When I first started learning German, I was so proud to be able to learn words for everyday things and start using simple phrases that came into use every day. When we got deeper into the grammar, I started hating the language. Why in God’s name was there 3 definite articles that then changed format when the case changed? Why in God’s name do adjectives have endings depending on what case it is? And why would good grammar be determined by changing a verb depending on whether the object is an actual object or a person? And why is there a case of possession?
I started hate-reading books and essays from people who were, at some point, on the same learning journey as mine. I looked for memes to calm my frustrations. I binge-watched videos about why it’s so stupid that as human beings we don’t have one language to tie us all together. I day-dreamed of Star Trek type universal translators that are a bit more user-friendly and high-tech than our current translators.
And then I realised that through all that moaning and whining and media consuming, I had become able to articulate some of my less complex thoughts in an entirely different language.
I started being fascinated by the differences between German and English, and the similarities. I started to understand the cultural roots of some phrases, and how language is built by joint communal experiences. Where as in English you would say “Money doesn’t grow on trees”, in German they say “Ich kann doch kein Geld schießen”, which translates to – I can’t shit gold.
I experienced first-hand the German need for precision. They have invented words to express specific complex feelings and gadgets and activities. It’s what made me fall in love with this crazy, monumental language. Words like – Wanderlust and Doppelganger have made it to the English language potentially because we tried to express that feeling we get when we look at the stars and the sea and ended up writing novels.
Here are some more words that I’d vote to get into the English language:
Now, the millenials have made a good job of coming up with the word FOMO, but before that we had to put our sentiments into three or four awkward sentences at a Christmas dinner party. The German’s have had a similar word for centuries. Torschlusspanik is literally the panic you feel when the drawbridge is closing and you’re not going to make it to the last ferry!
When you’re embarrassed for someone else, you have second hand embarrassment. Now you can replace the too-many-double-letters with one word! YAY German!
You’ve just been through a difficult break up, or you’ve been laid off, or your favourite TV show has been cancelled. You try to cheer yourself up with some good old emotional eating. It could last from a few hours to a few months. The residual soft padding that makes it tough fit into previously well-fitted clothes, that’s Kummerspeck. Or grief bacon! I love that they have a word for that whole complicated emotional process.
When you’re happy at someone else’s misfortune, you have Schadenfreude. It’s the same feeling you had when you voted Brexit or Trump just to piss off your child-in-law, and your vote was the winning vote! Take that, suckers!
There’s intuition, and there’s the ability to combine tact and diplomacy with sensitivity towards others feelings. Some people feel the solution to a situation in their fingertips, like magic. But their ability to appropriately respond to a tricky situation comes from a combination of past experiences, skills learnt on YouTube videos, advice from self-help books etc. That’s your Fingerspitzengefühl. It makes you an expert of something, even though you can’t really explain logically why you’re so good at it.
I always thought ‘stage fright’ didn’t do a good enough job of explaining the feeling you get when you’re performing for a crowd. Are you really afraid of the stage? Are you afraid of the people sitting in the audience? Would you still be afraid if you convert the room into a party and you’re mingling somewhere in the middle? No. You’re more afraid of the lights being shone on you. You’re afraid of being in the spotlight. Your heart starts racing, you’re sweating, your mouth goes dry, you would rather be in bed and under the sheets. You have lampenfieber or fever caused by the lights!
You know how you are invited to a social event you dread going to? You drink a couple of drinks in quick succession so you are less inhibited, then the evening just escalates from there? Suddenly you’ve adopted a pet pig, you have a tramp stamp you don’t even remember getting but that seemed like a good idea at the time? That, my friend, is an idea fuelled by schnapps. It’s so much more nuanced that a bad idea. It’s a schnappsidee.