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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

‘Gate’ named Germany’s English word of the year

The English suffix "gate" has been named Germany's Anglicism of the Year. The quirky, linguistic award honours the positive contributions English had made to the German lexicon.

'Gate' named Germany's English word of the year
Handygate, the alleged tapping of Chancellor Merkel's phone by US secret services helped propel "gate" to victory. Photo: DPA

Gate is no newbie on German turf, having arrived in 1972 with the reporting of the Watergate scandal.

But Germans were slow to take it into their own language and it wasn't until many years later that gate gained widespread acceptance as a bona fide suffix.  

In 2010, former president Christian Wulff was criticized for rejecting Berlin-made bread rolls – known colloquially as Schrippen – in favour of those originating in his home town of Hannover.

The resulting controversy was dubbed Schrippengate.

More recently, revelations that US intelligence agencies had been bugging Chancellor Merkel's phone were referred to as Handygate, a combination of the victorious suffix with another word borrowed from English, handy, which means mobile phone in Germany.

As well as gate, the jury of four academics paid tribute to the English words fake, selfie and hashtag, which have recently crept into the German, or at least the Denglisch-speaking, domain.

They pointed out that fake used in German has embraced a more abstract meaning, as for example in the term Fake-Preußentum, meaning literally fake Prussianism.

Further evidence of how embedded fake has become in the German language is in the emergence of the term Fake-Leberwurst, referring to a sub-standard and inauthentic liver sausage.

Selfie, having won the prestigious title of 2013 Word of the Year in both Britain and the Netherlands, was also acknowledged for finally providing Germans with a term to describe amateur photographers with a penchant for self-display.

Hashtag was also lauded for offering a useful summation of online movements and activism.

The jury pointed to the success of the #Aufschrei movement on Twitter, which documents incidents of everyday sexism. 

Hashtag was also honoured for its introduction into spoken language "to add (ironical) meta comments to statements".

Although the jury chose gate as Anglicism of the Year, the popular vote went to the word whistleblower.

Following the leaking of information about government spying by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the term rapidly became associated with debates about data protection and government spying.

The "Anglizismus des Jahres" is an annual prize dedicated to the English word which most enriched the German language that year. Previous winners include Crowdfunding, leaken and shitstorm.

"I started the Anglicism of the Year to shine a positive light onto our borrowed words as a mirror of social change in the face of the cultural conservatism which usually accompanies the discussion," said jury chairperson Anatol Stefanowitsch, who teaches English linguistics at Berlin's Free University. 

READ MORE: 'Denglisch is for losers, it has to stop'

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

How (and when) to swear like a German

We are certainly not advocating the use of these words, but they are important to know (in case anyone uses them against you). Here are some of the German words you certainly shouldn’t use with elderly in-laws.

How (and when) to swear like a German
"Are you talking to me?" Photo: DPA

Geil

We’ll start with a word so common you’ve probably even heard some embarrassing politicians use it as they try to get down wid da kids

Geil is used to mean “cool” or “wow”. To show extreme approval, you can draw it out and say guy-el. The word literally means “horny”. It is often used in the following phrase “ej, du geile Sau”, which is a pretty crude way of telling someone you find them attractive (hey, you horny pig).

Our advice: be careful with this word! As common as “geil” is in everyday slang, it could still cause your conservative father-in-law to choke on his Lebkuchen during Christmas dinner.

READ ALSO: Nerdy flowers to alcoholic birds: the 12 most colourful German insults

Kruzifix!

This one is a shout out to all the old Bavarian men out there. “Kruzifix!” or “Sakrament!” is something you shout out in pain in the southern state if you’ve stubbed a toe or accidentally hit your finger with a hammer.

Our rule: don’t scream this word out in the presence of a priest. Avoid using on Sundays.

Mist

Here is a classic German joke for you: An American tourist driving through the German countryside is lost. He pulls up at a farm and shouts to the nearest farm hand “Hey Mister, I need some help.” The puzzled farmhand replies “Ich bin nicht der Mister, ich bin der Melker.”

The joke being – a Mekler is someone who milks the cows. A Mister would theoretically be someone he cleans out the Mist, the manure.

The word Mist, which you mutter when something has gone wrong, literally dung, is even an acceptable word for children to use and is equivalent to “flip or “darn it” in English.

Our advice: one to avoid if you’re trying to impress teenagers, otherwise safe.

Leck mich!

This is an abbreviated version of a sentence that is just a bit too rude to appear in a news publication of our standing.

It means “lick me.” Let’s put it this way, it’s not a sexy invitation to someone to lick chocolate from your chest. It refers instead to a less appetising brown substance and essentially means “f*** off!”

We don’t know what Baden-Württemberg’s former culture minister, Gabriele Warminski-Leitheußer, was saying here… but we’re pretty sure we know what she means. Photo: DPA

Schattenparker!

This word belongs to the fantastic German tradition of making up insults to throw at people based on perceived cowardly behaviour.

A Schattenparker is literally someone who parks in a shadow. Sensible behaviour, one might think. Not to the hardy German though – parking in shadow proves you can’t take the heat.

Famed members of this very manly collection are Warmduscher (warm showerer) and Frauenversteher (woman understander) – even if these should not exactly be insults. You can make up just about anything to add to the list, as this website proves.

Our advice: throw in a few original ones at Christmas dinner and German relatives will be cooing at the progress you’re making in German.

Vollpfosten

This word is the equivalent to the English expression “as thick as two planks.” You use it to insult someone’s intelligence “Ej, du Vollpfosten”, which means “hey, thicko”, or literally “you big pole”.

Our advice: One to keep in your arsenal if a driver cuts you off on your cycle to work and then fails to apologise.

“Ey, du Vollpfosten!” Photo: DPA

Scheiße

We all know the German word for shit, but one of its most appealing qualities is the fact that you can stick it to the front of just about any noun to indicate disapproval. “Der Scheißkerl” means “that arsehole”, but you can add it to anything, really. Scheißwetter, Scheißaufgabe, Scheißauto… the possibilities are endless.

Our advice: have fun with this one.

Arschkalt

A seasonally relevant one to end things. Literally “arse cold” – we’re not really sure why – but it’s a good way to hate on the long, grey German winter.

Our advice: will go down well with a Berliner if you want to show you’ve got a bit of Schnauze.

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