Word of the Month

This is how I originally expressed the rationale behind my Word-of-the-Month posts: "One reason why a foreign word enters the vocabulary of a language is that this vocabulary does not have a word or expression with exactly the same meaning as the foreign word. Examples of German words that have entered English apparently for that reason are Gestalt, Zeitgeist, Weltschmerz or Schadenfreude. Examples in the opposite direction are "fair play" or "common sense". Each month, I will identify a German word that has entered—or could/should enter—English for legitimate reasons, i.e. there does not appear to exist an exact English equivalent."

As these posts multiplied, I learned several things. For example, readers seem to be less interested in adjectives (like maulfaul) or words that are outright neologisms (like Schnulze). By far the greatest interest appears to be in compound nouns that combine seemingly unrelated words to create new terms for phenomena or concepts that could otherwise be referred to only by more laborious combinations of words. Readers also seem to be intrigued by the nuances in meaning that can be given precise expression in that way—Vorfreude, for example, is a pleasurable type of anticipation.

I then stumbled across a class of compound nouns, like Angsthase, that establish an association between an animal—and in a few cases, a mushroom or fruit—and some mental state, habit, or feeling. At the same time, I rediscovered my love for free-hand drawing, and I started to draw the creatures in question. I published the first of these in September 2009, and they became a bi-monthly feature until I ran out of ideas. I collected all of these drawings in an e-book called Wild Things in the German Language that is also available as a print-on-demand paperback (Kindle/paperback version | iBooks version). There's no expectation, however, that these "creature nouns" will make it into English—the intuition behind many of them may not migrate easily from one language to another.

With these examples, the original motivation behind the Word-of-the-Month has been expanded—it now deals generally with word creations that demonstrate the ease with which words can be combined in German to create new and, possibly, very nuanced meanings. At the same time, it extends the life of the Word-of-the-Month theme as I now have a much larger pool to draw examples from.


Last change made to this page: Jan. 13, 2014

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