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?)

Word of the Week: Alternativlos

First there was that eyebrow-raising and little known German word of the year – Wutbürger (enraged citizen). Now there is the Unwort des Jahres, or ‘un-word’ of the year – alternativlos, literally meaning “without alternative.”

According to an official jury that selected this word, it serves as a loud and clear debate killer to critically underscore the oft-repeated tone of politics and policymakers over the course of 2010 who used phrases such as: “We have no alterantive but to bail Greece out of its euro crisis to stabilize the euro zone.”

The runner-up this year was Integrationsverweigerer – an immigrant who refuses to integrate with the native population. According to the jury, this word was also used unfavorably in 2010 by certain German politicians.

Other contendors, among a field of some 1,120 suggested words, were Steuersünder (tax sinner) and Schwarzsparer (black saver), to denote citizens who evade taxes via offshore bank accounts. The terms Brückentechnologie (bridge technology), ascribed to nuclear energy, and Sparpaket (savings package), used to denote the federal government’s savings’ program, were also considered.

Last year’s un-word of the year was betriebsratverseucht, which can be loosely translated as “plagued by the corporate employee board.”

The German prefix “un” is incidentally a great way to totally change the meaning of a word in the language. For example Kraut means cabbage or herbs, but Unkraut means weeds.

Word of the Week: Gute Vorsätze

At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, many of us transform suddenly from inebriated revelers to neurotic dieters as we make shedding those extra holiday pounds one of our primary resolutions for the New Year.

As if wiping our individual slates clean, dismissing all the missteps we may have taken or things we did not get done over the course of the past 12 months, we decide that THIS is the year to finally, for instance, shed those extra 20 pounds, get our finances in order, or spend more time with friends and family.

In German, such New Year’s resolutions are known as “gute Vorsätze fürs neue Jahr“. And “to make resolutions” is simply to engage in “(gute) Vorsätze fassen.

As a stand-alone noun, “Vorsätze” (plural) can be translated, depending on the context, as intents, intentions or resolutions.

Prefacing this with “gute” (good) is generally the preferred expression at the beginning of the year, to express how we have “good intentions/resolutions” for the New Year. And adding the verb “fassen” (grab/seize/grasp, as well as comprehend/realize, among other possible meanings/usages) rounds out the expression “gute Vorsätze fassen.

The expression “mit typischen Neujahrsvorsätzen” meanwhile means “with typical New Year’s resolutions.”

As in the United States, this is a common practice in Germany, where lists of New Year’s resolutions, or “gute Vorsätze,” are not uncommon.