|Public Viewing in Berlin|
Photo by Thalan
I love it when words go a-travelin’. I picture them walking down the syntactical breezeway on their spindly, alphabetical legs, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, a Stetson on their vowelly heads. And like some global travelers, the first thing that happens to these linguistic tourists is they immerse themselves in the local culture and gain an experience that changes them forever.
When the globetrotting word or phrase is English (or American or Australian, for that matter) and the language receiving it German, the cultural merger is known as Denglish – a melding of “Deutsch” (German) and “English.” These words have been absorbed from English into German, sometimes undergoing a semantic shift along the way so that they no longer mean exactly the same thing they did in the original language.
Here are a few of my favorites:
A Handy (pronounced “hendy”) is what German speakers call a cell phone. This word has been around so long, it isn’t really Denglish anymore but a regular German expression. And while cell phones are certainly “handy” (some would say “indispensable”), the term is based on the human appendage and not on the device’s convenience. “Handy,” in its German usage, may have been derived from Motorola’s Handie-Talkie AM SCR536, a handheld radio transceiver American troops used in World War II.
A public viewing, in American English at least, has me picturing funerals and corpses, especially when the deceased is famous. Michael Jackson had a public viewing when he died, as did Teddy Kennedy. But in Germany, you’re likely to find a Public Viewing at a soccer game. There, it refers to the live broadcasting of sports matches, concerts, or other major events on oversized video screens set up in public areas such as city squares, shopping malls, or bars.
The German term was coined in 2006 during preparations for the World Cup Soccer Championships. FIFA, the International Federation of Association Football, introduced Fan Fest events, where they broadcast the matches on video screens in major cities around Germany. The reason, ostensibly, was because they’d miscalculated the number of fans attending the World Cup and didn’t have enough tickets to sell.
Interestingly, the Denglish version of “public viewing” has migrated back into English usage, at least in the media, where it is now applied to sports broadcasts. But for me, the expression will always have to do with a state funeral.
Here’s another of my favorite Denglish words: If a German speaker were to ask me to turn on the Beamer, she wouldn’t be suggesting I get into the luxury car sitting in my garage (I wish!) and warm up the engine. In German, a Beamer is not a BMW but a video projector. The term is derived from the English verb “to beam” or shine a light, which is precisely what a projector does.
Denglish also works in the opposite direction. Take the über-use of über. In American English these days, the expression is a prefix meaning “the most,” “the best,” or “the ultimate.” We have über-achievers (especially here in Silicon Valley), who are a step up from overachievers. The chocolate fudge cake you ate for dessert was probably über-yummy, and if you have a teenage girl in your family, chances are you’ve heard her refer to her brother as an “über-dork.”
The German original has the connotation of exaggeration as well – as in übertreiben (to exaggerate). But über in German can mean “across,” as in übersetzen (to translate – literally to transport words across linguistic boundaries). And it can stand on its own; über means “over” or “via” or “above.” Note that Germans always write über with an umlaut (the two dots over the u), while the term is becoming so well integrated into English that it’s often written without the dots.
Then we have the English word, “mensch” – a decent person. Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life is a mensch – a regular, stand-up guy. Rhett Butler from Gone With The Wind is not. Except in German he is, because Mensch in that language means, simply, a human being, male or female, neither good, bad, nor devious. In English, though, mensch isn’t really Denglish. It’s Yenglish, because English borrowed the word from Yiddish (which, in turn, got it from German). This globetrotter has a lot of stamps in its passport.
What are some of your favorite traveling words? Any Denglish, Yenglish, Spanglish, or Franglais in your vocabulary?