The Germans. They got a word for everything. I know this because we use a lot of their words in our language. I know what you’re thinking and just stop it. You are going to ruin future posts on words we have thanks to languages like Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Nahuatl, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Russian, Sanskrit, Spanish, Turkish, Welsh (this list can just go on ad nauseam) Oh! and Latin.
I am starting with German because I have always admired the sesquipedalian nature of German compound words. As you probably know, most Germanic-stemming languages like English, German and Dutch have grammar that allows for the combination of multiple words to create a new term or concept. For example, in English we have the word soap, something you need to use more often, and the word box, where you keep your friend, Jack. Put these two simple words together and voilà, rather achtung, you have a term for the metaphoric platform off of which you want to dropkick anybody from the Westboro Baptist Church. (I would put a link but I don’t want to promote them. If you don’t know who they are, they think “God hates bundles of sticks”.)
As pointed out, we can combine words, too, and we do. However, leave it to the Germans to überfy the whole game. We have piddly compounds like “babysit” and “catnap” that pale by comparison to their German counterparts: Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz* which means to tell the story of Hansel and Gretel while simultaneously eating a whole schnitzel, or Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesell-schaft** which means window…that happened to be broken by a round projectile thrown by the left-handed kid with a lisp who lives three houses down.
But this post is not intended to laud the length of German words. I want to highlight a few words of German origin that we can use to make us sound smarter and more attractive. Here are a few of my favorites with an acceptable layperson’s synonym or explanation:
- Blitz – What the Niners couldn’t defend against last Thursday against the Ravens
- Ersatz – ain’t the real thing, think Sweet’N Low to sugar, pleather to leather, green horseradish to wasabi
- Diesel – European gas
- Doppelgänger – look-alike
- Dreck – garbage
- Gemütlich – pleasant
- Kaput – broken
- Schadenfreude – laughing at someone who just stepped in dog poo
- Verboten – totally not allowed
- Wanderlust – wanting to travel real bad
- Zeitgeist – how it was when it was
- Additional entries [Thank you, Mark, Jonas and Leela!]
- Gemeinschaft – social relations between individuals, based on close personal and family ties; community
- Gesellschaft – social relations based on impersonal ties, as duty to a society or organization
- Rucksack – literally, backbag
- Angst – feeling of fear or anxiety
- Kitsch – tacky, shag carpet-y
- Noodle – please tell me you know what noodles are
- Delicatessen – long form of deli
- Lager – type of beer, usually the ubiquitous anonymous national type à la Budweiser in the U.S.
- Fest – in English, this is typically a post-positive combining form denoting a party or large gathering; as in sausagefest -“Beta Rho Omicron is hosting a sausagefest this Friday night where they will be featuring the best of German wurst.”
This list is by no means exhaustive but if you are here that means you have the Internet, and with the Internet you can look up anything.
Any others you’d like to chip in? Any requests for languages that English robbed of words at exclamation point?
*Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz – “beef labeling regulation & delegation of supervision law”
**Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtenges-ellschaft – “association of subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services”
[both from http://german.about.com/library/blwort_long.htm]
[image courtesy of Laugh it out of Facebook. Facepalm]