Thursday, June 14, 2012

That pesky German language

A frighteningly prolific grammarian friend challenged me to write a blog about German language foibles that irritate me.  It's one of the unexpected perils of being a pedantic expat - as I become more proficient in their language, Germans' own abuses of their native tongue start to grate.

We'll skip over, for the purposes of this rant, my neighbors' use of the dative when genitive is clearly called for, or their consistent conversion of subordinate clauses into main clauses through incorrect verb placement (you don't have to know any German:  just trust me that these are big no-no's).  No, what makes me crazy is the ubiquitous use of English in daily German.

You'd think it would make my life easier, right?  Wrong.  When one studies and sweats and strives to build up a vocabulary, only to discover that the sought-after word is, well, borrowed from one's own mother language - it's enough to drive one to giving up all pretenses and just speaking English to the neighbors with some Michael Fassbinder accent.

But you start to get used to seeing it.  First graders in our school suffer a month's worth of phonetics training setbacks when they finally get to the letter 'c', since the kids are given words like 'Cowboy' and 'Clown' to practice with.  Problem is, all the vowels-sounds in those words (ow and oy) aren't spelled that way in German!  So the poor kids first attempts sound like 'Kovboeee' and 'Klovn'.  It must be admitted, however, that German has adopted those concepts, so the kids already know the (spoken) words.

Then there are the cases of words taken from English and proudly touted as such - but with a different meeting.  'Typ', or 'guy', comes from 'type', but that's not the common meaning of the word.  'Mobbing' means harassment - whether by one person or many, all at once or over a period of time.  The sense of a chaotic unthinking mass of people is gone.  And that a cell or mobile is called a 'Handy' is just a complete abuse.

'Sorry' (pronounced with an infuriatingly soft 'r' sound - Sohhhhrhhheee) and 'Ladies and Gen-tle-men' are heard daily.

Probably my biggest peeve revolved around Germans' tendency to adopt English words when it's really not necessary.  I might be inclined to tolerate the obsessive use of English technology terms:  'Keyboard' instead of 'Tastatur', 'Laptop', the respectably germanized 'simsen' (SMS-ing) and 'texten'.  But 'City' and  (movie) 'Star' both are a bit superfluous, oder?

Gerunds are particularly ripe for the picking:  'meeting' (business usage), 'training', 'peeling' (skin care) - it seems to me there could be perfectly cromulant German words for such things - it's not as if these activities and concepts only became poplar in this country since America and England became cool!

Next time maybe I'll public a polemic about the TShirt industry in this country and the silly things Germans uncomprehendingly put on their bodies.  But now it's time for bed.



Brian in Oxford said...


(Ooh, and what's the German equivalent of "it's all Greek to me"?)


BeccaV said...

You know, I heard the word years ago from, I believe, Rowan Atkinson in some piece of his, and I've been dying to use it ever since ;)