Confounded, Compounded

immerfort – “constantly” or “evermore” or “continually” or “timelessly” says that this is a »Zusammensetzung mit immer, fort« or a compound of immer and fort.

Let’s take the second part of the compound, fort, first. Confound 1: Fort as a German adverb has two basic meanings – “away” (weg) and “further” (weiter) and through the second of these two meanings fort can also mean “constantly” when used in the phrase in einem fort as in Gestern hat mein Handy in einem fort geklingelt – “Yesterday my mobile/cell rang non-stop.”  Given this, immerfort seems a bit redundant, one could just use immer although perhaps the meaning wouldn’t be as intense (or fort!). Confound 2Fort is also a cognate of the English word “fort” – “fortified building.” This comes from Latin via Old French, with the Latin fortis meaning “strong.” Due to this, I have an image of my phone in a fort (what first came to mind was Clifford’s Tower in York! when I read the sample sentence using in einem fort. Perhaps I need to think about Clifford’s Tower being a constant in York for hundreds of years?!

The first part of the compound, immer, is both an adverb and a particle. As an adverb it has several meanings. The primary way I use it is to mean “always,” however it can also mean “each/every time.”  Further, it can be combined with wannwas, werwie, and wo to mean “whenever,” “whatever,” “whoever,” “however” and “wherever” (sometimes the form is wann auch immer, etc.). It can also be used with a comparative adverb or adjective to mean something like “more and more” or “increasingly” or “ever XYZer” – immer größer or immer mehr. Thus far, it’s pretty straightforward, the confounding comes with the fact that immer has three particle forms ( refers to particles as ohne eigentliche Bedeutung – or basically without a meaning of their own and using them makes you sound like a real German speaker for this reason, see also  First of all, immer can be used to intensify noch as in Ist Dieter denn immer noch nicht zurück? – “Is Dieter still not back?” Now something “still” being true is a bit like it “always” being true, but for me this use is confounding because the expectation seems to be that the events being talked about are sort of surprising because they are not expected to stay as they are for all time (e.g., Dieter is likely to arrive at some point!).

The second meaning of immer as a particle is to modify a modal verb such as “can” in the phrase so schnell du immer kannst – “as fast as you can.” translates this meaning as “possibly” which again has some overlap with “always” but is also inconsistent with it in that you can rely on something that “always” happens, not so with something that only “possibly” happens. The third meaning of immer as a particle seems easier to illustrate with some idiomatic phrases than to define, they are mainly informal “commands” of some sort:

immer langsam voran! – “take your time!” or “not so fast!”
immer mit der Ruhe! – “take it easy!” or “calm down!”
immer weiter – “carry on” or “go ahead”

Which leaves me to wonder, could we combine the second and third phrases above to get something like “Keep calm and carry on” which one seems to see constantly these days?!

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