I was translating a German chat in the office and somebody said something about 'Glück'. I immediately translate the concept to 'fortune', also because I'm Italian and the most similar word is 'fortuna' - cames from Latin, makes sense - but a colleague of mine said 'lucky' is better.

Is there a real difference?

  • There is also happiness. If you say Ich bin glücklich it really means "I am happy" – Oliver Mason Jun 8 '18 at 13:00
  • The word lucky is an adjective, it modifies a noun. The word fortune is a noun; the adjectival equivalent is fortunate. The word lucky is much more common and idiomatic in everyday contexts; fortunate is higher register. Historically, fortune was imbued with a sort of Deistic character; it was grace from God (the Christian one), or at other times, in 19th C poetic usage particularly, evoking a Greek pagan image (a minor goddess). Lucky has a more agentless spirit; the kind of energy that powers superstitions. But in day-to-day life, go for lucky; fortunate will stick out. – Dan Bron Jun 8 '18 at 13:02
  • Actually, the most similar word in Italian is "sorte." Also, "luck" is a better translation for "glück" if for no other reason than the English word "luck" is a direct derivative of the German word "glück." The etymology of "luck" goes back to the German word "glück," not the Latin word "fortuna." – Billy Jul 9 '18 at 1:39

It depends on the exact meaning; there is not a one-to-one mapping between Glück and either fortune or luck.

Luck is related to chance, and would be the obvious choice in a gambling context: Glück im Spiel -- "luck in gambling". Or in the case of having avoided an accident: Glück gehabt -- "I was lucky."

Fortune relates more to circumstances which are less random: I was fortunate to have had support from my peers, which in German might also be translated as glücklich. Its nominal use is mainly in the 'career' sense, as in make your fortune, perhaps translatable as sein Glück finden. This latter example could also be find happiness. The difference here is that happiness is not necessarily linked with success, which fortune would suggest.

The use of make in relation to fortune also indicates that it is something you are mostly responsible for yourself; you can also find your fortune, but that is rarer and usually then linked to (random) discoveries. Glück works with both machen and finden.

To summarise: both are possible (plus happiness), luck seems more likely, but ultimately it depends on the context in which it was used.

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You can look up the definitions in many dictionaries of those two words, and they will use similar but distinct explanations, and yet they may not tell you what you should do for translation.

Dictionaries seem authoritative but only in the sense that the lexicographer who writes a definition is presumably well educated. THere's no necessity that a word can be replaced with a definition; the definition is only an explanation and one that attempts to minimize its length without the context of comparisons with other words.

That said, 'fortune' is a much more formal term than 'luck' (most Latinate synonyms are more formal than their Anglo-Saxon counterpart). Also fortune has another meaning, that of 'a large amount of wealth', which 'luck does not have at all. Even if you meant the lucky version of 'fortune', its connections with wealth are still unconsciously understood by the listener.

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