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I've looked up a few translations of the word "quirky" as they all seem to have a bit of a negative connotation attached to them (e.g., skurril, verschroben, eigenartig, and sonderbar).

How can I convey a more positive image in German?

Example sentence:

I like her quirkiness.

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    Can you add some more context, please? help-info's "answer" is quite good, just a single sentence seems to less for an answer to distinguish meaning in context. verschroben and skuril can be used positivly - in proper context. – Shegit Brahm Sep 11 at 6:31
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    You should indeed add a definition of quirky in the sense you want it translated or expressed in German. Could a characterise a person that is quirky in the sense you mean? – Christian Geiselmann Sep 11 at 10:20
  • @help-info.de: You should leave that as an answer (and support it), not as a comment. – V2Blast Sep 13 at 10:17
  • The translations you found are no more derogatory in German than 'quirkiness' in English, really. Context here is everything and you gave none. – TaW Sep 13 at 21:50

10 Answers 10

30

All languages have words that are unique and hard to translate, because most other languages don't have a perfect matching translation for it. The German word Gemütlichkeit is one of them. You can translate is as "cosiness, snugness, sociability, comfortability, warmth, friendliness, slowliness, homelikeliness, ..." but all of those words matches only parts of the meaning of Gemütlichkeit. Other German words that are hard to translate are fremdschämen, Schadenfreude, Nervensäge, Weltschmerz, Erklärungsnot, Mahlzeit!, Fernweh, Fiesling, Schönwetterfreund and some of them even are used a foreign words in English: doppelganger (from German Doppelgänger literally: double walker), kindergarten (Kindergarten = children's garden) and many others.

The adjective quirky is one of the English words that are hard to translate into German. Others are mind, awkward, doggy bag, no-brainer, serendipity, bromance.

All you can do with such words is to step away from the word-to-word translation level and enter the "meaning level". Some call it free translation. You have to analyze, what is the meaning and intention of the speaker or writer, and then you have to re-think this meaning in the other language and express this meaning and intention in the other language. If you have to express ideas, that are easy to express with one of the words discussed here in one language, you maybe have to build complete new sentences in the other language.

This is what makes translation so hard. Every language has a set of words, and this set limits the way of thinking. Other languages have different sets with different meanings. So, speakers of other languages have other limitation of how they think. (And multilingual people have less limits of thinking, because they have more possibilities to think.)

If you grow up in an environment, where being gemütlich (adjective) and Gemütlichkeit (noun) are part of your everyday life, and then you want to say: "Simon ist ein sehr gemütlicher Mensch" or "Dieses Café strahlt eine angenehme Gemütlichkeit aus." or "Ich trinke erst mal ganz gemütlich ein Bier." in an other language than German, then you will get into trouble, because the idea that is connected with Gemütlichkeit is spread over many different words in other languages, and you have to find not only the best matching word for the actual context, but you also sometimes must provide the right context, that already is built into the original word.

The concept of quirkiness does not exist in German. (It exists in variations, but not in exactly the same way as in English.) Every German translation that is sufficiently close to the original meaning has a negative connotation. To be quirky means to be out of the norm, and being out of the norm is negatively connoted in most situations.

I don't really know the English word quirky, so I have no idea how positive or negative connoted it is, but the phrase "I like her ..." (in German: "Ich mag ihr(e(n)) ...") already provides a very positive context.

So, although all nouns in this list are negative connoted in other contexts, the whole sentence still is positive:

Ich mag ihre Verschrobenheit.
Ich mag ihre Schrulligkeit.
Ich mag ihre Ticks.
Ich mag ihre Marotten.
Ich mag ihre exzentrische Art.

  • Verschrobenheit - eccentricity, crankiness
  • Schrulligkeit - crankiness
  • Ticks (plural of Tick) - quirks, spleens, tics, fads
  • Marotten (plural of Marotte) - foibles, whims, fads, quirks
  • exzentrische Art - eccentric nature, cranky nature, bizarre nature (also manner instead of nature)
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    I'd say 'quirky' combines a degree of eccentricity with some amount of cuteness or an affable nature. – J... Sep 11 at 13:43
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    I think you could drop the first and fourth paragraph to make the answer more concise. – TheSexyMenhir Sep 11 at 13:59
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    Better leave out the part about language limiting thinking. Thought is not restricted by language, only expression of thought is. It's not like we could not appreciate a person's quirkiness, the direct way to express this is just a bit awkward (at least, if trying to translate from English instead of starting the process in German). – Chieron Sep 11 at 14:40
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    @Chieron - uh, no. It's been shown by research, many times over, that thought is limited by language. That's why bilingualism is so useful, far beyond just being able to speak to more people. – Davor Sep 11 at 15:25
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    you can continue this discussion over at linguistics SE if you will, but you won't find a satisfying answer over there either, ultimately because neither term is well defined, whether in speech or thought. – vectory Sep 11 at 17:15
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I would use

Ich mag ihre Eigenheiten

it is relatively neutral in meaning so it doesn't have any negative connotation. But of course it could be too neutral for "quirky".

