Treading lightly

I recently learned the word der Vertreter with the meaning of a person who is substituting or replacing someone who’s absent or unavailable. Vertreter sounds to me very much like the English word “traitor,” which of course meant I had to learn what the German word for “traitor” is. Turns out it also sounds quite a bit like “traitor” – Verräter. I turned next to to understand a bit about the morphology of these two German words. What jumped out before I even got that far, though, was that both were instances of words indicating something about a person’s character:

  • der Vertreter – guter Charakter (the synonym given here is der Verfechter – “the advocate”)
  • der Verräter – schlechter Charakter

This intriguing piece of information recorded, I discovered that Vertreter comes from treten and Verräter comes from raten, both with ver-, a buddy of our old friend ent-, tacked on at the front. Interestingly, given I learned the word der Vertreter in the context of someone subbing for someone else, one meaning of treten is “to step” (“to tread” is betreten) and substitutes are often said to be “stepping in” for someone else. Traitor’s parents raten – “to advise” or “to guess” – and verraten – “to betray” or “to reveal” – to my ears both sound a bit “rotten.”

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One thought on “Treading lightly

  1. Harald says:

    Ein Vertreter kann nicht nur, wie Du schreibst, eine Person oder Funktion vertreten, also ein Stellvertreter sein, sondern auch ein Verkäufer sein. Diese Vertreter verkaufen Produkte der Firma, die sie vertreten.
    Verräter sind zwar meistens negativ beurteilte Personen. Sie können aber auch Positives bewirken und als Helden oder Retter verehrt werden.

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