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February 17, 2008 9:59 PM   Subscribe

The Dictionary of Coming to Terms with the Past (Wörterbuch der 'Vergangenheitsbewältigung') examines over 1,000 German words that have Nazi connotations, such as Endlösung (Final Solution) and Selektion, It is featured in a review by der Spiegel. Such loaded words still constitute a minefield for Germans today, as the Archbishop of Cologne discovered last year in a situation analogized to Senator Biden's use of the term "articulate" when referring to Senator Obama.

Buy it here. Interestingly, most of the English Language reaction to this dictionary appears on white supremacist sites (which I won't link to), and they appear to take it seriously perhaps, as suggested in the der Spiegel article, so they can avoid emotional linguistic responses to their hate messages.
posted by Rumple (49 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dieser wird Ende gut.
posted by Poolio at 10:07 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


An interesting, if hardly subtle, choice of picture.

Link #2, by the way, is blank. Was that intentional?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:09 PM on February 17, 2008


Are we allowed to say niggardly yet?
posted by wastelands at 10:13 PM on February 17, 2008


Al the links work ok for me. I checked in a different browser with clean cache, etc. The netnews one was a bit slow, though.

Re: niggardly, sure, since it comes from:

niggard:1. a. A mean, stingy, or parsimonious person; a miser; a person who only grudgingly parts with, spends, or uses up anything. Also in extended use with reference to emotion, etc.
c1384 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) 1 Cor. vi. 10 Neither lecchours..nether coueitouse men, or nygardis..schulen weelde the kyngdom of God.


And has nothing to do with the N-word.
posted by Rumple at 10:18 PM on February 17, 2008


All true, Rumple, yet the word will die. It will die the same death as the name Adolph, and we might as well let it go. How many times a year do you use it?
posted by Bookhouse at 10:21 PM on February 17, 2008


Are we allowed to say niggardly yet?

Ironically, that'll cost you.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:22 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I haven't used it in a coon's age, now that you ask.
posted by Rumple at 10:23 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, Obama isn't articulate?
posted by RavinDave at 10:48 PM on February 17, 2008


Buy it here.

Pepsi Blaue Engel?

Are we allowed to say niggardly yet?

No, no. That one is still a tar baby.
posted by dhartung at 10:50 PM on February 17, 2008


I haven't used it in a coon's age, now that you ask.

You know, I really do use that one. Maybe I should stop.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:59 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah, that must explain why George Lucas is treated more seriously in Germany.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:31 PM on February 17, 2008


Rumple, please adjust your irony detector. :)

I, for one, will savor that there is a German word for "Coming to Terms with the Past"...
posted by rokusan at 11:41 PM on February 17, 2008


Other groups which have few qualms about comparing their opponents with Hitler, or undesirable phenomena with Auschwitz, include environmental and peace groups, Stötzel explains. "These groups feel they have the moral right to make explicit comparisons with the Nazis," he says.

Degenerates.
posted by three blind mice at 12:14 AM on February 18, 2008


I, for one, will savor that there is a German word for "Coming to Terms with the Past"...

I suspect there isn't a Japanese one.
posted by Artw at 12:18 AM on February 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


rokusan: this link suggests that the "Bewältigung" in Vergangenheitsbewältigung has a special meaning in this context: "to reconcile oneself with unpleasant past events. A similar definition can be found in the the Longman DCE for coming to terms with something: to accept an unpleasant or sad situation and no longer feel upset or angry about it."

German seems like such a brutally subtle language.

irony meter recalibrated
posted by Rumple at 12:21 AM on February 18, 2008


I'm with you, rokusan -- gotta love composite German words! By the way, not sure if it's common knowledge that the word Vergangenheitsbewältingung isn't just a random neologism created for the purposes of this dictionary; it is itself is a loaded and contested term with quite some political, philosophical, and literary history (the Wikipedia article on Vergangenheitsbewältigung has a pretty good explanation).
posted by kaiserin at 12:21 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's a related short article from the BBC, 2007.
posted by Rumple at 12:25 AM on February 18, 2008


Well played, Artw, well played.

