Monthly Archives: August 2013

Im Essen herumstochern?

In der englischsprachige Welt, können meisten Leute mit Stäbchen essen (asiatische Speisen sind sehr beliebt, z.B., Sushi, Pad Thai, Kung Pao Hähnchen). Heute habe ich gelernt, dass in anderen Länder sie sind nicht so bekannt. Wir haben bei Dialog in Deutsch Chinesische Essen gegessen (eine Abschiedsparty für eine Frau aus China). Ein Mann aus Korea hat Stäbchen mitgebracht und alle haben die versuchen. Aber weil sie ganz neu waren, viele haben nicht gewusst, dass man das Paar trennen müssen. Es ist schon schwer genug, die getrennt zu benutzen! Zusammen ist es fast unmöglich.

Und jetzt habe ich gelernt, dass das Wort “Stäbchen” hat viele verschiedene Bedeutungen. In der Augen haben wir “Stäbchen” (rods) und Zapfen (cones). Als Frauen haben wir manchmal “Stäbchen”(bones or underwire) in unseren BH. Wann man häkelt, man kann Stäbchen (crochet stitches) machen.

Aber, können “Stäbchen” aufwachsen und “Stäbe” werden?

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Using a different word but the same set of meanings

Today’s discovery was of a verb that has a similar set of both positive and negative connotations in German as in English: ausnutzen. You can use it, as someone did today, to refer to “taking advantage of or making the most of something” like good weather (which we are certainly having here in Hamburg). However, it can also mean that you are “taking advantage of someone” or “exploiting” them.

It sure is nice when one can “take advantage” of connections between your native tongue and the one you are trying to learn!


A newly minted error

I amused my conversational partner recently by referring to a person as frisch rather than frech. In English if we want to talk about food or weather we can refer to them as “fresh” and we can do the same with people if they are “getting fresh with us.” In German, however, there are different words to express the two ideas. A person can be referred to as frech meaning “fresh” or “cheeky” or “bold” or “sassy” and “to make a sassy reply” is frech antworten. Interestingly, rather than referring to a “cheeky monkey,” you suggest someone is like a sparrow – wie ein Spatz sein. It also appears that certain things other than people can be frech – gives the example of “a hat worn at a rakish angle” – ein Hut frech aufgesetzt – and offers “a peppy haircut” – eine freche Frisur.

To refer to the freshness of weather or food, however, you want to use frisch: frisches Brot, frisch gefallener Schnee, frisch gepresster Orangensaft, Frisch also means “recent.” Hence when there is “wet paint,” you will see signs saying frisch gestrichen and to say something is “hot off the press” you can say it is frisch gedruckt. Frisch also can be used in reference to making up a bed with fresh linen – die Betten frisch beziehen. And in checking, I learned that there are situations where frisch can be part of a phrase that applies to a person: “clean-shaven” – frisch rasiert; “just married” – frisch verheiratet; and “to be fresh as a daisy” – frisch und munter sein.

With the help of Collins online, I now know how to say “we’re fresh out of cheese” – uns ist gerade der Käse ausgegangen and “they are fresh out of ideas” – ihnen sind die Ideen ausgegangen. Which I am, and so, until next time, my friends!

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What’s not to like?

I’ve seen a number of discussions of the difference between mögen and gefallen but I haven’t come across anything attempting to differentiate passen and gefallen which seems curious to me as unlike mögen and gefallen, these two share the use of the dative case  to refer to the person doing the “liking” or who is “suited” or “pleased by” something (.e.g, using mir for “me” in these examples):

Es gefällt mir besser
Das passt mir besser 

One of the meanings that gives for passen is angenehm sein – “to be pleasant or pleasing.”  There is a noun das Gefallen – “pleasure” – that pons indicates can be used with haben or finden to mean “to get pleasure from doing something.”

Both gefallen and passen seem a bit less direct than mögen, perhaps because of the use of the dative case, and thus it seems like they might be used in cases where you want to soften a negative statement. As an English speaker my intuitions may be way off, but it feels as though instead of saying “I don’t like it” fairly  directly with mögen, you could say “It doesn’t suit me” with passen or gefallen. I will need to try this hypothesis out on a few native speakers to see if it gets some “likes” (oder Gefällt mir à la Facebook)!

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It takes a brave pigeon, ahem person, to use this phrase

Here is one of today’s phrases of the day:

Katherine Hirshs Phrasen des Tages vom 22.08.2013

Deutsch:  Ich hege Taubenmut, mir fehlt’s an Galle.
Englisch: I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gall.

Hellooooo….Phrasen des Tages editors, this may be from Hamlet but it is not a phrase people are going to need to use, probably ever, but certainly not in everyday life in the English speaking world.

While I am guessing that you probably also won’t be using tauben Ohren predigen – “to flog a dead horse” or literally “to preach to deaf ears” – everyday either, at least you won’t have people wondering in which bygone century your English textbook was written. You also get the chance to puzzle new learners like me who are likely only to know the plural noun die Tauben – “the pigeons” – and not the adjective taub (in the expression it is inflected to match Ohren), meaning in this instance “deaf,” but also “numb.”

And you would certainly be better off learning these other phrases using die GalleGift und Galle speien/spucken -“to fly off the handle” or “to be in a rage” – or jemandem kommt die Galle hoch – “someone’s blood is boiling”- or jemandem läuft die Galle über – “someone is seething or livid.”

And finally, there is the not to be missed clang-translation from French (where grand ongle “big toe” has become großen Onkel “big uncle”) that means “pigeon-toed” that I know you will not be able to wait to use: über den großen Onkel gehen.

