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The English word "silly" has a multitude of meanings. Is there a single German word that would work as a translation for "silly" the following example sentences? If not, which word should I use in each case?

He keeps calling you these silly names. (playful)

Your silly husband is participating in the brezel marathon. (irresponsible)

That silly man will never graduate. (unintelligent)

Parse HTML with regex? That's a silly idea! (foolish)

"Blöd", "dumm" and "doof" feel too insulting to fit the first two senses.

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1  
@cos I've never heard of that. Are you thinking of "frech" (cheeky)? –  Stefano Palazzo Jun 10 '11 at 23:25
6  
@Cos Perhaps you'd like to clarify what you're trying to say here, as it seems quite offensive and nonesensical to me at the moment. –  Glen Wheeler Jun 24 '11 at 9:27
    
Not to say... silly? –  Jules Jul 24 '12 at 9:54

5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

"albern" could fit, but feels a bit outdated.

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14  
I don't think "albern" is outdated. Sei doch nicht albern! –  con-f-use Jun 9 '11 at 21:49
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Don't think so either. I use it quite often, actually. However, it fits only with sentence #1 and #4. #2 wouldn't really work and #3 doesn't make sense at all. –  ladybug Jun 9 '11 at 21:55
1  
'Albern' fits and is quite universal - definitely not outdated! –  Takkat Jun 10 '11 at 6:17
    

How come nobody sugggested dämlich? It fits in all the examples too.

edit: Dämlich has the (to me at least) literal connotation of "like a foolish old lady", which is unkind to old ladies, I know. Entirely subjectively I would say it is probably just a tick more negative than albern, slightly in the direction of "anyone who does this must be a bit stupid".

Anyway:

He keeps calling you these silly names. (playful) 

dämliche Namen, perhaps he's trying to make you look stupid, or he's making himself look stupid.

Your silly husband is participating in the brezel marathon. (irresponsible) 

Dämlich is exactly right here. He's daft to contemplate it.

That silly man will never graduate. (unintelligent) 

This isn't something you would say in English either, I think, but here dämlich could mean "too scatty" ot "too unorganised".

Parse HTML with regex? That's a silly idea! (foolish) 

Now here dämlich is right, meaning "it's a stupid thing to try".

Dämlich is used a lot, but could be construed as a faint insult when used personally.

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Welcome to German Language SE! I agree that dämlich would fit. However, it would give the sentences a slightly different meaning than e.g. albern in the accepted answer, wouldn't it? Maybe you want to improve your answer by adding some information on how dämlich would be understood or when it could or should not be used? –  Matthias Sep 15 at 9:23
    
Thanks for the helpful amendment. I wonder what your literal connotation of "herrlich" might be ;-) –  Matthias Sep 15 at 13:52
    
It is strange that herrlich means almost the opposite. The negative meaning of dämlich is unfair to Damen. –  RedSonja Sep 17 at 8:49
    
It is not unfair, it's probably just kind of "etymologigal bad luck". I opened two questions to discuss the relationsips of the two word pairs: german.stackexchange.com/questions/15720/… and german.stackexchange.com/questions/15722/… –  Matthias Sep 17 at 19:48

In der Schweiz wird an dieser Stelle oft 'lustig' benutzt. Das Wort bekommt in einem bestimmten Kontext die Konnotation von 'silly'.

You silly guy, you ate up all the cookies!?

Du bisch no ne luschtige, hesch eifach aui Güezli ufg'ässe?!

Du bist mir noch ein lustiger Kerl, hast die Kekse einfach weggeputzt.

Aber das funktioniert lange nicht für alle Sätze in der Frage.

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Indeed such a universal word like silly is badly missing in German. Each of your examples would be put in other words (only given here as examples - there are many other variants)

He keeps calling you these silly names. (playful)

"albern"

Your silly husband is participating in the brezel marathon. (irresponsible)

"leichtsinnig"

That silly man will never graduate. (unintelligent)

"einfältig"

Parse HTML with regex? That's a silly idea! (foolish)

"blöd"

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2  
"lächerlich" is quite a harsh word, wouldn't use it for playful... rather "scherzhaft" or "albern" –  ladybug Jun 9 '11 at 21:59
    
What ladybug said.. lächerlich has ridiculing implications and can imply a defensive response like 'That's preposterous!' It may literally translate as 'laughingly', but shouldn't be used that way. –  Joost Schuur Jun 10 '11 at 4:04
    
@ladybug: 'albern' is much better! Thank you - edited answer. –  Takkat Jun 10 '11 at 6:14
    
I would also like to add "bescheuert" and "bekloppt". They might sound a bit less playful at first, but I have been using them frequently when I would use "silly" in English. –  Jules Jul 24 '12 at 9:56
    
@Jules: both of these are good translations too - my answer only covers some examples of non-colloquial variants. Of course there are a lot more :) –  Takkat Jul 24 '12 at 10:05

If you want to use silly in a more playful, less insulting way than blöd or doof, how about

  • töricht (foolish, simple, looses it's weight slightly because it's old fashioned)

    or

  • dümmlich (roughly translates to something like 'slightly idiotic')

Of course, just like 'silly', you can not rely on those words being understood "correctly" :-)

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Thanks. Could I say "Dein törichter/dümmlicher Mann hat zu viele Brezeln gegessen." without getting anyone offended? –  Tim N Jun 9 '11 at 20:37
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Well, no... or only if you have a really nice smile. You're quite right in assuming that there is no comparable equivalent to 'silly' –  Stefano Palazzo Jun 9 '11 at 20:39
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Actually, I can't think of a single polite way to translate the Brezel sentence into German. I would actually recommend just to leave out the "silly" and instead add a reproachful undertone and roll your eyes ("Dein Mann nimmt am Brezel-Marathon teil...!!!"). –  ladybug Jun 9 '11 at 21:58
    
@ladybug Do you think "your silly husband" is a polite expression in English? If not: why trying to translate it in a polite way? –  Matthias Sep 15 at 20:28

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