Also, ditto rokusan and kaiserin. Crazy German words with elaborate meanings are awesome. English is such a simplistic language sometimes. You'd think that something like Schadenfreude would be a universal theme in any language, but no, English had to go and borrow it.
posted by Phire at 12:30 AM on February 18, 2008


If you drive a Volkswagen, are you part of the Endlösung or part of the problem?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:33 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I haven't used it in a coon's age,

Pardon my ignorance, but I use this one too...I thought it was related to the lifespan of raccoons? Was I hopelessly naive?
posted by Malor at 12:47 AM on February 18, 2008


Oh, good. Straight Dope says it is indeed related to the lifespan of raccoons, and isn't racial at all.
posted by Malor at 12:49 AM on February 18, 2008


I have accidently used the words Endlösung and Ausmerzen in conversation. I didn't know the historical context associated with them until a colleague or friend politely pointed out to me why I shouldn't use them. How can you know if nobody tells you? The dictionary doesn't say "Obsolete and offensive Nazi terminology. Don't use!" In some cases, the words sound very definite and exact. This appeals to many non-native German speakers because they may want to avoid ambiguity when discussing some matter with Germans, especially in a professional setting. Unfortunately this is probably what made the words appealing to the Nazis as well. Words like Anschluss and Gleichschaltung are still used today but only in the context of electronics or engineering.

With the tables turned, I have also pointed out to a few German friends that refering to black people as "colored" can get you into hot water. The term farbig is somewhat the accepted or politically correct term used in German. I have to explain the history of the term in connection with drinking fountains and waiting rooms.

There are also a few Falsche Freunde that you have to watch out for. I once used the word bimbo in the sense of its common American English definition. Unfortunately, and to my huge embarrassment, this means something completely different in German.

Hallo Fettnäpfchen, ich möchte Ihnen meinen Fuß vorstellen.
posted by chillmost at 12:51 AM on February 18, 2008


It does say coons age is offensive though I never knew it was raccoons, I just assumed it was derogatory.

I was telling my friend and my daughter the other day how when I was growing up in the 1960s (in Western Canada) it was a time of transition when the childhood rhyme:

eenie meenie minie moe ...,

continued as

... catch a nigger by the toe.

And how we had to be told repeatedly to change it to "tiger" or "tigger" and that induced quite a bit of headscratching and sniggering because there was not one single black person at the elementary school and basically we had no fucking clue. Some kids never changed it and would mock the ones who did. Seems like such a long time ago, but really, not so much.

I since found out the nigger version featured in a Rudyard Kipling book so it was clearly literary censorship, by god.
posted by Rumple at 12:57 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


And then, of course, was Siemens' brilliant decision to register the trademark Zyklon (German for "Cyclone", but will be forever associated with Zyklon B) for a line of products including... wait for it... gas ovens. Yeah, that one didn't go over too well. Especially considering that Siemens used Jewish slave labor during the war.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:14 AM on February 18, 2008


English is such a simplistic language sometimes. You'd think that something like Schadenfreude would be a universal theme in any language, but no, English had to go and borrow it.

Well, that's the brilliance of it, isn't it? Why make up specialty words for your own language when you can just borrow them from others? That's why English probably has the richest and largest vocabulary of any language in the world; sure, a lot of it is borrowed, but what does that matter?
posted by moonbiter at 3:04 AM on February 18, 2008


This thread's got an African-American in the woodpile.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:37 AM on February 18, 2008


Well, that's the brilliance of it, isn't it? Why make up specialty words for your own language when you can just borrow them from others? That's why English probably has the richest and largest vocabulary of any language in the world; sure, a lot of it is borrowed, but what does that matter?

Agree completely. To quote James D. Nicoll:
"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
posted by garius at 3:47 AM on February 18, 2008 [7 favorites]


I, for one, will savor that there is a German word for "Coming to Terms with the Past"...

Unfortunately, it's "Vergangenheitsbewältigung"

I suspect there isn't a Japanese one.

