Word! The Language Column
Ringing in new words and ringing out some old ones

Illustration: Une bouche ouverte avec une pilule sur la langue.
How does the German language integrate foreign words? | © Goethe-Institut e. V./Illustration: Tobias Schrank

Our language is constantly expanding, so how come the “Duden” still fits into a single printed volume? Because obsolete entries are regularly deleted. In her final contribution to our column on the German language, Kathrin Kunkel-Razum discusses words that have gone by the board and why we shouldn’t completely forget them.

By Kathrin Kunkel-Razum

While the coronavirus still holds sway over our daily lives, we Duden editors are doing our best to keep the dictionary running "normally” despite these abnormal circumstances. We’re busy these days not only adding new entries, such as Covid-19 or Coronaparty, to the next edition of the Duden in print or on line, but we’re also looking at words to delete. And since this is my farewell article to you, I’ll devote it to words that the Duden has already kissed goodbye or probably will do someday.

Where did all the words go?

When the 27th edition of the Duden spelling dictionary came out in 2017, people asked us not only about the latest additions, but also about the latest deletions. There weren’t very many of the latter: we’d removed some alternative spellings such as Ketschup and Majonäse, in keeping with the findings of the German Spelling Council’s 2016 report, while keeping Ketchup and Mayonnaise. And that was it: nothing else was cut.

But the journalists wouldn’t let up with their questions. So we decided to devote a whole book to words that have been "dropped" from the dictionary over the course of its history. We had to delve deep to dig them out because there were no systematic records of deletions, alas, let alone complete lists of words dropped from one edition to the next. And only the latest editions can be searched electronically. So we recruited a whole battalion of students to pore over (academic) publications on the subject and then actually compare the entries in previous editions of the dictionary. Their painstaking efforts yielded some long, but by no means exhaustive, lists of deletions. We then asked author and publisher Peter Graf to select some of the discarded words on the lists and write about them. The resulting essays form is a brief but edifying and interesting history of language and culture, from which we editors learned a lot too. The beautiful illustrations, by the way, were all taken from the 2nd edition of the Duden-Bildwörterbuch, which came out back in 1958. 

Once on everyone’s lips, now forgotten

Peter Graf broke the “disappeared” words down by subject-matter to produce chapters on obsolete words in the fields of sports (e.g. Falkade, Nennungsgeld, Lawn-tennis-Spieler (i.e. falcade, entry fee, lawn tennis player, respectively)), fashion (Schwitzer, Nörz, Autocoat (sweater, mink, car coat)), food (Hotschpott, Potage, Zugemüse (hotchpotch, potage, side dish of vegetables)), family and everyday life (Nasenquetscher, Nestküchlein, älteln (eyeglasses, (cossetted) youngest child, to age)), natural sciences and medicine (Nebelbild, Nervenfieber, Saurolith (dissolving view, typhus, fossilized dinosaur)), among other things, as well as some diminutives (Onkelchen, Pünschchen, Nönnlein (diminutives of uncle, punch, nun, respectively)), expletives (Buschklepper, Sappermenter, Zärtling (lit. “thief hiding in the bush!”, zounds!, sissy) and “fancy words” (naszieren, Flugmaschine, Hutgerechtigkeit (to be born, aircraft, right of pasturage). Plus he included a section on words once expunged and later reinserted (Automatenrestaurant, Filmdiva, Eierpunsch (automat, screen goddess, eggnog)).

I’m sure every reader of this book will find at least one old German word that tickles their fancy. My favourite is Überschwupper – which is what they used to call a sweater.
So fare thee well, fair linguaphile, and keep hale and hearty!

Kathrin Kunkel-Razum
Peter Graf
Was nicht mehr im Duden steht. Eine Sprach- und Kulturgeschichte
Mannheim: Dudenverlag, 2018, 224 pp.
ISBN 9783411703845

Word! The Language Column

Our column “Word!” appears every two weeks. It is dedicated to language – as a cultural and social phenomenon. How does language develop, what attitude do authors have towards “their” language, how does language shape a society? ~ Changing columnists – people with a professional or other connection to language – follow their personal topics for six consecutive issues.