While fast looks exactly like “fast,” it doesn’t mean schnell (which those of you who watched Hogan’s Heroes as a kid may remember as a frequently given command, often in the same breath as raus). Instead the most common meanings for fast are “almost” and”nearly.” In fact, you can use fast and schnell together such as when you want to say something is “almost as fast” or goes “almost as quickly” as something else – fast als schnell. Interestingly, or perhaps confusingly depending on whether I am wearing my amateur linguist or my amateur German speaker hat, rather than saying a clock or watch “is fast” you use the verb vorgehen and say Die Uhr geht vor.
In English, “fast” can also be a verb. In this case, we have found a partial friend as there is a German verb fasten with the meaning “to fast” and also two German nouns die Fastenzeit and das Fasten with cognate meanings. The partial part is that there is also an English verb “fasten,” which is closer to another meaning of “fast” – “firmly fixed.” This meaning is one which is captured by multiple words in German:
schliessen “to fasten” (you may remember this from the discussion of bowls and keys in a previous post as it also means “to lock”)
zumachen – “to fasten up a dress or coat” (zumachen is worth a post of its own as it has a host of meanings)
zuknöpfen – “to fasten up buttons” (what do you do if it is a dress or coat with buttons?!)
miteinander verbinden – “to fasten together”
zusammenheften – “to fasten together pieces of paper”
sich anschnallen – “to fasten one’s seatbelt”
And if there is a word in German that approximates the “firmly fixed” version of the adjective “fast,” it would be fest: something can “be fast” – fest sein – or “made fast” – festmachen. This would quite a happy situation if it wasn’t for the English noun “fest,” the short form for “festival” because the meanings for the German adjective fest – “fixed,” “firm,” “stable,” “permanent.” “tight,” “unshakeable,” “solid,” and “strong” (as well as the corresponding adverbs) – are a good fit for English terms like “color fast,” “fast friends,” “hard and fast” and “fast asleep.”
I find particular delight in the fact that the word das Fastfood has made it into German. Although, as I learned in working on yesterday’s post, there are not many nouns formed by adverb and noun combinations, there are a few, thus I will choose to interpret das Fastfood as meaning “nearly” or “almost” food and I “stand fast” on that!