Habit forming

Yesterday I brought in some Teekesselchen for sharing at a Dialog in Deutsch session and der and das Laster kept us occupied for quite some time (in case you don’t recall, Teekesselchen are pairs of words with the same sound but different meanings, and in this particular case, they identical words save for their associated articles which differ in terms of gender).

Der Laster is the straightforward member of the pair, meaning “truck” or “lorry” and it is a shortening of der Lastkraftwagen (LKW). Das Laster, on the other hand, got us talking. It was unfamiliar to all of us, but with some examples – too much to drink, too much time in the casino with lots of money lost – we got the idea. Then, one group member asked about die Sucht. Could it be used interchangeably with das Laster, and if not, what distinguished the two words?

The translation for das Laster given by pons.eu is “vice” and the heading says schlechte Gewohnheit or “bad habit.” Canoo.net gives die Untugend – also “bad habit” – as its synonym. Duden indicates that it is pejorative. Pons.eu defines die Sucht in two ways: “addiction” and “obsession.” It further differentiates these two meanings by referring to the “addiction” meaning as krankhafte Abhängigkeit – “pathological dependency” – and the “obsession” meaning as unwiderstehliches Verlangen – “compelling desire” or “irresistible urge.”

It turns out that we aren’t the only people trying to figure out the difference. If you search Google with Sucht and Laster as keywords, you get quite a few returns similar to these:

Rauchen – Sucht oder
Laster?  – “Smoking – Addiction or Bad Habit?”
Krankheit oder schwache Willensstärke? – “Disease or Weak Willpower?”

In the end, however, our group decided that because some of us were a bit “obsessed” with attending Dialog in Deutsch and this was a good rather than a bad habit, if we had only these two words to choose from, we would have to refer to it as our Sucht rather than our Laster.

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