It is a universally acknowledged fact that what we should all resolve, in 2012, to learn more German. After all, 97 per cent of the Germans speak some English, but less than 3 per cent of the Irish (or British) speak some German.
Yet, take heart. You probably know more German than you think you do. If you know fifty words in any language, you are on the road to speaking it. Just a reminder, therefore, of some of the German you probably already speak….
Auto (Das): We’ve seen all those adverts for the best-known German car, so we know this word. We are also familiar with –
Autobahn (Die): for the motorway. Notice that the car is neutral but the motorway is feminine. Don’t try and figure it out.
Angst is something for anyone who lays claim to being sensitively neurotic, and for this fancy word for fear or worry, we can thank Dr Freud, via Woody Allen.
Achtung! It’s not as threatening as it sounds in World War Two movies: it just means “look out”.
Auf Weidersehen: we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when/But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.
Blitz and Blitzkreig come to us from the vocabulary of WW2, but the lightening war strike now serves as an everyday household word for tackling chores, as in “I’m going to blitz the living-room today”.
Bildungsroman is a lovely pretentious word that no literary critic would be without. It’s the coming-of-age story, like Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist”.
Donner und Blitzen: Santa’s thunder-and-lightening reindeers.
Danke Schoen: thanks turned into a successful, if forgettable, pop song sung by Wayne Newton in 1963.
Ersatz: while we’re now using the French word “faux”, for “false”, “ersatz” still holds its own as “substitute”. Instant coffee was rightly originally dubbed “ersatz” coffee.
Frankfurter: they gave us the hot dog (not to be confused with Germany’s most serious newspaper, Frankfurter Allegemeine. )
FKK – Freikorperkultur – nudist colony, wherever Germans holiday.
Fuehrer – just the German for “Taoiseach” – leader – really.
Gesundheit! Blessings against a sneeze.
Gotterdammerung: Wagner’s famed Twilight of the Gods, a common metaphor now for meltdown.
Hamburger: what McDonald’s owes to German cuisine.
Heimat: the nostalgic concept of Homeland, and Edgar Reitz’s unsurpassed TV drama-documentary now available in box sets.
Hausfrau: Doris Day (nee Kappelhoff) was regarded as the “typical hausfrau type”, though feminists did not like the idea of a woman married to a house.
Kapital. Das: Karl Marx’s thriller.
Kaiser Bill: Only later was it revealed that the spike-helmeted Prussian monarch was a secret cross-dresser.
Kaput: internationally recognised word for “finished” or “broken”.
Kinder, Kuche, Kirche: The three legitimate interests of women’s lives in traditional Germany (pre-Angela Merkel) – children, cooking, church.
Kitsch: gaudy, sentimental style – I love it.
Kleine Nachtmusik (Eine): Mozart’s matchless composition.
Leider: sad songs, usually by Schubert.
Morganblatter: Strauss’s lively 1863 waltz, Op. 279 about the morning newspapers.
Ostpolitik – politics towards the Eastern block, to be linked with Realpolitik…
Pumpernickel – tasty dark rye bread.
Realpolitik – be practical now.
Reisling – that sweet, soft wine.
Sachertorte – that exquisitely fattening Viennese chocolate cake.
Sauerkraut – the German version of bacon and cabbage.
<p>Schadenfreude – that guilty satisfaction at taking pleasure at the misfortunes of others, especially luckier friends.
Schleppe – a German word which entered English via Yiddish, which is a German dialect: to lug, to drag, as in “I’ve schlepped around that crowded supermarket getting all this food.”
Schlimmbesserung: fashionably hits the nail so exactly on the head about much of modern life: “the improvement which makes things worse”. We are surrounded by such schlimmbesserung.
Schloss – where posh people have their country homes on the Rhine.
Schmaltz – dripping, and thus soppy as heck: entered English, probably via Hollywood producers, as in “let’s give them some schmaltz in this movie”.
Schnell! you’ve heard it often enough in those WW2 movies.
Sekt – German champagne, often just as sparkling as that which comes from Rheims.
Spiegal (Der) – Germany’s powerful weekly magazine – “The Mirror” .
Verboten. The Irish don’t like being told that certain things are forbidden, but certain things are.
Volkswagen – that genius egg-shaped People’s Car.
Vorsprung durch technik. We know this “advancement through technology” like the back of our hand.
Wanderlust: We get it all the time. That itch to pack up and just go.
Weltschmertz: oh, bittersweet weltschmertz – our sadness and pain at the state of the world.
Wir leben autos: Yes, we take our language tutorials from Opel, too.
Wunderbar! Wunderbar! The wonderful Cole Porter turned it all into a melodic song in his “Kiss Me Kate”, based on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”.
And there will be many more German words and phrases we know, and many more we may learn in the coming times, such as Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles…. ENDS. December 2011. I.I. Mag