That’s one for the books

As I was running yesterday, I noticed that the German words for “to publish” – veröffentlichen – and “public” (as an adjective) – öffentlich – are related. Which in turn made me realize that their English counterparts are also related. German also has the word publizieren for “to publish” as well as das Publikum for “audience” or “public” (used as a noun). According to Duden, these latter two are probably the result of an influx of Latin-based words into German from French and English.

I can recall having a conversation with a colleague about twenty years ago over publications in scientific journals – he argued that they really shouldn’t be considered published unless they found a public (that is they were cited by another author in one of her/his publications). I wonder what he’d make of the proliferation of blogs (like this one) or the myriad updates on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram through which so many of us seek to publish our thoughts? If they are without a public are they not really public?

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Mehr als Truthahn

Heute ist Thanksgiving in den Staaten. Ein riesiger Feiertag. Familien versammeln und essen normalerweise Truthahn, Stampfkartoffeln, Süßkartoffeln mit Marshmallows, Cranberrys und Kürbiskuchen. Wenn jemand keine Verwandten in der Nähe hat, bekommt man oft eine Einladung von Freunden, Kollegen oder ab und zu von fremden Leuten. Wir glauben, dass niemand an diesen Tag allein sein sollte. Warum? Weil der einer Tag ist, dass vor allem man seine Dankbarkeit ausdrückt. Und deshalb sagen die meisten am Anfang der Mahlzeit was sie dafür dankbar sind.

Wofür bin ich dankbar? Ich bin dankbar, dass ich eine richtige Wohnung habe. Ich muss nicht im Zelt oder in einer Unterkunft übernachten, wie die Obdachlose oder die Flüchtlinge. Ich bin dankbar, dass ich freiwillig in Deutschland lebe. Das war meine Entscheidung und ich habe das nicht im Not beschlossen. Ich bin auch dankbar, dass es bei Dialog in Deutsch und Meetup so viele Möglichkeiten mit Menschen aus der ganzen Welt zu treffen gibt. Dass ich diese Gelegenheiten ergriff, bin ich hier mit so vielen Leuten befreundet. Natürlich habe ich noch Sehnsucht nach meiner Familie und Heimat, aber nach drei Jahren fühle ich mich auch in Hamburg Zuhause.

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Pull out all the stops

At first blush the German words der Korkenzieher – “corkscrew” – and der Erzieher – “educator” – would seem to have little in common other than their spellings. But break them down into their parts and there is an interesting connection: they both have to do with bringing something up. In the corkscrew case, that something is a cork and the “bringing up” is quite concrete. In the educator case, that something is a child or children and the “bringing up” refers to the more abstract notion of “raising” the children to a higher level – be it intellectual, social, emotional, physical, behavioral, etc.

Here are two things I like about this connection. First, when you think about educating as being like using a corkscrew, it implies that development is unlikely to be linear. There will be twists and turns and you will come to the same place repeatedly, but as you grow, you navigate this place with a greater level of skill or ease.

Second, imagine a sommelier wielding a corkscrew, ready to open a bottle of wine. The wine is presented to the customer with respect. Time is taken to look, smell and taste (and even to describe the “feel” in the mouth); to consider and then detail its stellar and signature qualities. The process is seen as important because the contents are important. What if educators wielded their tools to make the learning process one that respected all learners? If educators were given the time to discern in all pupils their distinctive and special talents? If there was a focus both on what there was to learn and on how students might learn it best? Who knows what rare vintages we could uncover?!

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Anything for a quiet night?

I learned the word stillen over a year ago when a participant in Dialog in Deutsch wondered how to ask if it was okay if she breastfed her baby, which she wanted to do while we were meeting. Stillen came up again a few weeks ago but in the context of assuaging the longing for home or for travel – Heimweh stillen or Fernweh stillen. Hearing these more abstract uses of stillen made me wonder what else could be “stilled.”

It turned out to be an interesting list. Stillen can be used to mean:

  • “to allay/appease one’s hunger” – seinen Hunger stillen
  • “to assuage the appetite” – den Appetit stillen
  • “to staunch/arrest bleeding” – die Blutung stillen
  • “to ease the pain” – die Schmerzen stillen
  • “to satisfy curiosity” – Neugierde stillen

In addition, DWDS.DE offers the following words and phrases found co-located with stillen in their corpus:

  • “need” – das Bedürfnis
  • “ambition ” – der Ehrgeiz
  • “demand” – die Nachfrage
  • “yearning/longing” – die Sehnsucht
  • “desire” – das Verlangen
  • “thirst for knowledge” – der Wissensdurst
  • “for acceptance/recognition” – nach Anerkennung
  • “for justice” – nach Gerechtigkeit
  • “for revenge” – nach Rache
  • “for sensation” – nach Sensationen

“To quench one’s thirst” can be expressed with seinen Durst stillen. With the English word “quench” I began to think about raging fires or hot metal needing to be cooled. The German word for the situation where you are cooling hot metal is a lovely one: abschrecken. Yes, that base word is schrecken which as a noun – der Schrecken – means “terror” or “fright” or “horror.” Not words that come to mind in the context of nursing a baby.

This connection with fear made me curious if there was also a parallel for the English expression “to nurse a grievance.”  It turns out that German uses a different verb to capture this notion, hegen – “to cherish” but also “to nourish” or “to harbor” – and the expression is gegen jemanden einen Groll hegen. also translates this as “to bear a grudge” which somehow felt right to me since in the case of nursing a child it is typically one that you bore.


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All present and accounted for?

