Tag Archives: suffixation

Strange attractors

Today I saw a program being advertised by indicating that it was unterhaltsam – “entertaining,” “enjoyable,” “amusing” or “diverting,” according to dict.cc online. It wasn’t this new word that struck me, however, but rather the thought that seltsam – “strange” – and selten – “rare(ly)” or “seldom” (notice the spelling similarity selt/d-m) – must be related. Naturally, something that rarely happens is very likely to seem strange. And luckily for me, this sort of something is also likely to seem entertaining, enjoyable, amusing and diverting, once noticed.

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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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Compound, Thy Name is Mud

Yesterday morning at Dialog in Deutsch we were presented with the word die Haarspalterei and asked to take a guess at what it might mean. My guess was that it might mean “split ends,” as spalten is “to split” (as in wood) and das Haar is “hair.” And, indeed, one way to say “split ends” is die gespaltene Haarspitzen – “the split hair tips” – and the two other options – der Haarspliss and der Spliss – rely on a different verb for “split,” spleißen which has spliss as the third person singular (and sounds a bit like the English word “splice” making it a false friend as “splicing” involves joining things together). I also had a moment where I wondered if it might indicate a place where you could have your hair worked on as there are several shop names that end in -ei (e.g., die Bäckerei and die Metzgerei). However -ei is simply one way to form a noun from another noun; canoo.net gives the example of forming a new word from das Ferkel – “piglet” – plus -ei which doesn’t mean a shop where piglets can be purchased but rather die Ferkelei means “mess” or a “dirty/disgusting/filthy thing to do.”

We also discussed a few other ways to get across the concept of “hairsplitting” including the words that could be applied to people:

der Haarspalter – hair-splitter
der Erbsenzähler – nit-picker (or “bean counter,” from the more literal reading “pea counter”)
der Federfuchser – petty-minded pedant (literally, I think this is “feather annoyer/nettler”)

Finally, there is the somewhat more neutral adjective penibel – “persnickety,” “painstaking,” “fussy” or “fastidious.”

I look forward to having fun to making a fine mess by debating the difference between nit-picking and hair-splitting!

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Dead satisfied

Yesterday I visited Ohlsdorfer Friedhof. If you weren’t looking carefully, you might miss that this is a cemetery. It is laid out much more like a park or arboretum and is so large that there are bus lines that run through it to take you between different chapels and different sections. It lives up the Frieden part of its name in that it is a place of “peace” and “tranquility” (note that Fried, a delightful false friend if there ever was one, is not word in German as far as I can tell; but when I type the letters F-R-I-E-D, I frequently add an N, which makes sense for English but not for German).  I doubt, however, that anyone ever imagined a “yard” or “courtyard” – two of the meanings for der Hof – anything like this size (it is apparently the largest parkland cemetery in the world).

And then, suddenly, into my head came one of the possible translations of “happy” – zufrieden – that I shared in the post Happy-go-lucky. I had learned this as meaning something closer to “satisfied” or “content” than “happy” and the der Frieden connection suggest another possible rendering: “at peace.” Then, I got to wondering about that zu. I started scanning the zu section of the dictionary and before I tired of it discovered only a few adjectives with what looked like the zu– prefix (z.B., zudringlich – “pushy” (dringend – “urgent(ly)” or “strong(l)y” or “absolutely”)and rather a lot of verbs including zufriedenlassen – “to leave someone in peace” or “to stop bothering someone” and zufriedenstellen – “to satisfy, content or sate someone.”

Therefore, I got to wondering if perhaps there was a verb frieden that might have been the source for zufrieden. While I could not find a frieden (apologies to James Taylor for the very bad partial, cross language pun), canoo did offer some interesting insights on word formation via conversion! They explain two sorts of ways in which you can make an adjective from a verb.  The first is by suffixation (die Suffigierung). There are five types of suffixation options, I’ll only the simplest option for this post: drop the -en ending and add either -bar, –(e)rig, –haft, –ig, –isch, –lich and –sam. For example, ärgerlich – “annoyed” or “cross” from ärgern – “to annoy.” The second method is even more direct, conversion (die Konversion): you use the present or the past participle. For example, ein überwältigendes ‘Nein”  – “a resounding ‘No’ ” – or gefüllte Oliven – “stuffed olives.”

I hope that this leaves you both satisfied (or satt) and hungry for more Earthquake Words.

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