I needed to use the words “upstairs” and “downstairs” – treppauf and treppab – today and I realized that the morpheme »ab« was confounding me as I tried to learn which form was which. The verb with »ab« as a prefix that I use most often is abholen– “to pick up something or somebody” and so »ab« has become associated with “up” in my mind. Learning that treppab means “downstairs” made it crystal clear that this association was not a helpful one from which to generalize. A search turned up a discussion of separable verbs and the most common meanings of the separable prefixes. »Ab«, according to this page at Dartmouth “usually…carries the notion of ‘away from.'” On the list was another »ab« prefixed word that I use with some regularity: ablenken. One of its primary meanings is “to distract” with the sense of “taking someone’s attention ‘away from’ something.” This should work long enough to help me master up- and downstairs and to discourage me relying on abholen to derive the meaning of »ab« when added to another word. Let’s hope it’s not enough distract me into thinking that abstimmen means “to vote down” something – that’s niederstimmen – or to make me want to niederbrennen – `’burn down” – or niederreißen – “tear down” – anything.
[…] triggered two things for me. The first had to do with German. In this post on going up and down stairs, I wrote about the prefix ab- and how it often signals movement away […]