Nee-ther, nigh-ther

This bit of doggerel on a subway car poster had me pondering how linguistic differences might reflect cultural differences:

Wer am Handy Reden hält, bekommt weder Applaus noch Geld.

What intrigued me was not whether talking on the phone on public transportation would get you applause or money – I am pretty sure that the English and German speaking worlds are in agreement on this – but rather that the shorter word weder means “neither” and the longer word entweder means “either.” In spite of the fact that in terms of frequency (as measured by dict.cc entries) entweder is more common and canoo.net assures me that both words cannot be broken down any further, I still cannot help but see weder inside entweder and wonder if that makes the basic notion “neither” the primary one in German. Could this perhaps translate into a more pessimistic cultural outlook? One where people are more worried about what is not allowed, not done or not said? Where the response to “How are you?”/Wie geht’s? is  frequently “not bad”/nicht schlecht instead of “good”/gut?

 

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