Category Archives: Language

Seven Ways to Say “Curly”

I am the child of a father with thick, curly black hair and a mother with fine, straight brown hair. So what did I end up with? A head full of not-quite-curly, not-quite straight, fine hair. Thanks, genes! Actually, a better way to describe my hair is “a collection of limp, uncooperative cowlicks that behave badly in public.”

The only time my hair looks good is right after a new haircut. Here’s me straight from the hairdresser’s about a month ago:

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and here’s me today:

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But last week I bought some pomade that smells like limes and makes my wavy, unruly hair calm down and behave. I looked like this for about one day:

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As long as my hair stays exactly this length, I’m happy. I like the simplicity of my current morning routine: shampoo, apply goo, scrunch, and go.

But I know in about two days my hair will reach that stage again where I debate the pros and cons of yanking it back into a pony tail, getting it all cut off, or both.

The reason I’m discussing my hair has nothing to do with vanity, and everything to do with linguistics. You see, the little label that came with my pomade was translated into seven languages, none of which were English or Spanish.

I wondered why the company selected the languages they did (French, German, Swedish, Russian, Italian, Dutch, and Portuguese) and why they omitted English and Spanish. But I was glad to see the less well-known languages included for a change.

Being a language nerd, I decided to take up the challenge of trying to read the label. I still remember some of my high school French, which gave me a head start. The label began with a brief product description, saying it would lend control and shine to curly hair. It talked about how to apply the stuff.

For each language, there was a warning included, which said:

Precautions: Follow instructions. Avoid all contact with eyes. KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN.

After studying the label, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are seven different ways to think of “curly,” depending on where you live.

The French phrase for curly hair is “cheveux bouclés,” which actually means “loopy hair.” If you’ve ever seen a jacket made from bouclé fabric, you know the look. It’s kind of tousled and wild, something like fleece. I like the idea of appearing tousled and wild, so from now on I’m going to ask my hairdresser to give me a “bouclé.” I just hope she doesn’t think it means “blue hair.”

The German phrase for curly hair is “lockige Haare.” That may be where we get the word “Goldilocks” from. And I learned from reading the label and using Google that the German way of saying “control hair” uses the word “geeignet,” which means to make something acceptable. I guess I’d better not visit Germany looking like picture #2 above.

The Swedes refer to curly locks as “lockigt har/god til krollet har.” That means curly/crinkly hair, I think. I found it interesting that the English words for “medium” and “formula” are the same in Swedish, at least on this product label.

Then I came to Russian, a language that completely baffles me. Not only do most letters appear as upper-case, but some like R and N are mirror images of their English versions, and others look more like hieroglyphics. I had no idea which of the Russian words was the one for hair.

However, I did manage to figure out which one meant “Precautions,” since I’d already identified it in the French version (“Précautions”) and it was the only word followed by a colon. So I THINK that the Russian word for “Precautions” is something like this: Cnoco6 npNMeHehNR. I wonder if Donald Trump took Cnoco6 npNMeHehNR when he visited Russia.

Now for Italian. In Italian, curly hair is translated as “capelli ricci.” Rich hair! It makes sense that Italians would think of curly hair as “rich.”

The Dutch translation of curly hair is “krullend haar.” But before you start thinking that Dutch is just a slightly modified version of English, consider that the Dutch word for instructions is “gebruiksaanwijzing.” (It was on the label and I looked it up.)

The last language on the label is Portuguese. The Portuguese translation of curly hair is “cabelo encaracolado,” which almost literally means “hair like a snail shell.” What a great description of my hair! (See picture #2 above.)

The very last portion of the label was a long list of ingredients, and, for some reason, it was in English only. Maybe they didn’t want their readers to understand it. I understood only too well that I’ve been putting something on my hair that’s made with citronella, and is practically radioactive. But it smells good, and it probably will keep the mosquitoes away this summer.