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.”