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A new dictionary tool

I found a new online dictionary/thesaurus – – today. You enter a word and then you can toggle between its possible translations and its synonyms in the target language. The translations include both single words and common collocations, as well as some idiomatic phrases. The synonyms are organized in clusters in terms of meaning. In addition to the German-English version, also has German-French, German-Italian and German-Spanish versions (for some words the entries in these other languages seem quite sparse).

For example, I started with the German word ziemlich and then selected the English translation “fairly.” There were two single word entries, ordentlich and our starting point, ziemlich. Swapping to the synonyms, there were four meaning clusters for “fairly” and one for the collocation “fairly good.” The synonyms for ziemlich included ziemlich groß (and ziemlich viel) rather than ziemlich gut however the synonyms given were more in line with the English phrase “fairly good,” for example anerkennenswert – “creditable” – and annehmbar – “acceptable” – which had me wondering since neither nor offered meanings from this family for this collocation. However ziemlich groß did pop up on the Duden site unexpectedly (for me!) under the entry for nett (“nice”) as well as more predictably under beachtlich (“considerable”), recht (which can mean “fairly” or “quite” or “rather” as in the sense of ziemlich) and bemerkenswert (“remarkable/ly”).

 It is always satisfying to find a new tool in the effort to improve my German competence and of course another chance to slip down the rabbit hole of web “research.”

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Geht weiter Leute, hier gibt’s nichts zu sehen!

Welche sind langsam und welche leise?

spazieren gehen

Dieser Wortschatz und diese Frage ist aus der B1-Ausgabe von Kafkas “Die Verwandlung” (The Metamorphosis auf Englisch). Weil das Thema des Buchs eine Verwandlung von Mann bis Käfer ist, ein paar Verben beschreibt wie Tiere bewegen.  Das Wort “laufen” ist besonders interessant für mich. Es bedeutet to run und to walk und to go.  Natürlich können Männer und Tiere laufen. Aber nicht nur die, sondern auch Käse, Nasen und Badewannen laufen können. Und auch Filme, Prozesse und Theaterstücke. “Laufen” kann auch die Bedeutung to leak haben: “der Eimer läuft” – the bucket leaks. Es gibt auch Ausdrücke mit laufen, zum Beispiel: “falsch laufen” – to go wrong – und sein Gegenteil “nach Wunsch laufen” – to go as planned.

Jedoch ist meine Lieblingsredewendung “ins offene Messer laufen” –  to walk straight into a trap.  Manchmal fühlt Deutsch wirklich wie ein große offene Messer!

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A word to take you further

That word is weiter and it not only means “further” but also “wider,” “broader,” “farther” and “continuing” and it appears in a number of idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs.

Mach weiter! – “Get on with it!”
Träum weiter! – “Dream on!”
Weiter so! – “Keep it up!” or “Way to go!” or “Right on!”
weiter nichts? – “is that it?”
Weiter im Programm! – “On with the show!”
sich weiter verschlechtern – “to go from bad to worse”
allein auf weiter Flur – “out on a limb”
an jemanden das Wort weiter geben – “turn the floor over to someone”

etwas weiter tun – “to keep doing something”
weiter ansteigen – “to continue to rise”
weiter geben – “to hand down”
weiter gelten – “to hold true”
weiter [nach XX] fahren – “to continue going/driving [in the direction]”

Das Leben geht weiter – “life goes on!”

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Here’s looking at you!

Today in Dialog in Deutsch we were playing the “pick the odd man out” game with German vocabulary. We started with:

Eisen    Kupfer    Kohle    Messing
“Iron”    “copper”    “coal”    “brass”

The answer here is Kohle as it is not a metal. We went through a few more that relied on similarly subtle distinctions, the flower among the trees and the spice among the herbs, etc. Then we moved onto this set:

Lesebrille    Sonnenbrille    Fernbrille    Klobrille
“reading glasses”  “sun glasses”  “distance glasses”  “toilet seat”

Clearly the book’s authors had a sense of fun as they were composing this exercise!

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way

One phrase that I am getting a lot of practice on at the moment is ich will – “I want” – as there are two advertising campaigns that use it. The first, which I noticed in a few places before I left for my trip to the US, concerns preventing the spread of STIs and AIDS. For example, these phrases appear on billboards and hoardings:

Ich will’s wild
Ich will’s ehrlich
Ich will’s unartig
Ich will’s gemütlich
Ich will’s reif
Ich will’s ernsthaft

Each item following the ich will shares how the person pictured is supposed to “want it” – “wild,” “straightforward,” “naughty,” untranslatable but perhaps “warm and cozy” or even “unhurried,” “adult/mature” (or more literally “ripe”), and “genuine” or “wholehearted.” The posters follow this up with the advice mach’s! aber mach’s mit! – “do it! but do it with [a condom]!” To which I follow up, “use ich will but protect yourself against using it to mean ‘I will’!”

The other set of adverts features young people and their career aspirations. The campaign is called Rock Your Life and, yes, I italicized it because the name of the campaign here in Germany is that English phrase. What is particularly lovely about this campaign, beyond teaching me some new German cultural icons, is that it couples ich will – a form of wollen “to want” – with the verb which it can so easily be confused by English speakers, werden – “to become” in the context of this campaign but also with the meaning “will” when used as an auxiliary verb.

For example, we see a young woman with the caption Ich will Judith Rakers werden – “I want to become Judith Rakers [a journalist and tv talking head]” – and in this one brief sentence can be reminded that werden is doing the work of “will” and will is doing the work of “want.” It’s visual, it’s catchy, it’s everywhere at the moment and I hope that German language learners out there come to love this campaign for being a special sort of grammar lesson! I don’t think I’d mind becoming Ms Rakers either…

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