Tag Archives: das Präfix

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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Extra, extra, read all about it

Walking by a local branch of Heymann, I noticed this book about Adele:


While I am an Adele fan, it was the subtitle that caught my eye — Eine außergewöhnliche Karriere — for the word außergewöhnlich, which I would translate as “extraordinary” in this context (although dict.cc offers “strange” as the top translation by a substantial margin). “Extraordinary” as in “out of the ordinary” just as an “extraterrestrial” — Außerirdischer is “out of this world.” As a prefix “extra-” comes from the Latin extra meaning “outside” and has taken on the additional meaning of “beyond” over time.

The pronunciation of “extraordinary” is in itself somewhat remarkable. Pons.eu gives these two options: /ɪkˈstrɔ:dənəri, Am -ˈstrɔ:rdəneri/. What you should note is that, in contrast with extraterrestrial /ekstrətəˈrestriəl/, there is glottal stop or pause before the /s/ sound, separating the prefix into two parts.

“Extra” and extra can also be stand-alone words. According to Google, there are 10 meanings for the noun form, 2 for the adjective form and 2 for the adverb form of the word “extra” in English. According to Pons.eu, in German extra has 5 meanings as an adverb and 1 as a noun. The way I first learned one of the German meanings for this word was from Extr@ the soap opera “especially for” (extra) language learners that tells the story of Sascha and Anna, their neighbor Nic and Sascha’s pen pal from the US, Sam. The other word from this series that stuck with me is der Tierpräparator — “the taxidermist” — a job that is rather out of the ordinary and thus a word that is relatively useless in everyday conversation, except perhaps to show off that you have been watching Extr@.

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Negative growth?

Since fostering growth is a key part of what I do professionally, I learned the words die Entwicklung and entwickeln – “development” and “to develop” soon after I moved to Germany. What I didn’t notice until this morning is that in both languages the words for “development” are prefixed with something that typically indicates a negation of the meaning of the stem. For instance, this is the definition of “de-” from the Cambridge dictionary: “used to add the meaning ‘opposite’, ‘remove’, or ‘reduce’ to a noun or verb.” Duden offers a number of meaning for ent- : “something is undone or returned to its original state, the removal or displacement of something, or taking something away.” The German Language page of about.com relates it to the English prefixes “de-” and “dis-” and gives its meaning as “away from.”

Now “*velop” appears in both “develop” and “envelop” but it is not currently a standalone word with a meaning that can be negated (Google gives the etymology as arising from Latin “dis- ‘un-’ + a second element of unknown origin found also in envelop,” which became the French word développer – “to unfold, unfurl). Wickeln, on the other hand, is a standalone word with the meaning, according to Pons, “to wrap something around something” and colloquially “to change a baby’s diaper.” This is a rather productive stem with one word from the family, einwickeln, being one possible translation for “to envelop.”

When I think about development or die Entwicklung now, I will pay even more attention to how it must involve paring away and replacement rather than simply accretion of the new.

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Zer-, sehr stark

»Wir sind unzertrennlich, irgendwie unsterblich« singt Helene Fischer in Atemlos durch die Nacht. Ich hatte dieses Wort »unzertrennlich« nie gehört, aber ich habe das sofort verstanden, weil ich das Wort »trennen« kenne und das Präfix »zer-« geläufig ist (z.B., »zerstören« was sieht man oft am Häuser hier in Hamburg). Mit dict.cc habe ich ein Paar andere Wörter gefunden. Alle sind ziemlich stark.

zerreißen – to tear, to shred, to rip to pieces und Zerrissenheit – disunity, strife, inner conflict

zerrütten – to subvert to ruinto wreck und Zerrüttung – breakdown (of a marriage), destructiondisintegration

zerschlagen – to smashto annihilateto shatter

Bei canoo.net http://www.canoo.net/services/WordformationRules/Derivation/To-V/Praefixe/zer.html?lang=de habe ich entdeckt, als ich habe gedacht, dass das Präfix »zer-« »auseinander oder kaputt« bedeutet. Daher die Überschrift, die mit dem Wort »sehr« und dem Präfix »zer-« spielt.

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