Or indeed an American one.
posted by unSane at 4:56 AM on February 18, 2008


And how we had to be told repeatedly to change it to "tiger" or "tigger" and that i induced quite a bit of headscratching and sniggering...

There's one I'd hate to give up but is ripe for an expunging.
posted by kittyprecious at 5:40 AM on February 18, 2008


Speaking as an American: What is this "past" you speak of? Or, for that matter, this "future" I hear about? Don't you know that nothing ever runs out or changes?

Crazy people, living out in Foreign.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:45 AM on February 18, 2008


Call-in game show host quips "Arbeit macht frei" on live TV, apologises (YouTube, relevant segment from 00:28 onwards).

Also: awesome post.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:18 AM on February 18, 2008


All true, Rumple, yet the word will die. It [niggardly] will die the same death as the name Adolph, and we might as well let it go. How many times a year do you use it?

A better question is how often do you see the word in a context not involving someone complaining about how they can't use it? I don't think "OMG PC CENSORSHIP I CAN'T SAY NIGGARDLY!!!1" really counts as a use.
posted by delmoi at 6:24 AM on February 18, 2008


moonbiter: "Well, that's the brilliance of it, isn't it? Why make up specialty words for your own language when you can just borrow them from others?"

Obligatory mention of James D. Nicoll:

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:25 AM on February 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ack, jinx, garius.

Although the "richest vocabulary in the world" thing, of course, makes me want to summon languagehat. And I don't do that gladly.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:31 AM on February 18, 2008


Of course, you will all remember the bestselling book, Coming to Terms with the Dictionary of Coming to Terms with the Past - for Dummies!.

Not to mention the University course, "Two Terms on Coming to Terms with the Dictionary of Coming to Terms with the Past - for Dummies!" (a highly popular subject at MIT) based on a close reading of that text.

Well, Terminus Pictures has just announced an exciting opening night this Spring! A major new motion picture, entitled "Coming to Terms with Two Terms on Coming to Terms with the Dictionary of Coming to Terms with the Past - for Dummies!" is coming soon to two towns in Cuming County, Nebraska.

If you wish to attend this gala opening night, please see the attached document, "Terminus Terms for Coming to 'Coming to Terms with Two Terms on Coming to Terms with the Dictionary of Coming to Terms with the Past - for Dummies!' in Cuming County".

Remember - only by combing through the turgid tome, "Terminus Terms for Coming to 'Coming to Terms with Two Terms on Coming to Terms with the Dictionary of Coming to Terms with the Past - for Dummies!'" in Cuming County," can you country cunts take your turn to come to Cuming.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:33 AM on February 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised no one has mentioned the current in vogue term Verschärfte Vernehmung, or as we say in English "“enhanced interrogation techniques".
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:40 AM on February 18, 2008


The appropriately named Kaiserin wrote:
I'm with you, rokusan -- gotta love composite German words!

And Heidegger, appropriately enough for this thread, supposedly said that English ceased to be a philosophical language in 1066 (Old English being a language that loved its compound words just as much as modern German).
posted by Gnatcho at 8:07 AM on February 18, 2008


"Selektion" is now verbum non grata due to its use to refer to the death camp practice of "selecting" inmates to be executed.

Like chillmost, I'm astonished that dictionaries, even big ones, don't mention these associations; my Harper-Collins Unabridged gives Selektion as one of the choices for 'selection,' and in the German-English part just says "Selektion f selection" without so much as a hint that it's not a neutral term.

As for niggardly: what Bookhouse said.

Although the "richest vocabulary in the world" thing, of course, makes me want to summon languagehat. And I don't do that gladly.

Oh, you don't, eh?
*makes notation in Dictionary of Coming to Terms with Fellow MeFites*

posted by languagehat at 8:34 AM on February 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


Should have mentioned:

1) "verbum non grata" should, of course, be "verbum non gratum."

2) Nice post!
posted by languagehat at 8:35 AM on February 18, 2008


I suspect there isn't a Japanese one.

