Anything for a quiet night?

I learned the word stillen over a year ago when a participant in Dialog in Deutsch wondered how to ask if it was okay if she breastfed her baby, which she wanted to do while we were meeting. Stillen came up again a few weeks ago but in the context of assuaging the longing for home or for travel – Heimweh stillen or Fernweh stillen. Hearing these more abstract uses of stillen made me wonder what else could be “stilled.”

It turned out to be an interesting list. Stillen can be used to mean:

  • “to allay/appease one’s hunger” – seinen Hunger stillen
  • “to assuage the appetite” – den Appetit stillen
  • “to staunch/arrest bleeding” – die Blutung stillen
  • “to ease the pain” – die Schmerzen stillen
  • “to satisfy curiosity” – Neugierde stillen

In addition, DWDS.DE offers the following words and phrases found co-located with stillen in their corpus:

  • “need” – das Bedürfnis
  • “ambition ” – der Ehrgeiz
  • “demand” – die Nachfrage
  • “yearning/longing” – die Sehnsucht
  • “desire” – das Verlangen
  • “thirst for knowledge” – der Wissensdurst
  • “for acceptance/recognition” – nach Anerkennung
  • “for justice” – nach Gerechtigkeit
  • “for revenge” – nach Rache
  • “for sensation” – nach Sensationen

“To quench one’s thirst” can be expressed with seinen Durst stillen. With the English word “quench” I began to think about raging fires or hot metal needing to be cooled. The German word for the situation where you are cooling hot metal is a lovely one: abschrecken. Yes, that base word is schrecken which as a noun – der Schrecken – means “terror” or “fright” or “horror.” Not words that come to mind in the context of nursing a baby.

This connection with fear made me curious if there was also a parallel for the English expression “to nurse a grievance.”  It turns out that German uses a different verb to capture this notion, hegen – “to cherish” but also “to nourish” or “to harbor” – and the expression is gegen jemanden einen Groll hegen. also translates this as “to bear a grudge” which somehow felt right to me since in the case of nursing a child it is typically one that you bore.


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