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Word of the Week: Zeitreise

The popular German expression Zeitgeist has, like Kindergarten and Gesundheit, wended its way into the English language (which some might even go so far to claim is “based on German,” which it is – at least partially). Zeitgeist is a fantastic word.

Two of its temporal cousins, however, are less known in the anglophone world – Zeitzeuge and Zeitreise. Both of these words are worth mentioning as close relatives of Zeitgeist, so it seemed only fitting to highlight them together, even if this is the “Word of the Week” column.

Zeitzeuge is composed of two nouns – Zeit (time) and Zeuge (witness). It basically means “a witness to history.” A particularly eloquent chronicler of his or her times could be hailed as an especially effective Zeitzeuge. At the same time, all of us, at the end of the day, are Zeitzeugen of the events we live through that serve to shape our collective conscience.

In a similar vein, Zeitreise brings together “time” with Reise, or journey. A Zeitreise, however, refers not just to “time travel” in the nerdy sci-fi sense, but more broadly and poetically to a journey through time as in a flashback or a panorama voyage through history.

One of Germany’s most highly regarded newspapers is the cerebral, Hamburg-based weekly “Die Zeit.” Like the US newsweekly Time magazine, it simply refers to our times as it chronicles them with in-depth news and feature stories. Even though it is beloved among many well-informed Germans, a common phrase in Germany is: “Wer hat die Zeit die Zeit zu lesen?” (Who has the time to read Time?)

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