Monthly Archives: February 2017

Why it helps to know the local language – IV

While out for a jog a few weeks ago, I spotted a table and four chairs with a sign saying zu Verschenken (the expression used to indicate that someone is giving something away). Since I was not far from home, I picked up one chair and proceeded to run home with it. I then rushed back to stake claim to the rest of the set and found a woman and her daughter considering the remaining chairs and the table and discussing how they might get them home. This is where it helped to be able to speak German. I told them that I had already taken one chair and began to ask if they might at least allow me to take another one to make a pair when the woman completed my sentence by commenting on my being unable to manage to carry much at one time (she was quite tall, I am not). She said that they already had a similar set at home and didn’t really need this one. and then she and her daughter smiled and went on their way.

I took away two messages. First, don’t be afraid to ask, all someone can do is say “no.” And second, if you see a set of things left on the curb for anyone to take, first remove the item with the sign welcoming you to help yourself.

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Close encounters of the etymological kind

I talk a lot here about encountering new words and expressions in the course of learning German, but I hadn’t thought much about the English word “encounter” itself until starting to use the German word begegnen to describe my encounters with new words. According to Duden Online, the word begegnen has its origins in Old High German and is related to the word gegen – “against.” According to Google, the word “encounter” has its origins in the Latin word “contra.”  Both Gegen and “counter” can be used as prefixes with the meaning “against” as in words like “counterattack” – Gegenschlag – or “counterbalance” – Gegengewicht.

Imagining my encounters with German in terms of coming up “against” something has a certain amount of resonance for me. A German word, even when it has a nearly one-to-one correspondence to a word in English, can make me feel like I am swimming against the tide as I try to learn it. Happily, the satisfaction I get from learning something new nearly always “counteracts” this and gives me renewed energy for a “counteroffensive.”



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Henkersmahl mit einem Laster geliefert?

Vor ein paar Jahren schrieb ich etwas über das Teekesselchen „der/das Laster“ und letzte Woche kam es gelegen. Ich ging ins Theater. Das Stück war eine Kriminal-Komödie, deswegen erwartete ich Wortspiele. Ich war nicht enttäuscht.

Eine Leiche eines Mannes lag auf dem Boden. Zwei Polizisten musterten die. Einer sage der andere »Vielleicht ist er an seinem Laster gestorben.« Der zweite Polizist runzelte die Stirn. Ein Lkw in einem Bürozimmer?!

Aber das war nicht nur ein Vergnügen, sonder auch eine Deutschstunde. Die Präposition an in Verbindung mit sterben verlangt den Dativ. Entgegen dem Nominativ und dem Akkusativ gibt es im Dativ keinen Unterschied zwischen den Wörtern der und das Laster. Die beiden sind von dem begleitet. Der Laster passt nicht dazu, aber dieses Wort ist viel häufiger als das Laster und deshalb fiel es dem Zuhörer zuerst ein. Tatsächlich hat der Mordopfer ein Laster, Weinbrand Bohnen, die jemand vergiftete. Also, er stirbt an seinem Laster!

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