Anniversary Week 11* – Killer words

The star (*) in today’s title indicates that although this an anniversary post, coming as it does on a Wednesday, I’ve been away for more than a week. It’s good to be back and I hope you enjoy today’s post.

While I was not able to find a specific German word that means “to be killed in an earthquake” (however see below), I was struck by their being a set of words that spoke precisely about the manner in which someone was killed and which can be contrasted with words with a similar meaning that seem not to necessitate death as the outcome. Although we can and do can make this distinction in English, it typically requires the use of additional words.

ertränken – “to kill by drowning” (sich ertränken is “to drown oneself”)
erwürgen – “to kill by strangling”
vergiften – “to kill by poisoning” (sich vergiften is “to poison oneself”)
erschießen – “to shoot somebody dead” (sich erschießen is “to shoot oneself dead”)
erstechen – “to stab someone to death”

Compare the above with their mates which appear not to require the effort to be fatal:

ertrinken – “to drown”
würgen – “to choke” or “to strangle”
schießen – “to shoot”
stechen – “to stab”

However, one member of this family turns into something altogether milder without its prefix:
giften – “to rile” (sich giften “to be annoyed”)

While we are in this macabre vein there is another interesting colloquial term umkommen  which defines as “to perish,” “to be killed,” “to go to waste,” “to lose one’s life” and “to meet one’s death.” It also appears with the means of death preceded by the preposition bei. Here are a few examples that suggests how one would say “to be killed by an earthquake” – bei einem Verkehrsunfall umkommen (“in a traffic accident”), bei einem Flugzeugabsturz umkommen (“in a plane crash”), bei einem Tornado umkommen (“by a tornado”) – bei einem Erdbeben umkommen.

Finally, I wanted to note that a special word is used to describe those killed in action, which happens to be a cognate with English: fallen. As we approach the 4th of July holiday in the US, this puts me in mind of all of the service personnel who fought and died and I like to think that having distinctive word to describe their dying offers a special level of respect.

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