Word of the Week: Trepverter

Registration is officially open! And as classes come back to GLN, so too does the Word of the Week. In celebration of our new semester, this week we are considering a word from Yiddish, one of our new languages this Spring. The word is Trepverter, and it cannot be directly translated into English.

Literally, Trepverter means “stepwords,” or the words you come up with “on your way out” when it is too late to use them. Trepverter can be the brilliant but late conclusion to your big presentation–the one that perfectly sums up your whole point with a healthy dose of stylish flare and that you come up with in the shower the following morning. They can also be the much-needed retort that comes to you only after you’ve already been bested in a witty squabble.

Though there is no direct English equivalent for Trepverter, it is a concept that is surely familiar to almost all of us. Why exactly don’t we have such a word in English? Does having a word like “Trepverter” change the way that Yiddish speakers think about its meaning–making it less ephemeral, maybe? Whatever the case, untranslatable words serve as a good reminder of the importance of languages to cultures, and of why language is one of the most important ingredients in cross-cultural understanding.

Register for classes now and see what other untranslatable words you can collect this semester!

1 Response to "Word of the Week: Trepverter"

  1. Jeremy Roupert

    I came across this word from Saul Bellow’s novel “Herzog”. What a wonderful word; I will use it from now on. Here is the passage from the novel:

    At first there was no pattern to the notes he made. They were fragments–nonsense syllables, exclamations, twisted proverbs amd quotations or, in the Yiddish of his long dead mother, “Trepverter”– retorts that came toothete, when you were already on your way down the stairs.

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