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AWADmail Issue 405

April 4, 2010

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Carla Davis-Castro (carlayasmin.daviscastro gmail.com)
Subject: gotterdammerung
Def: Complete destruction of an institution, regime, order, etc.

The first time I came across this word, I was in middle school reading Gone with the Wind. Rhett Butler uses it in reference to the Confederacy as Sherman begins his march across Georgia. He also asserted that that is when great fortunes are made -- in the building and destroying of civilizations -- if one has an eye for opportunity. An impatient Scarlett accuses him of talking like Ashley.

From: Tan Zong Xuan (tzxrules gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gotterdammerung

The title of the 13th track on the Matrix Revolutions soundtrack is "Neodammerung", which translated literally would mean the twilight of Neo. This fits perfectly since it is Neodammerung that is being played during the final fight between Neo and Smith in the Matrix Revolutions, at the end of which both characters die (annihilating each other as anti-matter and matter would, since they are antitheses). If one chooses to see Neo (and Smith) as a god, then it is not hard to slip from "gotterdammerung" to "Neodammerung". The word, with its relations to Ragnarok and awesome destruction, manages to capture the epic nature of both the music and the fight (and the destruction and rebirth of the Matrix that is the result of that fight), making it one of the better track titles I've seen.

From: Judge Shapiro (judgeshapiro earthlink.net)
Subject: Gotterdammerung

Query whether the anglicized spelling and pronunciation of Gotterdammerung deliberately drops the two umlauts (the double dots over the "o" and the "a") you include in your spelling of the original German word. Because otherwise, the umlauts would be represented by an "e" after the "o" and the "a", and the pronunciation would change from your suggested got-uhr-DAM-uh-roong, -rung to guht (as in "Goethe")-uhr- DEM-uh-roong. Sorry to be so pedantic about it, but I just wanted to know whether the English version is meant to be the original or is a modified German word.

When a word is borrowed from another language, it usually plays by the new language's rules. So, for example, in English we pronounce the word bastille as (ba-STEEL) instead of its French pronunciation (bas-TEE-yuh).
-Anu Garg

From: Carsten Kruse (c-kruse t-online.de)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--realpolitik
Def: Politics guided by practical considerations, instead of principles or ethics.

Well, people here in Germany -- especially politicians -- use "realpolitik" as a very positive word. "I do not care about ideology(1), I'm only interested in realpolitik!" "Realpolitiker" (politician dedicated to doing realpolitik) is sort of an accolade for politicians of left-wing parties (meaning they care about "real" politics instead of "ideology" and thus can be trusted; at least a little...

But quite often "realpolitik" is also doing politics (making decisions etc.) entirely based on "practical" or fiscal considerations lacking any ethical background. "Es muss sich rechnen" they often say (it's got to be financially feasible), especially when recommending / justifying financial cuts. Doesn't sound so positive any more, eh?

(1) "ideology" is a sad example for a word that has almost become an invective. Instead of "a way to view the world" it nowadays means sort of "stubbornly clinging to weird ideas no matter the cost". What a pity.

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Realpolitik

Even if not the inventor of the term itself, definitely the chief practitioner of the concept was Otto von Bismarck, Minister-President of the Kingdom of Prussia in the second half of the nineteenth century.

In 1864, the "iron chancellor" (so called because of his famous dictum that the issues of the day would be settled not by negotiations but by blood and iron) persuaded the Habsburg Empire to join with Prussia in a campaign against Denmark to recover two German-speaking provinces, Schleswig and Holstein.

Then, accusing the Austrians of violating the terms of the original agreement for joint rule of the occupied territories, he picked a quarrel with them that led to a decisive war (the so-called Seven Weeks' War of 1866) and the subsequent exclusion of the defeated Austria from German affairs.

Finally, in 1870, he altered the wording of a telegram written to him by the King of Prussia from the spa of Ems concerning the latter's claim to the vacant throne of Spain, and released the doctored text to the press, thus provoking an international incident in which the French emperor had no choice but to declare war on Prussia, just what Bismarck wanted in order to bring the few recalcitrant German states that still refused to acknowledge Prussia's leadership into the newly created Reich, and to reduce France to a subservient country (which, however, harboured a simmering sentiment of revanche that ultimately contributed to the outbreak of the First World War many years after Bismarck's death).

A textbook example of diplomatic mastery to attain preconceived purposes at any cost, at the same time looking morally justified in doing so, it would have beggared the imagination even of the notorious Macchiavelli.

From: David Ferrier (ferrierd shaw.ca)
Subject: zeitgeist
Def: The defining spirit of a particular period.

The word zeitgeist reminded me of a magazine I used to read 40 years ago, Evergreen Review. Each issue contained a delicious cartoon, Phoebe Zeit-Geist. I found the cartoon hilarious. Thanks for the memories. Cartoon details here.

From: Brian Skingley (brian skingley.demon.co.uk)
Subject: Weltanschauung
Def: World view; philosophy of life; a framework through which to interpret the world.

Weltanschauung is used within the discipline of system engineering and related disciplines to describe the overall framework within which the level of the work is being used. Within the Weltanschauung lies the various areas within which the system and its various objects are described and controlled.

From: Tim Mooney (tim_mooney earthlink.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--weltanschauung

I started reading your quotation for Wednesday, March 31, (about evidence and the ridiculous) and thought, "That sounds like something Isaac Asimov would say!" And, of course, it turned out to be him. As a bit of trivia, Asimov is the only author published in nine out of ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System (having about 470 books under his belt, including a brilliant Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare). My favorite quotation from him is: "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."

