06 August, 2014

My Least Favorite German Words

Since I did a post a few months ago about my favorite German words (read that post HERE), I figured I should also give some attention to the other end of the spectrum: the German words that I like the least. As with the favorite words post, when you click on each word you'll be brought to a page with translations and the option to hear a recording of the word being spoken (just click on the symbol that looks like a megaphone next to the word).

This is by far my least favorite German word. It means "pregnant" but sounds more like you're cursing at someone when you say it. It definitely fulfills the stereotype of German words sounding harsh and unfriendly, and to make matters worse, the sounds and their meaning just don't go together for me.

This word is just mean. It's one of the first German words foreigners ever learn and a basic component of many sentences, and it's still one of the ones that gives me the most trouble. It may not look like it, but there are way too many sounds happening in this word to fit in the two allotted syllables. First of all, the word begins with three consonants in a row, which is mean in the first place, but exactly this collection of letters is just about the meanest one there is. When a word begins with sp or st, the S is pronounced like the English sh, so really, the beginning of this word, when written with English spelling, should read shpr. The P is fine where it is, but once you get to the R it gets challenging again. Rs are pronounced farther back in the throat in German than they are in English, so I still have to work to achieve the proper pronunciation even when the R is alone. Coming from the sh and p sounds and going directly into an R requires an astonishing amount of concentration. And then you throw in the ch in the second syllable, a sound that simply doesn't exist in English, and my mouth just trips over itself.

Even meaner, and more ironic in its difficulty, is the related word aussprechen. This word means "to pronounce" and is ironically one of the hardest German word for me to pronounce.

I avoid saying this word at all costs. Too many umlauts for my mouth to comfortably handle. I still have a hard time distinguishing between the sounds of a normal U and a U with an umlaut, both while listening and speaking, and this word throws two of those tricky little guys at me at once.

I think this word just sounds gross. It reminds me simultaneously of the words "slime" and "moist," which makes me think of slimy, moist things. To me the sounds have nothing to do with the meaning, so it's also a very hard word for me actually remember the meaning of.

... and that's precisely why it's one of my least favorite words. It can means so many things that it can be hard to tell which meaning is intended in a particular sentence. According to context it can mean: economy, economic system, industry, pub, bar, small restaurant, household, or state of affairs.

  • Any word that is almost identical in English
This may sound counterintuitive, but some of the hardest words to correctly pronounce in German are ones that are very similar in English. The temptation is to pronounce them exactly the way I am used to saying them, i.e., with English pronunciation. But since German is a different language, even words that seem identical are naturally still pronounced slightly differently. Sometimes this difference is too subtle to be easily achieved. A good example is the word Partner. It has exactly the same meaning and spelling as in English and almost identical pronunciation. There is a slight difference is in the vowels and the Rs are pronounced as if you are speaking in a British accent, but these differences are so subtle that I mess it up all the time. And since it's almost identical in English, sometimes my subconscious takes over and I just say it the English way without even thinking.


BONUS! Confusing Words!

Similar to the word Wirtschaft, there are also many other words in German that have seemingly endless meanings. I'll leave it to Mark Twain to describe two such words:

"There are some exceedingly useful words in this language. Schlag, for example; and Zug. There are three-quarters of a column of Schlags in the dictionary, and a column and a half of Zugs. The word Schlag means Blow, Stroke, Dash, Hit, Shock, Clap, Slap, Time, Bar, Coin, Stamp, Kind, Sort, Manner, Way, Apoplexy, Wood-cutting, Enclosure, Field, Forest-clearing. This is its simple and exact meaning -- that is to say, its restricted, its fettered meaning; but there are ways by which you can set it free, so that it can soar away, as on the wings of the morning, and never be at rest. You can hang any word you please to its tail, and make it mean anything you want to. You can begin with Schlag-ader, which means artery, and you can hang on the whole dictionary, word by word, clear through the alphabet to Schlag-wasser, which means bilge-water -- and including Schlag-mutter, which means mother-in-law. 
"Just the same with Zug. Strictly speaking, Zug means Pull, Tug, Draught, Procession, March, Progress, Flight, Direction, Expedition, Train, Caravan, Passage, Stroke, Touch, Line, Flourish, Trait of Character, Feature, Lineament, Chess-move, Organ-stop, Team, Whiff, Bias, Drawer, Propensity, Inhalation, Disposition: but that thing which it does not mean -- when all its legitimate pennants have been hung on, has not been discovered yet."

This quote is part of an essay written by Mark Twain called The Awful German Language (full text here: http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/awfgrmlg.html). It's a hilarious account of Twain's experiences with German and all of its peculiarities. I encourage everyone to read it; you don't have to speak German to find it funny, although I think people like me who have learned German as a second (or third) language will particularly appreciate his quite accurate assessment of the insanity that is the German language.

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