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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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Isn't the German word for "Silly" FRENCH? It would also cover foolish, unintelligent & irresponsible. –  Cos Callis Jun 10 '11 at 3:23
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@cos I've never heard of that. Are you thinking of "frech" (cheeky)? –  Stefano Palazzo Jun 10 '11 at 23:25
    
@Stefano, No, I'm referring to the French; as in the Awful Tower & that glass pyramid at the Louvre (silly), The Maginot Line (foolish), The Treaties of Versailles & Sevres (unintelligent), French (so called) diplomacy (irresponsible), oh, and the fine art of hiding horse meat with complex sauces that is called "French Cuisine". If Germany would invade France just one more time and STOP, I think no one should complain. –  Cos Callis Jun 11 '11 at 2:04
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@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
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4 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

"albern" could fit, but feels a bit outdated.

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I don't think "albern" is outdated.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
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'Albern' fits and is quite universal - definitely not outdated! –  Takkat Jun 10 '11 at 6:17
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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
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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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"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
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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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