Tag Archives: false friends

Bog standard?

I can tell that something has changed in how German is represented in my head as when I looked at the e-zine from the Chief Learning Officer – aka the CLO – all I could think of was the German word das Klo, “the toilet,” which, while spelled differently, has what I expect would be same the pronunciation as this acronym! And their website – www.clomedia.com – brings to mind not the fascinating videos, etc. that they share, but rather bad joke books, newspapers, The Farmer’s Almanac and other reading material that you’d check out while on the loo…

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In a holding pattern

At the end of Friday’s Dialog in Deutsch session, one of the group leaders asked me if I knew the words vergeuden or die Vergeudung. I had to say “no” and it was a challenge even to repeat them! She smiled and said that they meant “to waste” or “to squander” something or “a waste.” Canoo.net gave this definition: etwas planlos/sinnlos/unrationell* aufwenden – “to use/spend something in an aimless, pointless or inefficient way.” Eager to know more,  I discovered some of the common accompaniments to these words using DWDS.de:

  • von RessourcenSteuergeldernSteuermittel, ArbeitskraftRohstoffen, Energie, Geld
  • Kraft, Talente, Jahre, Menge, Milliarden, Viertel, LebenszeitGut 
  • unverantwortliche, sinnlose, gigantische, volkswirtschaftliche, nutzlos, unnötig
  • Behörden, Staat, Einführung, Regierung, Politik
  • in Warteschleifen, im Kampf, von Arbeitsstunden, an Stellen, mit Dingen, mit Diskussionen, mit Streit, auf Weise, zu Energie, zu Zeit, für Projekte

Dict.cc offered a couple of idiomatic phrases in English that can be translated using vergeuden: “to flog a dead horse” – Kraft vergeuden – and “to spend money like water” – Geld vergeuden.

While some might disagree, discovering more about about how one talks about wasting time, etc., in German was not aimless or pointless or inefficient exercise for me!



*Unrationell is a member of the –ell family of false friends (e.g., punktuell – “selective,” eventuell – “possibly,” aktuell – “topical”).  Confusingly, there is another form of suffixation with –ell and –uell that are cognates (e.g., bakteriell and manuell), you can learn about them here: http://www.canoo.net/services/WordformationRules/Derivation/To-A/Suffixe-F/ell.html?lang=en)

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Ein Neid-Leid ist kein Nacht-Licht

Ich finde die Reihe Philosophieren mit Neugierigen Kindern ganz gut. Gestern habe ich von Zusammenleben: Was ist das? ein Paar Wörter gelernt. Interessanteste war »der Neid« und sein Wort- und Ausdruckfamilien.

Das Wort klingt ähnlich wie das englisches Wort night (»die Nacht«): /nait/ und /naɪt/. Ein falscher Freund! Das erinnere ich mich an das Wort »das Leid« (distress). Es klingt ähnlich wie das englisches Wort light (»das Licht«): /lait/ und /laɪt/.

Auf English kann man sagen, dass jemand »grün vor Neid« – green with envy – ist. Man sagt das auf Deutsch auch und außerdem »gelb vor Neid« (die Farbveränderung ist ein bisschen wie black and blue und »grün und blau«). Und wo wir to become/turn green with envy sagen, die Deutsche sagen, »vor Neid erblassen« – wörtlich to become pale with envy. Zum Schluß ist der Ausdruck »der Neid der Besitzlosen.« Die Übersetzung ist sour grapes, wörtlich »sauere Trauben.« Die Bedeutung des englisches Ausdrucks ist nicht so einfach zu verstehen als der deutscher (worüber Google Translate envy of the have-nots anbietet). Der Ausdruck stammt aus der Fabel von Aesop: Der Fuchs und die Trauben. Im de.wikipedia.org habe ich diese Gedicht von Karl Wilhelm Ramler gefunden.