Actually:
今是昨非 - (exp) complete reversal of values or ways of thinking (over time); What appeared wrong in the past now appears right; realizing and regretting the past errors of one's ways

Or, you know, you could just keep making bullshit generalizations based on nationality & race. Last I checked, English has a word for that...
posted by vorfeed at 9:02 AM on February 18, 2008


Re: Anschluss--How can you not use this term when referencing the annexation of Austria with Germany in 1938? I mean, that's what they called it, right?

Also, is the word Führer in that list of verboten terms? Because to this Anglo's head, that is a loaded word, yet it's too common to just drop entirely. That, and sieg... though it's not as powerful without the corresponding "heil."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:02 PM on February 18, 2008


I haven't seen the dictionary but it seems clear from context that Anschluss can be used in connection to the events of 1938, but it is problematic when applied to electrical junctions or to, say, the reunification of Germany, or, say, the acquisition of Puerto Rico.
posted by Rumple at 12:11 PM on February 18, 2008


No, Führer and Sieg and siegen are not on that list (maybe they are, but all those terms are used often in current German).
posted by Gnatcho at 12:22 PM on February 18, 2008


I, for one, will savor that there is a German word for "Coming to Terms with the Past"...

Ja, ze Chermans have a vord for everysing don't zey?

(And they probably have a word for having a word for everything -- something like Verallewörtgepossëssungheit.)
posted by sour cream at 12:55 PM on February 18, 2008


Gnatcho: "No, Führer and Sieg and siegen are not on that list (maybe they are, but all those terms are used often in current German)."

Yeah, it's probably due to their ubiquity - "Führer" appears in many compound nouns like Zugführer (train driver) or Marktführer (market leader) and as an isolated word pretty often in a variant of German called Beamtendeutsch (lit. "public servant's German"), which is used for very formal writing or legal and police documents.

So it wouldn't be unusual to read in a newspaper a sentence like "Der Führer des Fahrzeugs wurde verhaftet, als er vom Tatort zu fliehen versuchte" ("The operator of the vehicle was arrested when he attempted to flee the scene of the crime"). Of course, mentioning "Der Führer" by itself obviously could only refer to Hitler, but other uses remain thankfully untainted.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 3:00 PM on February 18, 2008


German's glomming together of words is famous, of course, and allows for great subtlety of meaning, but for sheer breadth of expression give me English any day. We have many examples of subtle and beautiful language, they just don't show up in standard corporate-approved English very often.

As for whoever mentioned Japanese earlier, look no farther than the term mono no aware for an example of a really subtle, beautiful Japanese term. It's almost diametrically opposed to vergangenheitsbewältigung, but there you go.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:36 PM on February 18, 2008


今是昨非 - (exp) complete reversal of values or ways of thinking (over time); What appeared wrong in the past now appears right;.

That isn't quite the same as this German compound word, based on my (admittedly Chinese) understanding of the kanji. From a purely literal standpoint, Vergangenheitsbewältigung indicates more "becoming master of the past", "gaining mastery over the past", and speaks of an active effort to 'come to terms with things' as it were, whereas that 成语 slash idiom speaks more of the natural evolution of opinions and thought processes over time.

I apologize if I offend, not my intention.
posted by Phire at 6:58 PM on February 18, 2008


Call-in game show host quips "Arbeit macht frei" on live TV, apologises (YouTube, relevant segment from 00:28 onwards).

Yikes, did you read the comments on that YouTube video? I usually expect moronic comments on YouTube, but not the anti-Semitic diatribes that popped up there. Like, every single comment!
posted by krunk at 7:37 PM on February 18, 2008


German for "Cyclone", but will be forever associated with Zyklon B
this was such an overblown crap non-issue. forever associated in the minds of a small, vocal minority. the word means "cyclone", it's no more charged than the word "shower" unless put specifically in context of the WW2 holocaust. it's comparable to that idiot flap a few weeks ago about the beds called "lolita", a reference i assume most people (and certainly the majority of elementary school kids) would assuredly miss.
posted by mikoroshi at 9:19 PM on February 18, 2008


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