Monthly Archives: March 2015

Single-d out

As I was reading another book in the Nellie Rapp Monsteragentin series, I cam across the word der Einwegrasierer – “the disposable (or more literally single use) razor.” However, I somehow added an extra “g” and didn’t make it to the end of the word as I was puzzled as to what der Einweggras… or single use / disposable GRASS might be! Since the context was a campground, it seemed possible for a moment that there was such a thing.

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Compounded, nay confounded

While compound words are a very familiar part of the German language learner’s life, I only heard the word die Bandwurmwörter – literally “tape worm words” – for the first time last Tuesday in Dialog in Deutsch. I was surprised that I’d not come across it on, but when I did a search, I discovered that it does not come up when you enter the singular form “compound word.”

The words that we were discussing all had to do with kinds of insurance, for example:

die Krankenhaustagegeldversicherung – a benefit paid out for every day one is in the hospital

die Berufsunfähigkeitsversicherung – a benefit paid out when one is unable, due to disability or illness, to work in a specific occupation or do a part of a job

The segments making up the first “worm” are die Versicherung, das Geld, die Tage and das Krankenhaus or “the money-days-hospital-insurance.” (Compound nouns are typically considered modifications of the final item in the compound, here die Versicherung, and take their gender from this final segment.) In this case, the relationship between the parts and the meaning of the entire compound is reasonably transparent. Let’s consider another more common compound word, das Frühstück – literally “early-piece (bit/chunk/slice)” but actually “breakfast.” This is quite a bit more opaque, especially when compared to the names for the other meals das Mittagessen and das Abendessen – “lunch” and “dinner” and literally “mid-day-food” and “evening-food.” Finally, consider the word die Klobrille – “toilet seat” – which I discussed in a previous post. It falls somewhere in between as the Klo part is transparent but the Brille part is not (or rather is it, but not in the linguistic sense!).

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All’s well that ends well?!

I was working on the vocabulary for the next section of my new favorite exercise book Wörter und Sätze and I came across the word einschenken. Since the main meaning of schenken for me is “to give a gift,” I completely misinterpreted the example sentence Der Gastgeber schenkte uns Rotwein ein. This means “The host poured [some] red wine for us.” That little ein changes everything! This reminded of a prefixed word that one would much prefer to hear relative to its unprefixed base form, ankündigen – “to announce.” Without the little an at the front, kündigen, you’d be “be giving your notice to quit” or “getting notice that a something (e.g., a contract) has been terminated.” At least, unlike with einschenken, the surprise of the an appearing at the end is a good one!

I also learned a new idiomatic expression, perhaps useful in the situation where someone needs to terminate something with someone else: Ich möchte Ihnen reinen Wein einschenken – “I want to come clean with you” or “I want to be straight with you” or literally “I would like to pour [some] pure/unadulterated wine for you.” After this you can begin again by “making a pure table” – reinen Tisch machen – or “wiping the slate clean.”

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Say a little prayer for the language learner

I recently noticed the similarity between the German words beten – “to pray” –  and bitten – “to ask or beg someone [for something]” – a similarity that was highlighted when one looks at their past participle forms, the regular gebetet and the irregular gebeten. As I have learned however, these resemblances, however helpful they may feel to me as a learner, may not always signal a relationship between the two words. On checking the etymology via Duden online, I discovered that the two verbs do not appear to share an origin. Beten is said to arise from betōn in Old High German, while bitten appears to have been a Old High German word in its own right. Duden goes on to suggest that bitten originally had connections to “the promise” and “the contract.” Interestingly, the noun die Bitte –”the request” or “the plea” – is listed along with beten rather than with bitten. This brought to mind the English expressions “pray, continue” and “pray tell!” which are not entreaties to a higher power, but rather a friendly or ironic request for the speaker to say more.


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