Ein Fuchs, der auf die Beute ging,
fand einen Weinstock, der voll schwerer Trauben
an einer hohen Mauer hing.
Sie schienen ihm ein köstlich Ding,
allein beschwerlich abzuklauben.
Er schlich umher, den nächsten Zugang auszuspähn.
Umsonst! Kein Sprung war abzusehn.
Sich selbst nicht vor dem Trupp der Vögel zu beschämen,
der auf den Bäumen saß, kehrt er sich um und spricht
und zieht dabei verächtlich das Gesicht:
Was soll ich mir viel Mühe nehmen?
Sie sind ja herb und taugen nicht.

Mein Gesichtsausdruck ist selten sauer, weil ich deutsch lernen genieße und jetzt wir was der Fuchs sagt sagen können !

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Come on in, we’ve got air-condition

I’m visiting Prague this week and have been enjoying wandering around the city. I have run across a lot of German speakers and many of the restaurants have signs in German to lure in potential customers, thus in some ways it feels very much like home.  What I was also noticing was how many places were advertising air-condition. When I first saw this painted on the window at Les Moules, I photographed it, thinking it was a typo (what do you say when something wasn’t typed?!). However, closer inspection of additional restaurant windows revealed that air-condition is the Czech word for “air-conditioning.” Not quite as confusing as a “photo shoot” being called a Shooting or a “photographer” being called a Fotograf/in in German, but still enough to amuse me with thoughts of what the condition of the air is inside these spots!

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A newly minted error

I amused my conversational partner recently by referring to a person as frisch rather than frech. In English if we want to talk about food or weather we can refer to them as “fresh” and we can do the same with people if they are “getting fresh with us.” In German, however, there are different words to express the two ideas. A person can be referred to as frech meaning “fresh” or “cheeky” or “bold” or “sassy” and “to make a sassy reply” is frech antworten. Interestingly, rather than referring to a “cheeky monkey,” you suggest someone is like a sparrow – wie ein Spatz sein. It also appears that certain things other than people can be frech – dict.cc gives the example of “a hat worn at a rakish angle” – ein Hut frech aufgesetzt – and pons.eu offers “a peppy haircut” – eine freche Frisur.

To refer to the freshness of weather or food, however, you want to use frisch: frisches Brot, frisch gefallener Schnee, frisch gepresster Orangensaft, Frisch also means “recent.” Hence when there is “wet paint,” you will see signs saying frisch gestrichen and to say something is “hot off the press” you can say it is frisch gedruckt. Frisch also can be used in reference to making up a bed with fresh linen – die Betten frisch beziehen. And in checking dict.cc, I learned that there are situations where frisch can be part of a phrase that applies to a person: “clean-shaven” – frisch rasiert; “just married” – frisch verheiratet; and “to be fresh as a daisy” – frisch und munter sein.

With the help of Collins online, I now know how to say “we’re fresh out of cheese” – uns ist gerade der Käse ausgegangen and “they are fresh out of ideas” – ihnen sind die Ideen ausgegangen. Which I am, and so, until next time, my friends!

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way

One phrase that I am getting a lot of practice on at the moment is ich will – “I want” – as there are two advertising campaigns that use it. The first, which I noticed in a few places before I left for my trip to the US, concerns preventing the spread of STIs and AIDS. For example, these phrases appear on billboards and hoardings:

Ich will’s wild
Ich will’s ehrlich
Ich will’s unartig
Ich will’s gemütlich
Ich will’s reif
Ich will’s ernsthaft

Each item following the ich will shares how the person pictured is supposed to “want it” – “wild,” “straightforward,” “naughty,” untranslatable but perhaps “warm and cozy” or even “unhurried,” “adult/mature” (or more literally “ripe”), and “genuine” or “wholehearted.” The posters follow this up with the advice mach’s! aber mach’s mit! – “do it! but do it with [a condom]!” To which I follow up, “use ich will but protect yourself against using it to mean ‘I will’!”