Lernkrimis (special mystery stories for German language learners aimed at particular levels in the European Standard Framework for Languages) continue to be a good source of new vocabulary. I already knew the words das Wesen (the “being” or “creature”) from the Nelly Rapp Monsteragentin series by Martin Widmark and die Anwesenheit (“presence” or “attendance”) and anwesend (“present”) from Dialog in Deutsch, however the story »Hits, Hits, Hits« in Tatort St Pauli introduced me to die Abwesenheit (absence).

This triggered two things for me. The first had to do with German. In this post on going up and down stairs, I wrote about the prefix ab- and how it often signals movement away from something. In the case of die Abwesenheit, someone or something has moved so far away as to no longer be “present.” Thanks, Tatort St Paul, for providing further support for this meaning of the prefix.

The second thought was about the words “being,” “present,” “absent,” “presence,” and “absence” in English. The relationship between “being” and the remaining words isn’t obvious and yet we can talk about “sensing a presence” and mean that we are aware of another “being.” In addition, to be “present,” one must orient her/his “being” to the events currently taking place (in the “present” or “here and now” – die Gegenwart) and the other “beings” who are also “present.”

Noticing the Wesen within Abwesenheit also led me to reflect on how we might conceive of our “being” as something that has been “sent” into the world with a particular purpose to fulfill, if only we could be “present” to that purpose. Perhaps we can only become “a presence to be reckoned with” when we tap into this aspect of our “being” and are “present” and “attending to” our true selves?

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Tied by their sounds

I’m not sure how often I notice words that have similar sounds but quite different meanings in English, but this frequently is a source of amusement (and challenge) in German. Today’s example:

die Krawatte – “the tie” (as in “piece of clothing worn around the neck” –think “cravat,” die Krawattenschal, which a combination of die Krawatte and der Schal, “the scarf”)
die Krawalle – “rioting”

I now have an interesting picture in my head of tie-wearing rioters. Hopefully no tie wearers (or perhaps rioters?!) find themselves “miffed” by this image or sich auf den Schlips getreten fühlen (literally something like “to feel [as though] one’s tie has been tread upon”) and now want to put me in “a headlock” (a second meaning for die Krawatte)!

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What’s all the flap about?

Yesterday I learned that the expression “to have blinders or blinkers on” can also be used in German – Scheuklappen aufhaben or Scheuklappen tragen or mit Scheuklappen herumlaufen – when one wants to describe someone as rather close-minded. According to an entry on the word has been used in this figurative manner since at least 1512 (albeit with older word Scheuleder).

The word die Scheuklappe is a combination of scheu – “timid,” or “skittish,” in the case of horses – and the “flap” meaning of die KlappeScheu is also found in the expression die Gäule scheu machen – “to upset the applecart.” The word die Klappe appears in the expression zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen – “to kill two birds with one stone.” Die Klappe is also part of the expression Halt die Klappe! – “shut your trap/gob” – which one might be tempted to shout at someone wearing those Scheuklappen.

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Bob the Bilder?

As I walked past a toy shop today and noticed a sign for Bob der Baumeister, who is called Bob the Builder in English. Now the English word “builder” /ˈbɪldəʳ  US,ˈbɪldɚ UK/ and the German word die Bilder /ˈbɪldɐ/ (“the pictures”) are pronounced and spelled similarly. Therefore to my ears the phrase die Bilder des Baumeisters – “the pictures of the builder” – sounds humorous.

In English we can say that someone has “built up a picture” of someone or something to mean that they have developed an impression or idea about this person or thing. While I couldn’t find a definitive answer, I believe that one could use the verb aufbauen to express this same notion in German as PONS includes examples of using this word when describing building up a new relationship, a new life, one’s stamina or strength. What I can definitively say, however, is that learning German has helped me to build all four of these things.


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Nee-ther, nigh-ther

This bit of doggerel on a subway car poster had me pondering how linguistic differences might reflect cultural differences:

Wer am Handy Reden hält, bekommt weder Applaus noch Geld.

What intrigued me was not whether talking on the phone on public transportation would get you applause or money – I am pretty sure that the English and German speaking worlds are in agreement on this – but rather that the shorter word weder means “neither” and the longer word entweder means “either.” In spite of the fact that in terms of frequency (as measured by entries) entweder is more common and assures me that both words cannot be broken down any further, I still cannot help but see weder inside entweder and wonder if that makes the basic notion “neither” the primary one in German. Could this perhaps translate into a more pessimistic cultural outlook? One where people are more worried about what is not allowed, not done or not said? Where the response to “How are you?”/Wie geht’s? is  frequently “not bad”/nicht schlecht instead of “good”/gut?


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Why you need to learn the local language I

There are lots of things you can manage when you can speak with the locals in their own language. The ones that you hear about are things like ordering food and drink, securing a bed for the night, or getting directions and the correct ticket to get you to your destination. What I’d like to explore is some of the things that the phrase books don’t discuss. So, here’s an example from a couple weeks ago.

You are walking down the street on your way to the bus stop. A man and a boy, they are probably father and son, approach you. The son is carrying a notebook. He tells you he is doing a school project where he needs to find out what people know about birds flying south (or I suppose north if we had been in the Southern Hemisphere) for the winter. You are expected to guess how far birds fly to get to their winter homes. The father tries to help you make your estimate by suggesting that they likely fly to another continent. They both are looking at you expectantly.

If you speak their language, you can enjoy this interaction, if you don’t, perhaps you make a young boy’s day a little tougher since he now has to get up to gumption to ask another person about birds’ habits. As it turned out, my German was sufficient to allow me to share my thoughts about birds’ winter habits and receive a smile from father and son both.

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