English kisses

We have all heard of French Kisses. Here is the definition in urbandictionary.com: An open mouthed kiss with tongue. Who would have thought that English kisses are worth talking about, and what could be so difficult in translating a simple German Kuss into plain English? However, there are certain pitfalls when reality sets in. They are to do with the various forms of kisses, the choice of words for this intimate activity and with the social acceptance it has in public. For example, when describing a greeting at a rather formal party, how would you translate ”Er gab der Gastgeberin einen angedeuteten Kuss auf die Wange”, which in a particular situational context is not the fashionable quick Busserl on both cheeks. Would you choose phantom kiss, a hinted kiss or an implied kiss?

A Kiss on the Wind by Nikki Ella Whitlock. Detail flickr CC-Licence

Kissing among friends is usually restricted to a light kiss on cheeks or a blown kiss when at a greater distance to one another. This has become an established custom but is still considered as ´silly and pretentious` by some, “particularly when it takes the form of an ´air kiss`” (KATE FOX*). The air kiss is mentioned in the Advanced Learner´s Dictionary as: a way of saying hello or good-bye to someone by kissing them near the side of their face but not actually touching them. FOX claims it is only women who practise the kiss on each cheek; “men do not air-kiss unless they are very camp gays…” This attitude may have changed over time but none of the suggestions for translation made above would seem to satisfy a native speaker. A hint of a kiss, a fleeting kiss or just a peck on the cheek would do, however.

The following is the comment of a frustrated German speaker of English: “Wenn das übliche und tausendfach praktizierte Prozedere einer Party beschrieben wird, muss es doch für diese traditionelle Handlung einen festen Begriff geben. GOOGLE schlägt vor: a hint kiss.” 

There are several misunderstandings in this opinion. First, social behaviour (at parties etc.) differs from country to country. Secondly, a word/phrase/concept that exists in one language does not necessarily exist in another cultural environment. Also, limited physical contact at social get-togethers is one of the ´distance rules` of Englishness (FOX). And finally, would-be translations of the type „equal goes it loose“ for „gleich geht´s los“ are not helpful at all! 

* Kate Fox, Watching the British. The Hidden Rules of Behaviour. London 2004

Contributed by H. Wedde

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