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AWADmail Issue 542

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

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Wunderkind
Def: 1. A child prodigy. 2. A person who achieves great success early in the career.

The difference, at least in English, between wunderkind and child prodigy is approximately the same as the difference between Justin Bieber and Mozart.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Charles Macknee (macpics11 hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--wunderkind

My guess is if you can have a wunderkind (a person who achieves great success early in the career) then by Moliere's reasoning (The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.), we should also have a wundereld, or a person who achieves great success later in the career. Yet, mysteriously, we don't. Can this be a true sign that we northern Europeans are indeed an ageist culture?

Charles Macknee, Portland, Oregon

From: Dave White (dave davewhite.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gemutlichkeit
Def: Warm friendliness; comfortableness; coziness.

As a long-time Irish Reader who lives in Germany I have to love your choice of gemutlichkeit as one of this week's entries. Anyone who lives in Bavaria can tell you of the rich tradition of beer festivals here, and none more so than the Oktoberfest, or Wies'n as they call it here. One very popular drinking song here, which you can hear belted out loud and proud at the Oktoberfest has the simplest lyrics of all:

Ein prosit! Ein prosit! Zur gemutlichkeit.
Ein prosit! Ein prosit! Zur gemutlichkeit!
(A toast! A toast! To your wellbeing.
A toast! A toast! To your wellbeing!)

Dave White, Munich, Germany

From: Chris Kennedy (chriskennedy charter.net)
Subject: gemuetlichkeit

I'd never heard of this word before moving to Jefferson, WI, home of the annual Gemuetlichkeit Days festival. Pictures of folks in traditional costumes sharing good cheer can be found here or visit here for info on next year's fun. All ages are welcome!

Chris Kennedy, Jefferson, Wisconsin

From: Lisa Shalfoun (pinkkermitssunglasses yahoo.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gemutlichkeit

German being my first language, it is always nice and also quite funny to see words from German being used in English. In everyday Southern Germany's and Austrian's German we use the adjective gemutlich more often, I find. When we sit down with friends for coffee at our place on a Sunday afternoon, and the place is nice and cozy, warm if it is winter, and we have time to drink a cup of coffee from nice china or even mixed and not-matching cups, serve homemade or patisserie cakes and settle in for a longer chat, that is gemutlich(keit). Everybody will have a second cup and a second slice of cake, if it is a coffee cake. Big cakes with creme are really more for celebrations like birthdays, etc. And the most important part of gemutlichkeit is slowing the day down... slowing time down... relaxing together and indulging our palates...

Gemutlichkeit certainly also describes the room, where we sit for the occasion, soft chairs, a warmly furnished room, simply a room with a cozy feel to it. Nice company, pleasant talk, the cat next to the fireplace...

Another use of the word, though very closely related, would be to make it gemutlich for oneself, in a sort of very literal translation. Think sitting in a soft recliner, putting your legs up, coffee and cake next to you on the table, a novel to read or the paper in your hands, and thick socks on your feet, while it is snowing outside.

Lisa Shalfoun, Ottawa, Canada

From: Linda Owens (lindafowens netzero.net)
Subject: gemutlichkeit

This is my favorite German word! My husband and I lived in Frankfurt, West Germany for two years when he was drafted into the US Army. I expected the people to be cold and distant, as the city itself was very gray; but I found many friends in my neighborhood, and in a Kegelclub we joined through his secretary. That is when I discovered gemutlichkeit -- the silliness of the 9-pin games, the homey foods, the good beer and wine, all with people I came to think of as close friends. We went back a few years ago, and before I even saw those people from 40 years before, I recognized their laughter!

Linda Owens, Exeter, Rhode Island

Email of the Week -- (Sponsor's message: Brought to you by Oneupmanship -- Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a real loser.)

From: Carol Newman (carolmkwnewman verizon.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--blitzkrieg
Def: noun: 1. A swift, sudden military attack, especially aerial bombardment. 2. An intense campaign, for example, an ad blitz. verb tr. To attack or destroy in a sudden campaign.

