new times – new words

I read an article in Frankfurter Rundschau on the occasion of the new DUDEN – the 28th edition of THE German dicitionary. It talks about the 3.000 or so new words added to the German language officially. And those old ones striken from the record of a language.

Normally, one never thinks of languages as something fluid. But they are. I guess, this does not apply to Latin, but living languages are. New words and terms first conquer the streets, later social media and the news (or vice verca), soldiering on to classrooms and into books to be formalised in the olymp of any language’s official dictionary. Thus crowned high-level language.

In German, this increasingly includes English terms, that get “Germanised”. Like the word “gendern”, meaning to apply mainstream forms of gender in (mainly) written form. Taking the English word gender, putting a verbial n at the end – there you have it: a brand new German word. Would be the same to call “schreiben” (to write) writen in German. And I am sure, this word creation has already been used by someone on social media, getting mixed up with the lingos in use. With gendern – there is just no easy and short way to put it’s meaning forward using German words. One could call it “politisch korrekte Geschlechterkennzeichnung” but this leads one directly to Mark Twain and his fabulous essay called “The awful German Language” (Appendix D of A Tramp Abroad). Which is a must read for anyone with some command of German and English.

So I guess, gendern is ok to accept into the canon of German terms, as it is short and easy to use. There are more examples to that: Biken instead of fahrradfahren (to bike), joggen instead of laufen (running, to jog).

But back to the shifts in every day language. I am sure, the current pandemic will imprint itself in our language, too. It already has: social distancing is one of the terms now widely in use and understood immediately (although it is slightly misused here, I think. What we want is physical distance, really, not social distance). It is another Anglicism much preferred over the German term “Abstand halten” (keep a distance), often giving exact measures as to how much physical distance is required (1,5 m Abstand halten- keep 1,5 meters distance). And in this particular case, the German term would be so much more accurate. So, sometimes the adopted Anglicism doesn’t work all that well.

But there is another new word in this day and age, I think a stroke of genius. By happenstance it works both in English and German: Covidiot, naming the folks who refuse to wear masks and believe, that the virus is an invention…

2 thoughts on “new times – new words

  1. It was a surprise to me to learn (a few years ago) that new words were added to languages, that dictionary writers get to decide which make the cut and which don’t. It is a surprise to me now that words are also subtracted. Once a word is an accepted word, I think it should be one forever, even if it falls out of favor. I’m a poet and an avid Scrabble player, so having words taken away kind of rankles me. How often is the DUDEN revised? I think USA dictionaries add words every year. 🙂


    1. 2020 was the 20th edition, counting from 1880 on. Words removed from the official vocabluary this time over were (to name a few): Kabelnachricht (cablegram), Kammerjungfer (handmaid), Kammerjunker (a person one grade below a chamberlain) or beweiben (to find oneself a wife, old form for getting married). Of course, the word still exist, while their reason for use has been long outgrown. But some old-fashion minded people still will keep on using them. Folks like me. Actually, I never much cared to use any of the above, but now I strive to find a use, lest they will be forgotten… Which they will. This makes me sad. How long will it be, untill noone will understand anymore, what a record player or a fax machine is? Or, worse, a meadow? Or a bee?

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