From: Aishwarya Jai (aishwarya.srikrishnan hdfcbank.com)
Subject: Poltergeist
Def: A ghost that reveals its presence by making noises or throwing objects.

The word poltergeist reminded me of my favourite character Peeves the poltergeist, from JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. Peeves is a delight for every schoolchild who has ever wished to be the prankster. I really think you should do a week of words related to Harry Potter because she has made some very rare Latin/Greek/German words part of the popular lingo, including poltergeist, gargoyles, draco (from draconian), and so on.

From: Henk de Leeuw (henkdeleeuw gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gotterdammerung

Where else can you find a single word, schadenfreude, for example, that conveys the whole concept of 'pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others'?

Well, in the Dutch language! Leedvermaak denotes exactly the same concept, in even fewer syllables. There is even a saying "Geen schoner vermaak dan leedvermaak", there's no joy like schadenfreude.

From: Jennifer Randolph-Quinney (mopsantenn gmail.com)
Subject: On "schadenfreude"

BTW, the Swedish word "skadeglädje" also means 'pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others'. Probably related to the German word in one direction or another, but still...

From: Vivek Khadpekar (vivek.khadpekar gmail.com)
Subject: schadenfreude

Re schadenfreude, some Indian languages (I can vouch for Marathi) have a similar word derived from Sanskrit -- vighnasantosh -- which means exactly the same thing. Of course, it is more commonly used in its adjectival form, vignasantoshi.

From: Bernadette Giguere (jcgiguere sympatico.ca)
Subject: Gotterdammerung/Schadenfreude

Hungarian copies German in its love for stringing words together to form new words - for example, the calque "kàröröm" (harm + joy) to mean Schadenfreude.

From: Xiè Wéi (davor.danach gmail.com)
Subject: schadenfreude

The Chinese equivalent for schadenfreude is "xing zai le huo" (幸災樂禍), also a mere four-syllable word. In this perspective, we are also speaking a language with syllabic parsimony like the Germans. :-)

From: Mark Lewman (superlewman comcast.net)
Subject: schadenfreude

The website FailBlog and the term "fail" are probably the closest thing in English we have to this concept.

From: Richard Stromberg (risy embarqmail.com)
Subject: German

German words are so long because instead of using separate adjectives, they just include the word as a prefix or suffix. This makes Scrabble difficult because instead of making words that cross other words, you keep adding letters to the beginning or ending of words on the board. Antidisestablishmentarianism is of trivial length to a German.

From: Benjamin Littenberg (blittenberg comcast.net)
Subject: German language

"Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth." -Mark Twain "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"

From: Bill O'Connor (wsoconnor comcast.net)
Subject: Long German word

While a student in Vienna, I learned my favorite German word of Donaudampfshifffahrtskapitän. It means captain (kapitän) of a steam cruise ship (dampfshifffahrts) on the Danube (Donau). Twain also said, "I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg, say, in one of his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective."

Email of the Week (Courtesy Connetiquette -- Look, Muffy, a t-shirt for us.)

From: Laurie Kaniarz (lauriszka chartermi.net)
Subject: Sesquipedalians and getting your word's worth

Back in the days of the telegram, which got charged by the word, my dad and his friends would spend inordinate amounts of time trying to find the longest words possible to convey their messages, thinking they were more likely to get their money's worth in this way.

From John Andrews (electronblueprelude yahoo.ca)
Subject: German words

German was my favorite subject in high school. This leads to some humorous moments. I'm of East Indian descent, so when I speak what I remember, people always comment that that language sounds weird coming out of my face.

One instance in particular comes to mind. I'm a funeral director. (Although I prefer the term "underground commodities dealer".) I arranged a funeral one time and noticed that the priest who was coming to say rosary at the visitation had a German last name. I met him there and made sure he had everything he needed.

After a while, I looked at him and said "So, Father ..." (I said his last name with the proper German accent.)

VERY intrigued, he said "Yes?" I asked him in proper German if he could speak it. The answer was "Ja!" A big smile came over his face and we had a good conversation. A crowd gathered around us to listen. Most of them watching me the whole time. Then a Chinese man stepped foward and joined us. Turns out he went to boarding school in Switzerland.

I've never heard so much laughter during a funeral visitation.

From: Amy Krois-Lindner (amy.krois univie.ac.at)
Subject: English loan words in German

I have lived in Austria for many years and thought you might enjoy hearing about some of the English loan words in German. Particularly interesting are the words that have a different meaning in German: "ein Evergreen" is an old, well-loved popular song or standard; "ein Oldtimer" is a vintage car; "ein Handy" is a cell phone; "ein Dressman" is a male model; and "checken" (verb) means to understand something or to notice it.

From: Mihaela Geaman (mihaela.geaman sciex.com)
Subject: Re: AWADmail Issue 404

From: Ross Bracco (xqzt rochester.rr.com)
Subject: This week's theme

I wonder if there's a word for that coincidence that you learn a word or a term right at the same time you notice its being used around you?

Of course there is. It is called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, defined by Wikipedia as "A common name for a form of synchronicity where one happens upon an obscure piece of information and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again." An interesting article about the phenomenon.

Language is a city to the building of which every human being brought a stone. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

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