Getting a word in edgewise

I’ve started a new Lernkrimi which has an exercise where you are required to pick out the words whose meanings that are similar to sagen – “to say, to tell or to speak.” From the list given, I already knew the words sprechen, reden, plaudern, erzählen, erklären, and vortragen. I wasn’t yet familiar with äußern, kundtun, schwatzen and anmerken. There were, however, more words in my vocabulary from this semantic field: ausdrücken, erwidern, antworten, meinen, flüsternbemerken, tratschen, klatschen, sich unterhalten, diskutieren, debattieren, heißenbehaupten, schreien, rufen, quatschen and berichten. Looking further led me to erläutern, verdeutlichenausrufen, ankündigen, kontern, sich über etwas/jemanden auslassen, durchsagen, labern, plappern, quasseln, faseln, schwafeln and schwadronieren.

One way of exploring the different nuances in meaning is to look at the common co-occurrences or collocations. If you take the trio antwortenerwidern and kontern and look them up on, you find both overlap and contrast among the words that commonly accompany each of them. For antworten the most common words are: mit Jamit Neinausweichend (“evasively”) and auf Frage (“to [a] question”). For erwidern they are: Gruß  (“regards” or “greeting”), Liebe (“love”) and Zuneigung (“affection”). For kontern they are Attacken (“attacks”), mit Gegenfrage (“with a counter question”) and Vorhaltungen (“reproaches”).

Our word choices can also indicate our feelings or opinions about a subject. For example, if you say plaudern – “to chat,” or as PONS puts it „sich gemütlich unterhalten“ – you likely mean to convey quite a different feeling about the interaction you are describing than if you were to use the word diskutieren – “to discuss” (although there can be occasions when someone asks you to “pop in for a little chat” where this can be a threat of something quite ungemütlich to come). If we mention seeing someone and use the word schwadronieren – to hold forth – to describe the way she/he told a story, we create quite a different impression than if we were to use the more neutral word erzählenClearly there is a lot to say when we are talking about “talking!”


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