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LEARNING GERMAN

German word of the day: Der Haken

Though you might come across this in a hardware store, the word Haken also has a useful colloquial meaning.

German word of the day: Der Haken
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Literally meaning a hook, der Haken can also denote a catch or a snag. 

If a deal seems almost perfect, but then you find out there is a catch, in German you would call this der Haken. This is when there is a hidden disadvantage to what appeared at first to be an ideal situation. 

Things are rarely as simple as they appear, but it can still be frustrating to discover the inevitable catch of a decision you thought would be easy.

If you find a train ticket for half the price of a normal journey and immediately book it before properly checking the trip, only to discover you have to change trains three times and will arrive three hours late, therein lies the der Haken

This use of the term is Umgangssprachlich, or colloquial, and draws upon the literal meaning of the word, likening the drawback of a situation to something you can easily be caught on, i.e. a hook.  

READ ALSO: 10 ways of speaking German you’ll only ever pick up on the street

The idiom ‘einen Haken haben’ (to have a catch) has its origins in angling and figuratively refers to the hook of a fishing rod, which can catch a fish unaware. The colloquialism dates back to Middle High German, which was spoken in the 11th-14th centuries. 

Just like a fish caught off-guard by a fisherman’s hook, we can sometimes be lulled into a false sense of security by what seems to be a straightforward situation, only to get caught on der Haken at the last moment. 

Examples:

Unser Plan ist fast perfekt, doch es gibt einen Haken.

Our plan is almost perfect, but there is a catch. 

Es ist einfach zu gut, wahr zu sein. Wo ist der Haken?

It is simply too good to be true, where’s the catch?

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Abgefahren

If you enjoy things that are a bit out of the ordinary, this German word is perfect for you.

German word of the day: Abgefahren

Why do I need to know abgefahren?

Because ironic German slang words can be pretty fun to use – and because it tells us quite a bit about what the German youths were up to back in the 1970s. 

What does it mean?

Literally, abgefahren is the past participle of abfahren – which means to depart or to leave. For instance, “Der Zug ist abgefahren” means “the train has departed”, which can either be used to say that you’ve missed your train or to indicate a missed opportunity (think of the English phrase: “That ship has sailed.”)  

But to uncover the really fun side of abgefahren, you need to know its meaning in German slang. When used in a casual conversation, abgefahren is a big happy exclamation that can mean crazy, awesome, cool, weird or even trippy. 

A word to the wise: this isn’t the most modern slang word around, so you may get some amused looks if you start using it all the time. But funnily enough, we have heard a few younger Germans drop this into conversation recently – possibly as a semi-ironic or retro statement like the words “wicked”, “phat” or “radical” in English.

Where did it come from?

As you might have guessed, abgefahren is very much a relic of the 1970s – and particularly the hippy subculture. 

When experimenting with psychedelic drugs or other mind-altering narcotics, people would depart (abfahren) to go on a fantastical journey – otherwise known as a “trip”. In the midst of their trip, they’re fully abgefahren – probably to somewhere in outer space. 

Like a lot of slang, the meaning of abgefahren became a lot more broad once it entered into common usage. A bit like the English phrase, “far out” – an exclamation beloved of hippies in the ’60s and ’70s – you can basically use it for anything cool or interesting. 

Use it like this: 

Das war echt total abgefahren.

That was totally awesome. 

Es wäre verdammt abgefahren mit ihm abzuhängen.

It would be pretty awesome to hang out with him.

 
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