Sunday, February 11, 2007

Useful German words - and a new one

The German language provides English speakers with some excellent words for which we have only awkward phrases, including:

  • Schadenfreude - joy in the misfortune of others
  • Realpolitik - power politics based on expediency not ethics
  • Weltschmerz - 'world pain' or feeling of melancholia about the world
  • Zeitgeist - spirit of the age
  • √úbermensch - the Nietzschian superman, a man having overcome the frailty of the human condition
To these staples of North London conversation, must now be added...
  • Denkverbot - a prohibition against thought
Use spotted in an article in this week's edition of the The Economist on whether Germany should rethink its nuclear power phase out: "there should be no denkverbot ('thought embargo')" says Bernd Arts of the Atomforum in Berlin.(see article)

But what a great word, and with such widespread application covering much of what happens in the workplace, a lot of politics, all of religion, most entertainment and much human behaviour. The formal meaning is an imposed prohibition - like suppression of intellectuals by Stalin or Pol Pot. But it can be used for a culture (for example the civil service culture of conformity and lazy consensus); a doctrinaire belief system (for example religious 'faith' or unthinking belief in supernatural explanations for natural phenomena); or merely a collective behaviour - like a determination amongst the guests at a dinner party to avoid serious subjects of conversation in case someone is embarrassed.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed. A few others that could usefully be borrowed across:

A Besserwisser - someone who knows better than others and doesn't mind telling them

A Weltanschauunger - someone who has a grasp of the big picture or philosophy of life

A Kaffeklatsch a gossip over coffee

Adrian said...

Very interesting topic, and a great word to add to the collection. Does anyone still use Ersatz for a second-rate imitation product? Perhaps not, now that 'plastic' is no longer a pejorative term!

But "all of religion"? You have been brainwashed. "Beware of 'all-ness'," my public speaking mentor taught me, "It betrays sloppy thinking."