The other set of adverts features young people and their career aspirations. The campaign is called Rock Your Life and, yes, I italicized it because the name of the campaign here in Germany is that English phrase. What is particularly lovely about this campaign, beyond teaching me some new German cultural icons, is that it couples ich will – a form of wollen “to want” – with the verb which it can so easily be confused by English speakers, werden – “to become” in the context of this campaign but also with the meaning “will” when used as an auxiliary verb.

For example, we see a young woman with the caption Ich will Judith Rakers werden – “I want to become Judith Rakers [a journalist and tv talking head]” – and in this one brief sentence can be reminded that werden is doing the work of “will” and will is doing the work of “want.” It’s visual, it’s catchy, it’s everywhere at the moment and I hope that German language learners out there come to love this campaign for being a special sort of grammar lesson! I don’t think I’d mind becoming Ms Rakers either…

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Error, error on the wall, which the fairest of them all?

I came across two interesting errors today, one in English by a German speaker and one in German by a Spanish speaker. The first error was an error in word choice in spoken speech and the second was a spelling error in jotting down a word that was heard.

Error 1   “If it stops, will you please turn it off?”
The intended sentence was “When it stops, will you please turn it off?”

It wasn’t difficult to figure out the intended meaning, given the “it” being discussed was a dishwasher and in the unlikely event that it never stopped there would be more to worry about than turning it off. So, what was interesting for me was not that I could understand this sentence after only a brief re-parsing, but rather that I had a very good idea of the source of this error, an intuition that I would not have had before learning some German and making a similar error in the reverse direction. Here are the relevant word pairs:

wenn – if
wann – when

Wenn and “when” sound very much alike (/ɛ/ and /e/) but they have different meanings (our old enemy the “false friend”) and this sound similarity gets in the way for the language learner. The German-speaking English learner thinks /wɛn/, this activates both the German word, wenn, meaning “if” and the English word “when” as this is the intended meaning. However, the connection between the sound /wɛn/ and the word wenn is more firmly established and pushes the speaker in the wrong direction. In a bit of reverse action, the English-speaking German learner, namely me, sees or hears the word wenn and this also activates two things, the English word “when,” which has the wrong meaning in this context, and, more weakly, the meaning “if” which is associated with the actual form heard or seen, wenn. The latter association is weaker and I may misunderstand what I read or hear (the effect is stronger when I am reading as there is the additional spelling similarity to push me toward the “when” rendering of wenn because at least in speech you get the /v/ vs. /w/ cue to help you).

Error 2 im Unterbewurstsein
The intended phrase was im Unterbewusstsein

The intended phrase means “subconsciously” and was introduced by a native German speaker in the context of discussing how people “talk” with their hands and the fact that we are often using gestures automatically and without being much aware of the extent to which the movements we are making are intrinsic to speaking. The Spanish-speaking German learner was pleased to learn this new word and attempted to write it down in order to research it further at some later point. While what she wrote down is not a real word in German, adding the “r” does make some sense for a Spanish speaker. First, you really don’t have to learn to spell as a Spanish speaker because the connection between spelling and sound is almost totally reliable – because  in almost all cases there is just one possible spelling, if you know how a word sounds then you know how it is spelled. German, while being much, much more rule-governed than English, still has a number of options for how particular sounds can be spelled.

Secondly, there are a number of words that end in with “vowel+r” that to the non-native speaker sound pretty much identical to words that end with the same vowel on its own (i.e., with no “r”). For example, the final sounds of Die Liebe and lieber are very similar, the first ends in /ə/and the second in a /ɐ/, and neither ends in /r/. In addition, when the “r” appears before a consonant, as it does in die Wurst, the articulation is much softer, with none of the rolling of the tongue that you hear before vowels or when the “r” is in the syllable initial position (to get a feel for this reduced “r” sound, compare die Wurst and die Wüste). These sorts of reduced /r/ situations could lead to the overgeneralization that “vowel+r” is an alternative spelling for “vowel.”

Of course, I must admit that this second error stood out not because of what it showed about changes in pronunciation of the letter “r” across contexts (this video does nice job of delineating them). Instead it was commingling “sausage” and “consciousness” that caught my attention!

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