German word of the day: Das Gendersternchen

Our odd word of the day, which literally translates to "little gender star", has been officially named the Anglicism of the Year 2018 in Germany for its linguistic and sociological significance.

German word of the day: Das Gendersternchen

When this little star is inserted into words it makes it possible to address all genders at the same time in written German. An example: Renters in the normally male plural of Mieter can become the female plural of Mieter*innen.

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On Tuesday, the so-called Anglicism Jury at Free University Berlin made their selection based on the increasingly widespread use of this asterisk “in public language,” they said.

They were also swayed by the central importance that the sign – and the word for it – have had in the debate “on the difficult and highly controversial issue of linguistic equality of different sexes,” said Anatol Stefanowitsch, chairman of the jury, on Tuesday in Berlin.

The Free University linguist is a proponent of gender-equitable language and welcomes the Gendersternchen in order to make gender visible beyond men and women when naming groups of people.

But it’s not only in liberal Berlin that you’re likely to spot the star when reading texts – be it a newspaper asking addressing its readers (liberal daily taz uses Leser*innen) or a landlord addressing tenants (for example, Mieter*innen).

Recently a lot of attention has been cast on Hanover because it has introduced a new “Recommendation for a Gender Equitable Administrative Language” urging institutions to also adapt gender neutral ways of representing word.

In 2018, there was also a discussion among the Council for German Spelling about a possible inclusion of the Gendersternchen in official bureaucratic spelling.

The Anglicism jury didn’t just praise the word for the concept of gender equality it represents. Being linguists, they were also, well, star struck that the word Gendersternchen shows how quickly German can use words or phrases borrowed from English to form new words – words that aren’t quite English nor German.

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This texts contains two examples of the Gendersternchen, Einwohner*innen and Mitarbeiter*innen. Photo: DPA

Within just a few years, the so-called “Gender Star” had become a Gendersternchen. Ladies and gentlemen, we present you with the newest Denglisch term.

Since the turn of the millennium in Germany, the verb “gendern” has found itself in its technical meaning: “Realizing equality between men and women”. But thanks to the gender star it also can have the English meaning of gender, or Geschlecht in German.

With reporting by DPA

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This article was produced independently with support from Lingoda.



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German word of the day: Belastung

Sometimes things can be too hard to carry - but keep this German word to hand and you may be able to lighten the load.

German word of the day: Belastung

Why do I need to know Belastung?

Because this versatile little word can be found everywhere, from articles about contaminated waterways to discussions about teen mental health.

What does it mean?

Die Belastung (be.last.ung) can mean numerous things depending on its context, but generally it’s used to refer to a “load” or a “burden” of some kind. This can, of course, mean a physical load such as goods on a cargo train, but more often it’s a metaphorical one.

That’s why you may hear politicians in Germany talking about a “finanzielle Belastung” (financial burden) on citizens through inflation, or have a friend write to you about how their hectic new job is “eine Belastung” (a strain). 

Occasionally, Belastung can be a liability or debt, and other times it could be a heavy workload. 

If you hear it in an ecological context, it’s sadly most likely to be referring to pollution or exposure to a toxic substance.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Beharren

Where does it come from?

The word Belastung appears to come from the noun ‘Last’ in Old High German, which was used to describe something that weighed a person down – in other words, a load. In Middle High German, ‘Last’ could also be used as a measurement to mean an abundance or large quantity of something – again, similar to the English ‘load’.

‘Last’ has the same meaning to this day and can be found tucked away in several German words with similar connotations. For example, as well as burdening someone with a Belastung, you can also free them of their heavy load with an Entlastung. Incidentally, the latter is the word usually used to describe financial relief measures taken by the government. 

Use it like this: 

Ich will an der Universität studieren, aber momentan sind die finanzielle Belastungen zu groß.

I want to study at university, but at the moment the financial burdens are too great.

Mein rücksichtsloser Freund ist eine Belastung.

My reckless friend is liability.