Save the German language! – Threatened Words
Let’s be honest! Who has never taken a classic work of German literature and come across this or that unfamiliar word that was still in everyday use in Schiller’s day? But we need not go back so far. As Bodo Mrozek shows in his book Das große Lexikon der bedrohten Wörter, some words are under threat, right now, in the language we speak, words that may soon have disappeared from the language.
Regional differences play a role
Most of the words included by Bodo Mrozek are no longer or only rarely to be heard in High German, as they are no longer in common use. However, some of them may still be found in regional variants of the language, i.e. in dialects or sociolects, e.g. youth language. The word Fluppe, for example, meaning cigarette, is still to be heard among young people. A recent article in Stern magazine (February 2012) entitled Die Fluppe ist bei Jugendlichen out took up this expression. In Austria it is still common for young women to be addressed as Fräulein and when you order a Broiler in what used to be East Germany, you still get a fried chicken today. Yet the use of such terms is conspicuous, as they are no longer commonplace. They are words in danger of becoming extinct.
The connection between language and society
It is really exciting to pick up Das große Lexikon der bedrohten Wörter and leaf through it! Which words do I (still) know, and which ones are already unknown to me? And, something that is particularly noteworthy, Bodo Mrozek provides background information on the words. Where does the word come from originally, how was it used and why is it under threat? This enables readers to learn quite a lot about German society and how it uses its language.
It is particularly interesting to recognise the connection between a society and the words it uses. The words Sozialhilfe (welfare payments) and Stütze (support) have practically ceased to exist in German language usage, which can be explained by the change in socio-political structures. When Hartz IV was introduced (financial support for people without work or with an insufficient income), Sozialhilfe in fact ceased to exist and the term was intentionally abolished. According to the dictionary, Hartz IV is not seen as support by the people who receive this payment because they are required to fulfil certain duties that many of them regard as unpleasant.
Not devoid of irony
Katzenmusik (caterwailing), too, has become obsolete, as social behaviour has changed. Students used to use all kinds of instruments to make an unpleasant noise under their professor’s window if they were not satisfied with his teaching. Today, students fill out an evaluation form, which is usually done in silence.
Das große Lexikon der bedrohten Wörter is to be recommended to anyone who is interested in the German language and its changes. Bodo Mrozek reminds readers of the threatened words in a way that is very informative, uses a great deal of verbal wit, and is not entirely devoid of irony and sarcasm, thereby perhaps contributing to these words being used again or more frequently. At any rate, it is an enjoyable read!
Bodo Mrozek studied literature and history. A writer and journalist, he lives in Berlin. He has been an editor on the Tagesspiegel’s features pages, a columnist for Spiegel-online and a member of staff at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).
Other books on the subject of “things that have disappeared”:
Volker Wieprecht/Robert Skuppin:
Das Lexikon der verschwundenen Dinge (Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 2010)
is a literature scholar and freelance journalist. She lives in Essen.
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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