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Let's drop the Angst about Anglicisms

Published: 03 Sep 2013 11:13 GMT+02:00
Updated: 03 Sep 2013 11:13 GMT+02:00

Does German need protection from creeping Anglicization? The question was highlighted this week when the Duden dictionary was criticized for including too many English words. What a lot of cack, says Hannah Cleaver.

When authoritarian governments jail comedians who make jokes about their leaders, the best puncture for their sense of self importance is to point out that if a regime cannot cope with a joke at its expense, it is surely not strong enough to govern a country.

It's the same with language - one which is not strong enough to absorb foreign words, ideas and phrases is not worth saving. The point is that languages do this all the time, and become richer and more useful for it.

Half of English is practically German, while the other half is pretty much Latin, after all.

Shitstorm over shitstorm

The Duden dictionary was slammed this week for including words such as shitstorm in its latest editions. Yet shitstorm in German has a more precise meaning than it does in English - specifically meaning heaping vitriol on someone via new media rather than a more general chaotic situation.

And so a new word is born - something which could even cross over to global English. It would be fantastich if other German Anglicisms were also to take the little hop necessary to enrich us all. Why can't we adopt Handy for mobile phone? It'd be so, well, handy. Let's not have an Angstfest about it.

Where a foreign word hits the nail on the head better than a domestic one, let's take it and incorporate it into our language, be it German, English, French or whatever.

Why should the English struggle to make up something to replace Schadenfreude when the German works just brilliantly? And likewise, why bother strain Teutonic brains to come up with an alternative to InterCityExpress for their super-schnell trains?

Squash confusion like a slug

What does need squashing - and I mean like a slug on a broccoli plant - is the gratuitous and stupid use of English in Germany where it doesn't aid understanding.

English isn't cool, it's just a collection of confusingly spelled words governed by inconsistent grammar. It in itself will not lend your company that whiff of sophistication you're looking for. Advertising agencies I am looking at you.

So it is stupid for Deutsche Bahn to talk about information counters, leaving Germans either concerned about whether they're going to be totting up the train times they get there - or worse, just confused by language in their own country. There is a perfectly good German word - Schalter for counter, while Service Points are now far better labelled DB Informationen.

My all-time favourite confusing Anglicism which has happily been dropped was for Douglas, that purveyor of perfumes, which for a while advertised with the slogan, "Come in and find out". It makes no sense in English, while one poll suggested some Germans were concerned they might never make they way out of the shops if they were to enter. I would love to use the word Fremdschämen to describe my feelings about it - because there isn't a word for "feeling embarrassed on behalf of another" in English.

Languages do not need protecting - let's swap words as and when it makes sense. Let us save our righteous shitstorms for the occasions when language is misused or abused to the detriment of clarity.

Everyone benefits from a sensible, clear, use of language - the point is, after all, to communicate, no? Use whatever word is most apt, and voilà! more understanding rather than less.

What do you think? Does the German language need protection from creeping Anglicism? What are your favourite swapped words? Which ones would benefit German or English?

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Hannah Cleaver

hannah.cleaver@thelocal.com

twitter.com/hannahcleaver2

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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