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I need to translate a German sentence to English: "Instinktiv riss er den Eimer hoch, um seinen Kopf zu schützen." ("He instinctively ??? the bucket to protect his head.").

"hochreissen" (also: "hochreißen" with "sz", 3rd Pers. Sg. Impf: "er riss/riß hoch") means to perform a sudden movement upwards. In the context of the newspaper article, from which my example is taken, the guy was working in his garden when somebody threw stones at him. Before he consciously realised what was happening, he had already lifted the bucket he was holding up in front of his head.

The movement is best characterised as:

  • upwards (not necessarily all the way from the ground but definitely from below its eventual position)
  • unconscious (you didn't intend to do it, it was instinct)
  • sudden and abrupt (it interrupts idleness or another activity)
  • fast and unaimed (performed "before you realise what you're doing")
  • the upward movement covers a considerable distance (e.g. rather 50cm than 5cm)
  • very often but not necessarily: a protective movement (e.g.: something is hurled at you and you want to protect your eyes)

The most recent dictionary I checked (online) suggested "yank up". Further research, however, revealed that it is rather a slang term with very little connection to the kind of movement I mean to express.

An older printed dictionary suggested simply "pull up". From my feeling I'd say that this lacks the momentum of "unintentional" and "instinctively" but I may very well be wrong.

The same dictionary also listed "hoick" (spelling variant "hoik") which is completely unknown to me and scanning the net I found no references which would fit my example.

What word would a native speaker use to describe such a movement?

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    The big differences are yank up is colloquial slang, pull up is normal current English, and hoick [up] is a quaint/dated dialectal form. So it's not really a matter of different meanings - more one of different registers. Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 13:25
  • Thank you very much! Please make this an answer so I can accept it. It was very helpful and answered precisely my question. I will go with "pull up" then. Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 13:34
  • [just an aside] Pure guesswork - hoick could possibly be from hoist. Dialectical, for sure, but still in use in Northern UK. To me, it doesn't suggest 'sudden' or 'instinctive', but deliberate. 'He hoicked up his britches' to add another dialectical/archaic word still in use. Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 9:16

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The big differences are...

yank up is colloquial slang,
pull up is normal current English,
hoick [up] is a quaint/dated dialectal form.

So it's not really a matter of different meanings - more one of different registers.


There are plenty more words with the same general sense of pull [up] that also carry overtones of rapid and/or involuntary movement (tug, jerk, snatch, wrench, etc.).

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  • Thanks again! May I ask for your personal oppinion? Which one would you use when you want it to sound rather dramatic? Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 14:21
  • @Patric: It's "writing advice", and I can't really relate to your context anyway, but maybe something like jerked the bucket up to protect his face. The idea of "instinctively shielding oneself" (as opposed to "instinctively ducking/dodging") seems strange to me. Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 14:35
  • Thank you very much, you gave me really helpful insights! I don't know if the story's real, I only got a paper with the copy of what seems to be a newspaper article (no references given). It's about a bunch of youth terrorising a suburb in Berlin Neukoelln by randomly attacking them in different ways. My example was taken from an interview with a victim. Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 14:58
  • @Patric: In a context like that I really can't imagine why a speaker/writer/reporter would see any reason to mention anything along the lines of Before he consciously realised what was happening. How would things be any different if he did consciously realise he was being attacked/stoned? Perhaps it's a cultural thing. Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 15:09
  • Not a cultural difference but a misunderstanding caused by me, sorry! Only the very sentence in quotes at the beginning of my question is from the article. The whole rest was meant to be explanation of what I am looking for based upon my interpretation of the original text. My bad, sorry for the confusion! Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 15:12

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