15

Of course, Hubert Schölnast is right about the problems of translation in general, and he also suggests a few good attempts at translating quirky.

The first word that came to my mind though was ausgeflippt.

Ich mag ihre Ausgeflipptheit. Ich mag ihre ausgeflippte Art.

Used as a verb it can mean that someone lost their temper, but as an adjective it could also mean that a person is a bit out of the norm, unpredictable in a creative way, very active or of an agile mind, maybe a little hyped up. It's colloquial than what Hubert suggested.

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    Ausgephilippt wäre auch noch eine Variante. – Christian Geiselmann Sep 11 at 10:21
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    @christiangeiselmann Ich fürchte, mit dem Vorschlag waren meine Eltern ein paar Jahrzehnte schneller als du. – Philipp Sep 11 at 12:31
  • Du wirst ihre Erfindergabe wohl tatkräftig unterstützt haben. – Christian Geiselmann Sep 11 at 15:57
  • I don't think this really fits. In my opinion "ausgeflippt" describes a rather extrovert person, while a "quirky" one can also be introvert – Michael A. Schaffrath Sep 12 at 12:18
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    @MichaelA.Schaffrath As Hubert Schölnast points out in his answer, there’s not one translation that fits all the meanings. – Philipp Sep 12 at 13:00
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Merriam-Webster's entry for quirky describes it as "unusual in especially an interesting or appealing way".

So one could simply say:

Ich mag ihre ungewöhnliche Art.

An even better fit, because it usually has a positive connotation even in German (I think Volker Landgraf has a point with Germans disrespecting deviations from the norm, except perhaps in Berlin) would be:

Ich mag ihre originelle Art.

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In a humorous context I would use ulkig.

Ich mag ihre ulkige Art.

Some examples from Wiktionary:

Seine Kleidungsstücke passten farblich überhaupt nicht zusammen, das sah ulkig aus.

Renate ist schon eine ulkige Nudel, die gratuliert keinem zum Geburtstag.

and from Duden:

mit der Pappnase sah er wirklich ulkig aus

er ist ein ulkiger Mensch, Vogel

5

As a supplement of Hubert's answer, it is a social phenomenon in German(y) that beeing too different from others is generally regarded negatively, therefore you will hardly find any word for "quirk" that has a positve or neutral connotation unless combined with something like "I like...".
This is different from e.g. England, where it seems to be perfectly socially accepted that virtually everyone has a spleen or two.

  • Not sure why this was downvoted -- it rings true to my ears. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Sep 11 at 14:32
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    Everyone has a spleen (Milz), only psychopaths should have more. (spleen meaning eccentricity is old-fashioned, and othwise it tends to mean Zorn or schlechte Laune) – Chieron Sep 11 at 14:45
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    I think you are drawing German society too single-sided. There are sectors of society where some Ausgeflipptheit, some Exzentrik, some being unkonventionell or some Extravaganz, or even some Unangepasstheit, Eigenwilligkeit or Verrücktheit are well-received. – Christian Geiselmann Sep 11 at 16:00
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    Dennis Rodman, a very quirky basketball player, has been called a "Paradisvogel". Your remark about bein different is undue, it would merely shift the question to a discussion about how different different really is. By the way quirky to me just means the IE 8 quirk-mode. That's not ausgeflippt nor paradiesisch. It's not queer either (and thus no Querkopf as would fit your answer). It's just schräg, ein schräger Vogel sozusagen. Das muss man nicht mögen, aber Worte dafür gibt es reichlich. Quark reden ist dann nurnoch negativ besetzt. Wie wärs mit komisch, wirklich komisch? – vectory Sep 11 at 16:51
  • ... die Deutschen stehen ja auch in dem Ruf, keinen Humor zu kennen. Dann muss komisch doch, aus deutscher Sicht zumindest mer-kwürd-ig sein. – vectory Sep 11 at 16:52
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Ich mag ihre unkonventionelle Art

... which puts an emphasis on defying convention without suggesting open rebellion. The extent of the defiance remains open to interpretation and in general the phrase suggests ingenuity, initiative, and thinking outside the box.

Credits

... go to @ChristianGeiselmann who noted the positive connotation of 'unkonventionell' in one of his comments.

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It really depends on the context (as many others have pointed out). If you don't need to keep the same sentence structure, you could say "Ich mag, dass sie nicht 08/15 ist, das macht sie interessant!"

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DeepL recommends "Ich mag ihre Eigenart." in the first try. If you are not satisfied with "Eigenart", it recommends "Macken" as the first alternative - which sounds better to my ears:

Ich mag ihre Macken.

If you don't like "mag", the first alternative is

Ich steh auf ihre Macken.

which sounds even better to me, but might express a little too much sympathy :) !

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I would go with "eigenwillig" for "quirky" and "Eigenwilligkeit" for "quirkiness". Literally it means "with a mind of one's own". It doesn't reach into the negative as "Sturköpfigkeit", "boneheadedness" does and is more about a refusal to be pinned down into a category rather than refusing to consider changing categories.

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