A Job or a Calling?

Last week in Are We Related? I wrote about how seeing the connection between the words die Verwandte and die Verwandtschaft -“relatives” and”relationship” – in German provided me with some new insights into English. Today I want to discuss the connection between two other German words, der Beruf and anrufen, whose English translations do not sound alike.

Very early in most books and classes you learn both der Beruf – “job” or “profession” – and anrufen – the verb that means “to call” (on the phone)- because it is highly likely you will want or need to share your profession and to get in touch with people by phone. You also learn an•rufen, because as I’ve indicated with the • notation, it is a separable verb and thus you need to pull off the an and shuttle it to the end of the sentence: Ich rufe ihn an – “I’m calling him.” (You also create the past participle in a special way with separable – trennbar – verbs, anrufen becomes angerufen, with the past participle indicator ge inserted between an and rufen – more about these verbs in a future post.)

Fine. Important and practical words and a key grammar point. But it wasn’t until the other day that I noticed the family resemblance between der Beruf and anrufen and began to think about English. In English we can say that someone has been “called” (perhaps most commonly followed by the phrase “by God”) or that someone who loves their job has found her/his “calling.”  The German word das Rufen is one way to translate “calling” in this sense. There is another German word from the ruf family that translates as “the calling” or “the call” (to a profession or office), die Berufung. This appears in a number of phrases with parallels in English: eine Berufung spüren – “to feel a calling,” seine Berufung finden “to find one’s calling,” seine Berufung verfehlen – “to miss one’s vocation” (which with “vocation” gives us a lovely link to Latin and the Romance languages) .  For someone “to be called” or “appointed” is berufen. While “appointed” moves us to a different set of sounds, in English we do have a secondary meaning for “to call up” which is used to describe actions like a government or other organization drafting people into service (hmm, perhaps there is a post on “service” and its many meanings) which could be said to be a “job assignment.”

Finally, let’s consider another form of “calling” – “name-calling.” Although dict.cc gives die Beschimpfungen as the translation, name-calling can certainly impact sein Ruf – “one’s reputation” – and perhaps even make you verrufen – “notorious.”

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