German word of the day: Nebelkerze

Some things are important in a political debate - and some things are just distractions. Remember this German phrase and you'll be sorting the wheat from the chaff in no time.

German word of the day
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Why do I need to know Nebelkerze

Because it’s a widely used phrase in political discussions, so you may hear it on your favourite current affairs programme or podcast.

Not only that, but it’s a useful way of holding your opponent to account in any debate. 

What does it mean? 

In a literal sense, eine Nebelkerze is a smoke grenade that artificially creates a cloud of smog, making it impossible for an opponent to see clearly or orientate themselves. 

This military term has since moved into the realm of political discourse to describe tactics used to confuse people or distract them from the real issues. 

In English, you might translate Nebelkerze as “smoke and mirrors”, a “smokescreen” or a “red herring” – depending on the context. 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump was a master of the Nebelkerze: while the media was fired up over controversies like his use of the phrase “alternative facts”, major policy shifts like allowing the controversial keystone pipeline tended to slip under the radar.

Just like in the military, political Nebelkerzen are a way of disorienting people and blinding them to what is really going on. 

Use it like this:

“Die Diskussion über Migration ist eine große Nebelkerze.”

The discussion about migration is a big red herring. 

“Er versucht immer wieder, Nebelkerzen zu werfen.”

He keeps trying to put up smokescreens (literally: throw smoke grenades).

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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.