Das ist ein Gamechanger!
April 27, 2023 3:27 PM   Subscribe

In her novel Flights, Olga Tokarczuk wryly marvels that there are countries out there where people have English as a mother tongue. Other Europeans might speak English when they travel, but they always have their own languages tucked away for private use. Anglophones, by contrast, have nothing to fall back on: « How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures — even the buttons in the lift! — are in their private language, » she writes. « Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them — they are accessible to everyone and everything! »

so, so good.

posted by chavenet at 3:37 PM on April 27, 2023 [8 favorites]

Wow, excellent quote chavenet, this is exactly how I have felt since I first had the thought maybe 40 years ago. It is certainly a pro/con situation to be a native (English) speaker, and glad I have finally found some other languages to speak.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:41 PM on April 27, 2023 [1 favorite]

I am reminded of travel in Indonesia in the early 1990s. Once I was away from any of the larger cities and then off the regular traveler routes, I started to realize that when speaking English to the few other anglophone travelers I encountered in these places, I was speaking in a language pretty much incomprehensible to everyone else around me. Yes, it was fun to think about the privacy that entailed. Conversely, it also made me feel like I was a bubble at times since my Bahasa Indonesia was pretty basic.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 3:56 PM on April 27, 2023 [1 favorite]

Just a few observations while reading:

Spätkauf, which without looking it up I assume means "late shopping"... was completely unheard of in Germany when I was there in the late 80s. Anything that wasn't a restaurant or bar or club closed around 4:30, 5pm. And Wednesdays were also days without shopping, but other businesses were open. So shop workers could run errands.

Everybody hörts is hilarious.

Hast du’s geliket? was in use in the Hannover area of Germany when I was there.

gedownloadet or downgeloadet LOL!

It used to be an error to translate « That makes sense » as Das macht Sinn — but now it’s German. Um... Okay, so both Das macht Sinn and Das macht keinen Sinn were in use where I lived 35 years ago, and I'm not sure why this would be a bad translation?
posted by hippybear at 4:12 PM on April 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

This just makes me feel like the German vegetarian. I fear the wurst.

[I have about a thousand things to say about this article, and they're all talking over each other in my head. So have a stupid pun. Also I LOVE this.]
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 4:49 PM on April 27, 2023 [5 favorites]

About 20 years ago my German speaking boyfriend and I hosted an East German family in our home for three month. Being rural East Germans, they spoke little English but they were eager to learn, especially Texanisms. They loved to tack "Y'all" on the end of every sentence. The family was a young couple with a three year old and the wife's father. The three year old was speaking Denglish within a few days. The old man wasn't having any of it and confined his conversation to my German speaking boyfriend. I had no German at all but the kid and I made up all kinds of horrible Denglish which made the parents laugh and the old man glare at me. I kept messing messing up the genders so they told me "just use das for everything." Das goodtimes!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 5:54 PM on April 27, 2023 [7 favorites]

'Machen' in German is a catch-it-all for things that aren't covered by other terms. We already had 'Sinn ergeben', so while 'Sinn machen' was not wrong as such, it was the lesser choice. Perhaps signaling that the speaker turns to English for inspiration because they don't know a more specific term for this already exists.

I guess this was also a bit of a class marker in Germany, with working class people being more likely to go for 'Sinn machen'. With all the stigma that entailed (which is not a lot but enough to better avoid it in job applications and the like, let's say).

But then the Internet came along came and helped 'Sinn machen' to prevail.
posted by Ashenmote at 10:50 PM on April 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

When Germans say they’ll organise a social event spontan, they mean they’ll work out the details at short notice. To socialise spontaneously, in English, means something rather different.

Wait, what? Can somebody explain the second usage to this confused German?
posted by Skybly at 12:35 AM on April 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

OK but get ready for cultureshock Skybly...

It means you just make a choice at that moment, without planning at all.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:50 AM on April 28, 2023 [5 favorites]

Skybly — Sometimes there's overlap where both languages would use it the same way, but it sounds like German puts more emphasis on the nuance of "without planning," while on English the nuance is more "without cause or reason.*
posted by wakannai at 12:51 AM on April 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

I like Oh my God was für ein Fuck-My-Life-Moment . Wir alle waren dort, mate.
posted by Phanx at 1:31 AM on April 28, 2023 [6 favorites]

It means you just make a choice at that moment, without planning at all.

That's what it means to me, which left me confused! But if I understand wakannai correctly, socialising spontaneously in English might usually mean something more like "randomly meeting a friend in the street and then hanging out with them" vs. "calling my friend and asking them to come over in 5 minutes"?
posted by Skybly at 2:06 AM on April 28, 2023

hippybear: "Okay, so both Das macht Sinn and Das macht keinen Sinn were in use where I lived 35 years ago, and I'm not sure why this would be a bad translation?"

I don't know German, but I do know some Japanese, and there's at least one similar example. We have the idiomatic phrase "pay attention" in English. Japanese, of course, has plenty of way to express that idea, but it has added a literal translation of the English, 注意を払う—a calque, as described in the article. It's kind of weird, since the verb "pay" does have the sense used in "pay a compliment" or "pay a visit," but 払う does not (or did not) have that sense. I'm guessing you wouldn't find that phrase in use 50 years ago.
posted by adamrice at 7:30 AM on April 28, 2023

Okay, so both Das macht Sinn and Das macht keinen Sinn were in use where I lived 35 years ago, and I'm not sure why this would be a bad translation?

I definitely remember being taught this usage in college now *mumble* more than 20 years ago, at a fairly good school, too.
posted by praemunire at 1:35 PM on April 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

My favorite is the spontan childbirth, which just means that it is not a C-section or maybe induced. But it sounds like you just decide to pop one out in the moment.
posted by melamakarona at 1:41 PM on April 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

more 'Spontaneous':
A phrase in English is 'spontaneous combustion'. In German this seems to be 'selbstentzündung' (self-igniting).

I used to live in a place where we would experience a power cut one night almost every summer.
This would cause people to come out of their houses with flashlights, and start talking to each other about the power cut. Someone would bring out a battery radio for the news. Someone would complain that they had just been about to start making dinner when the power went out; someone else would offer to bring their barbecue grill out to the street for people to cook on.
A group would go check on the old people and bring them outside, because another group had gathered folding chairs and lanterns in the street. Perhaps frightened children would be calmed by an adult saying (sarcasm) "Oh no! Who will help us eat all of this ice cream before it melts?" Same with the cold beer. The radio would change from news to music, or perhaps someone would bring out a guitar.

A summer evening power cut would turn into a Spontaneous Neighborhood Street Party.
[? Ein Selbstzündendes Straßenfest in der Nachbarschaft ?]

Or, for another nuance, it is a cliché for people unsatisfied in their romantic relationship: "Everything is always the same, always on a schedule. We only ever go to the same four restaurants, we only have sex on Wednesday and Saturdays.
I need a surprise from time to time! I need you to be more spontaneous.
Let's not make a plan for this coming holiday weekend. Let's just throw a dart at a map, then drive there in the car and improvise. Maybe it will be good, maybe bad, maybe we will have to sleep in the car through a rainstorm - but something will just happen for a change."
posted by bartleby at 6:10 PM on April 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

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