Blitzkrieg! Boy, does that bring back memories. 1930s, early 1940s, our parents glued to the news on radio and shortwave. At 5 in the morning my little sister is yowling big tears and wakes our father. "Carol called me a blitzkrieger," she says. I wasn't sure of the meaning but I knew it was a terrible and frightful thing. Dad told this story for many years.

Carol Newman, Columbia, Maryland

From: Monroe Thomas Clewis (mtc265 yahoo.com)
Subject: Kulturkampf

About Pat Buchanan's keynote speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention in which he referred to the culture war ("kulturkampf") between Liberals and Conservatives, humorist Molly Ivins famously quipped "it probably sounded better in the original German."

Monroe Thomas Clewis, Los Angeles, California

From: Sharon Higgins (skhiggins alum.american.edu)
Subject: Kaffeeklatsch
Def: An informal social gathering for coffee and conversation.

I belong to a small German language study group in McLean, VA, that is affectionately referred to as "Kaffeeklatsch" because our first meetings were held in a Starbucks. For two hours every Thursday for the last seven years, under the guidance of Dr. Irmgard Wagner, a professor emerita of German at George Mason University and a noted literary scholar, we study grammar, vocabulary, Goethe's Faust, and selections from German periodicals. Pleasant conversation on topical subjects is mostly in German, but without ever a word of gossip! Herzlich,

Sharon Higgins, McLean, Virginia

From: Julia Ledbetter (spoonofjulia gmail.com)
Subject: the German language

This week's theme made me smile, since I'm regaining fluency in German and concurrently teaching it to two of my best friends. It's fascinating how I as a native speaker have a grasp of the grammar that feels instinctive (though I do occasionally slip up), while they have difficulty remembering which definite article goes with which gender -- something that seems patently obvious to me.

Julia Ledbetter, Portland, Oregon

From: Barbara Sievers (barbara_sievers me.com)
Subject: German words that have gone abroad

Here's a nice map about German words that have gone abroad.

Barbara Sievers, Wentorf, Germany

From: Terrry Pedersen-Pfeiffer (harandter yahoo.com)
Subject: German language

I have to say, there is indeed much truth in this statement by Mark Twain: "My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years."

I grew up largely mono-lingual-US-American-English and moved to Germany when I was 20 to work in a ballet company. Most of the dancers were not German speaking, and although I eventually married a German speaker (Austrian) it has taken me well over 30 years to become completely fluent, and I still make mistakes. -sigh-

Terrry Pedersen-Pfeiffe, Giessen, Germany

From: Johanna Van Schalkwyk (johanna fsn.is)
Subject: German

I dare say Icelandic is even more difficult than German! The hardest parts for me to grasp is that even the root of a noun changes when declined and definite articles form part of the noun. I've been living here for 15 years and I've still not mastered it! My husband's name changes from Björn to Björns and then Birni -- I still don't know when. And the name Egill becomes Egil, Egils and then Agli. Sometimes a news article about one person makes you think they're talking about two or three different people altogether!

What about a few words borrowed from this tiny language, e.g. geyser and saga?

Thanks for a wonderful site!

Johanna E. Van Schalkwyk, Grundarfjörður, Iceland

From: Kristine Conlon (kmconlon muscanet.com)
Subject: German

Best analysis I ever saw about the relative difficulty of German and Spanish (French, too) is a baseball analogy. With German, it's tough getting to first base, but easy making it home. With Spanish, you get to first right away and never make it home at all. German subjunctive? Add an umlaut. Spanish subjunctive? Memorize a whole new form. And the Spanish past tenses... ouch. German past -- if it's irregular in English, it's irregular in a similar way in German. Learning German, if you stick with it, gets easier and easier. Not so with Spanish and French.

Kristine Conlon, Muscatine, Iowa

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. -Nelson Mandela, activist, South African president, Nobel laureate (b. 1918)

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