Tag Archives: idiom

Please be upstanding and raise your glasses to language

I can’t stand him.

Ich stehe auf ihn.

These two idioms using the word “stand” or stehen communicate very different feelings about another person. In the English case, if you can “stand” someone, then you can bear to be with her/him, although you probably aren’t particularly keen on this person. If you “can’t stand” someone, you really don’t like her/him and/or cannot bear to be with him/her. In the case of the German colloquial expression auf jemanden stehen, you are “keen on” someone or you “have a crush on” him/her, “a thing for” her/him, you are “into” him/her or you “fancy” her/him. In addition to sharing your likes or dislikes of other people, both expressions can also be used to describe feelings about the things you don’t much like (English) or like very much (German).

Both stehen and “stand” seem to be pretty productive. In German this productivity is found in the compound words made from stehen or its relatives. Standhalten — stand is a relative of stehen —  means that you can “bear up under the pressure” (den Druck standhalten), “hold your own” (wacker standhalten) or that your ideas can ”withstand” scrutiny (einer genauen Untersuchung standhalten). Stehen also appears in the prefixed verbs ausstehendurchstehen and überstehen, all of which have to do with “bearing, enduring, withstanding, weathering or surviving” something.

In the case of English, the productivity flows from collocations between “stand” and prepositions and the idiomatic uses of the verb. Thus, you are not likely to “stand up for” someone (einstehenentreten, verteidigen) you can’t stand, nor would you be willing to “stand” this person a drink (spendieren), you probably don’t like what they “stand for” (für etwas stehen) and there is quite possibly something that “stands between you” (≈dazwischenstehen), making it difficult for you to get along. And I must confess (gestehen) that I giggled at the possible confusion that might ensue from the sample usage given in the Cambridge dictionary’s definition of the idiom “to stand on ceremony” (to behave in a formal way) because the literal and figurative meanings of “stand” both appear to be relevant  — “Please sit down and make yourself comfortable, we don’t stand on ceremony here.” I guess they don’t want to leave their learners “upstanding.”

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The few, the proud, the many

I picked up a new word today, etliche – “quite a lot” OR “quite a few.” I’d never noticed that in English when we mean “many” we sometimes say “a lot” and other times, paradoxically, say “a few,” if we qualify the latter of these with “quite.” The qualifier is very (or should I say “quite?”) important: compare “I had just a few” with “I had quite a few.” According to this page http://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/quite, the word “quite” can impact the word it modifies in two ways: “Quite is a degree adverb. It has two meanings depending on the word that follows it: ‘a little, moderately but not very’ and ‘very, totally or completely’.”

When “quite” precedes “a few” or “a bit” it is this second meaning of quite – “very, totally or completely” – that is in play. According to Duden online, the third meaning of etliche is a colloquial usage that amplifies or strengthens meaning: »beträchtlich« – “considerable(ly), substantial(ly) or sizeable(ly)” or »ziemlich viel« – “a good deal/a great deal/quite a lot/quite a bit.” They go on to say that it comes from Old High German word with a meaning equivalent to irgendein – “some, any” and in some contexts “any old” as in these two examples from Pons:

  • Welchen Wagen hätten Sie denn gern? —Ach, geben Sie mir irgendeinen,Hauptsache er fährt! – “Which car would you like, then? Just give me any old one, as long as it goes.”
  • Ich werde doch nicht irgendeinen einstellen. – “I not going to appoint just anyone.”

All this has me thinking is that you can learn quite a bit from any old word, if you just take the time to look at it! And no, you don’t need to send in the Marines.

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Something wickedly clever this way slinks

Shouldn’t Schlauch and schlau be related? And indeed it turns out that, as unlikely as it first seems, according to Duden online, both der Schlauch – “the hose” – and schlau – “smart” or “shrewd” – are related to schlüpfen – “to slip” or “to hatch” or “to emerge.” The specific forms appear have different origins, however. Der Schlauch comes from Middle High German and is related to die Hülle – which seems to make the most sense translated as “the hull” or “the shell” – and schlau comes from Low German and is related to schleichend –  the past participle of “to prowl” or “to slink” or “to crawl” and also, as an adjective, “insidious.” Who knows, this latter relationship might have a role to play in the phrase auf leisen Sohlen schleichend – “sure-footed?!”

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Wash and share

To be a “true blue” something is to be a waschechter something in German.

DWDS had a few examples of this in use:

ein waschechter Macho – “a true Macho” – yes, you can be A Macho in German (dict.cc offers “himbo” as a translation and this does capture the pejorative sense of the word).

eine waschechte Kulturstadt – “a true culture city” – perhaps best understood as being derived from the European City of Culture designation.

waschechten Mozartfans – “true Mozart fans” – it would seem that almost anything can be combined with Fan, as in English.

ein waschechter Verlagskontrakt – “a genuine publishing contract.”

When we take waschechter apart we get wasch – “wash” and echter – “more real,” “truer,” “more typical.” The waschechter combination can also mean “colorfast,” from which likely comes the implication that afforded the figurative use: that the characteristic is one that won’t “fade” or “disappear” (our own phrase “true blue” has this origin, coming from a time period where most blue dyes were fugitive). Intriguingly, in researching this I came across two phrases using gewaschen – Er ist mit allen Wassern gewaschen meaning “He’s a smooth customer” – and mit allen Wassern gewaschen sein – “to know every trick in the book” or “shrewd.” Which leaves me wondering what it might mean if you had washed everything in, say, Sekt or Chanel Number 5.

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