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A Short Journey Among German Words

German is one of the most spoken languages in Central Europe. The history of the German language dates back to around 2,000 B.C. Besides Germany, the German language is spoken widely throughout Austria, Switzerland and Belgium as well, and it is also the official language of all these countries. One of the most striking features of German is that the words in the spelling rules used as 'noun' are used together with the articles representing three different genders (der, die, das) and the first letter of these words is always capitalized.

Everyone knows a little German

Technological advances bring people closer together every day as well as the different languages spoken by them all around the world. In this way, languages can easily be blended together. Therefore, everyone can easily become familiar with the words in different languages. If you think that you do not speak German at all, I must say that too many words you use in English are very similar to German words and some of them are just the same.

In order to give examples of words with the same spelling and meaning used in both German and English, although their pronunciation may be different, we can list them as follows; elegant, extra, legal, liberal, normal, modern, tolerant, bring, formal, global, loyal, orange (die Orange), atom (das Atom), internet (das Internet), hamburger (der Hamburger), hotel (das Hotel), motor (der Motor), plan (der Plan), problem (das Problem), April (der April), bank (die Bank), chance (die Chance), bus (der Bus), butter (die Butter), experiment (das Experiment), finger (der Finger), generation (die Generation), instrument (das Instrument), hand (die Hand), name (der Name), nation (die Nation), partner (der Partner), person (die Person), radio (das Radio), spray (der Spray), talent (das Talent), vase (die Vase), toast (der Toast)

In order to give examples of words with the same meaning and close spelling used in both German and English, we can list them as follows; blond (der Blonde), blue (blau), cousin (die Cousine), find (finden), music (die Musik), begin (beginnen), become (bekommen), drink (trinken), wash (waschen), fall (fallen), sink (sinken), sing (singen), house (das Haus), camera (die Kamera), photo (das Foto)

Even just looking at these examples, we can say that most of us actually speak a little German in daily life. Therefore, even the people who say that they have no idea about this language means that they actually know enough German to explain their basic problems when they are in Germany.

German Expressions That Say a lot in One Word

Another feature about the German language is that it contains a lot of compound words in its vocabulary. Thanks to these awesome German words, which are united as a jigsaw puzzle, an expression that normally needs to be explained in a few sentences can be told in just a single word. Let's take a glance at a few of them:

Weltschmerz: If we would do a word-for-word translation, we could translate this compound word as 'world pain', which usually expresses the displeasure when things don't go as they planned. In other words, it denotes a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world.

Torschlusspanik: This compound word expresses the last-minute panic. It tells about the apprehension that time is running out to act, often regarding a life goal or opportunity. It expresses the feeling that an imaginary door or a gate will be closed soon and so the opportunity will be gone forever.

Treppenwitz: If we would do a word-for-word translation, we could translate this compound word as 'staircase joke', as it is a combination of the words 'Treppe' (staircase) and 'Wit' (joke). It tells about ironic and odd coincidences such as the ideas that come to mind when the opportunity is already gone. This expression refers to events or facts that seem to contradict their own background.

Schadenfreude: This compound word, which is fortunately not used very often, can be translated as ‘joy of misfortune’. It expresses joyful feelings that take pleasure from watching someone fail or from witnessing the humiliation of another.

Ohrwurm: If we would do a word-for-word translation, we could translate this compound word as 'ear worm', as it is a combination of the words 'Ohr' (ear) and 'Wurm' (worm). It is an imitation that tells about having a song stuck in your head as if it rambling into your brain through your ear. For instant, if you listen to a song in a restaurant and then find yourself still humming that song when you are home, congratulations, you have an ear worm.

Dreikäsehoch: If we would do a word-for-word translation, we could translate this compound word as 'three cheese high', as it is a combination of the words ‘drei' (three),' Käse' (cheese), and 'hoch' (high). It is usually used for children or very short people, meaning that they’re only as tall as three wheels of cheese placed on top of each other.

Fremdschämen: We can translate this compound word, which is a combination of the words ‘Fremd’ (foreign) and ‘schämen’ (shame), as ‘ashamed on behalf of someone else’. We can say that this compound word is very empathetic. It describes the feeling of shame instead of someone else when witnessing their clumsiness or embarrassing situation.

Fernweh: This expression, which means ‘distant pain’, is often used by people who want to travel or to go on a holiday, expressing the longing for distant lands and even for the places that have never been visited. We can say that it is a reverse homesickness.

Fingerspitzengefühl: If we would do a word-for-word translation, we could translate this expression as 'finger tips feeling', as it is a combination of the words 'Fingerspitze' (finger tip) and 'gefühl' (feeling). It describes a great situational awareness, instincts, and a superior ability to respond to an escalated situation.

Interesting German Expressions

‘Drücken sie die Daumen!’

This idiom, which means 'press your thumbs' when translated into English word-for-word, describes making the fists with the thumbs tucked in. It’s exact meaning is ‘keep your fingers crossed’, as in ‘wish me luck’.

‘Nur Bahnhof Verstehen.’

This idiom, which states that the only thing understood about the current subject is the train station (Bahnhof), is an analogy used to indicate that the person has no idea about the subject. We can say that it is the German version of the idiom used in English as "It’s all Greek to me’. So, the person who hears this expression understands that he/she should clarify the subject.

‘Rechts stehen, links gehen.’

If we would do a word-for-word translation, we could translate this expression as 'stand right, walk left,', which often used as a warning phrase while riding the escalator. It reminds that those standing on the right side can stand still, but those on the left side must keep walking in order not to prevent the flow on escalator. If you hear this expression spoken out loud, you can be sure that there is someone blocking the left side of an escalator.

‘Wir sind ja nicht aus Zucker.’

This idiom, which can be translated into English as "you are not sugar, you won’t melt", is frequently used when people are caught in the rain without an umbrella.

‘Stimmts, oder habe ich Recht?’

This phrase implies that the speaker can't possibly be wrong after making a statement or sharing thoughts about something. Briefly stated, it is another way of saying 'no need to talk more, I am absolutely right'.

It is possible to multiply these examples. Eventually, although many people say that it is a very difficult language, I think that German is one of the fun languages with its interesting and humorous approach. And I believe that these are the elements that contribute to the enjoyable learning process. Stimmts, oder habe ich Recht?

Author: Esra Çengel

Publishing Date: 03/12/2020

Target Audience: All Translators, Interesting Content Audiences

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