>What Does "Grateful" Mean To You?

>Was discussing something the other day that I found interesting on a few different levels: the concept of gratitude. As an English speaker I find it easy to say I feel “grateful” for something, without there having to be an object to which my gratitude is directed. The beau disagreed, and mid-conversation it occurred to me that perhaps it’s the vagueness of the word “gratitude”, as opposed to the German equivalent “Dankbarkeit”, which literally means thankfulness. Someone who does not believe in a higher being may not describe this positive feeling as thankfulness, but they might call it being grateful, as in grateful for being alive or grateful to have a talent. But really, why is there a difference?
This to me is an example of language and culture shaping the way one thinks. So much is influenced by what your language’s vocabulary conjures in your head, and it does not always work in exactly the same way when you think in another language. In fact, it’s more often a surprise when it does. One way of exploring this is to compare sayings. Sometimes they are the same, somethings they are different. Tonight I learned that the German version of “to throw a wrench in the works” is “to throw sand in the works”. Hmmm. Why sand? “All bark and no bite” comes out as “barking dogs don’t bite” — a general saying, one you can’t use to describe someone, like you can with the first.
When I first came over to look for work, and had to start getting around and (gasp) socializing in the new language, my then-boyfriend commented to me that, if I didn’t know the right and normal way of communicating something, I had was good at “going around it” and finding an alternate way of saying it, which he said he found endearing (thank goodness! — oh, see, there’s no-object gratitude for you right there.) Probably I was doing my best to translate my English-language-thinking into German, and sounding weird for it.
Because if this I can’t get too much of a kick out of making fun of another person’s foreign accent. I might smile at it, but cheeze, we all try so hard to get it as right as we can.

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3 Responses to >What Does "Grateful" Mean To You?

  1. jac says:

    >"Why sand?"Throw some sand in a gear train ("sand in the gears") and you'll find out 😉

  2. Marcellina says:

    >Yeah, I get that. But how did English get the whole wrench (or spanner, as the Brits say.) Why don't we say sand too?

  3. ellroon says:

    >Spanner in the works….Maybe the British axiom reflects their fear of union sabotage …. or really careless workers…I love these fragments of speech that carry far beyond the true meaning and common day usage. English is delightfully cluttered with words from several centuries ago that mean nothing like what they were used for back then.I'm sure German is the same. My son is working hard on learning the language and is now able to differentiate between high German (easy) and the many Austrian dialects (what the fuck did they just say?). But nuance is always going to be hard to catch. We have a hard enough time communicating and being understood in our own language. And then add another layer of a different language….!!

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