the biblical Tower of Babel. Wouldn't that be something, eh? Over the years I have studied other languages in general and Mandarin Chinese in particular, but Spanish is the only one in which I feel I have achieved any significant degree of fluency. Nevertheless I continue to dabble (or babble) in a number of other languages, not to really be able to communicate in them but to be able to make comparisons between languages and cultures.

For example, the other day I learned that there is a term in German, "Eierlegende Wollmilchsau", that translates literally as "egg-laying, wool, and milk producing pig". In other words, it it a pig that does everything. The term is used to mean an all-in-one device that is suitable for every purpose. Other than "universal device" I can't think of another example in English, and in Spanish "todo en uno solo " means "all-in-one". If we are talking about a person who can do anything then in English we might call them a "jack-of-all trades" and in Mexico someone who is skilled in a number of trades such as carpentry, brick laying, and mechanical repairs would be called a "milusos". In a specific trade such as carpentry for example, a person who could build everything from a bird house to a rowboat to a warehouse would be called a "todólogo" (toh-DOU-loh-goh). Robinson Crusoe's "Man-Friday" would be another example of a "todólogo".

In English if we are talking about a whole bunch of relatively anonymous people in general terms we use the word "everybody". In Spanish we say "todo el mundo". In French is "tout le monde" and in Portuguese it is "todo o mundo"which are both similar to Spanish. However, in Italian "everybody" is "ognuno" and in German, "jedermann" or in other words, "jeder" meaning "each" and "mann" meaning "man". In Mandain Chinese it is "da jia" meaning "big family". The language that really wins the prize for difficulty, however, is my own ancestral language. In Polish, the word for "everybody" is "wszyscy". Try saying THAT with a mouth full of peanut butter! I'll give you a hint. It is pronounced a bit like "fSHIStsy". Good luck!


YayaOrchid said...

Your interest and grasp of languages is very impressive. I have a hard time learning any new language. But dialects, I can pretty much pinpoint when I hear them.

Ben ( A Friend of Angela's) said...

The closest term I can think of in English is 'Swiss Army Knife'.

Bob Mrotek said...

My interest may be impressive but my grasp is no better than yours. I have a hard time too. You just have to stick with it :)

You are a genius. You hit it right on the head :)

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.