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, and Schadenfreude. Examples in the opposite direction are "fair play" and "common sense" or, more recently, "no-brainer" and "shit storm". 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 terms that demonstrate the ease with which words can be combined in German to create new and, possibly, very nuanced meanings. And I haven't completely given up on neologisms and other terms that do not fit the compound noun pattern. I will continue to introduce them when I find them interesting and there is no obvious English equivalent. This extends the life of the Word-of-the-Month posts as I now have a much larger pool to draw examples from.

Addendum (July 2018): Even with the extended pool described in the preceding paragraph, I no loner have enough promising candidates lined up to commit to the Word-of-the-Month as a monthly feature. But I do not plan to give up on it completely. I will introduce new words when I come across suitable instances, even if months have elapsed since the last post. That is to say, "Word-of-the-Month" should now be taken literally, as the specific word I feature at a certain month with no implications that the same will happen every month.

Last change made to this page: July 31, 2018