My German is crap. My German cannot order a Big Mac minus the pickles. My German is so patchy, you dare not skate on it. My German makes Goethe roll over in his grave so often, he thinks he's being spit-roasted. You should stick a mop in my German and use it to wash the floor.
So, should I celebrate the fact that English words creep into German?
If you need a new word for a new thing, then English is a good place to look. We're the Wal*Mart of words. Our words are plentiful, cheap, and often imported.
Still, the PC part of me regrets this. Shouldn't one work to smash linguistic imperialism? Will the whole planet eventually speak a creole of my mother tongue, and lose much richness and diversity along the way?
Why use an English word when there must be a German word for the same idea? Is the idea really so new to German culture, that it needs a totally new expression?
If so, why did the idea occur to English speakers first? Is it simply because there are more English speakers, and hence more likelihood that a word would get coined? Or was there something east of Aachen in the Bundesgeist that kept the very idea from arising?
Language surely reflects culture, but does it actively put blinkers on us? Do the words which a language has to borrow tell us something about the people who speak it?
Or are people just using English to sound cool, much like English speakers who toss in a few words of French to lay on some class?
I've begun to take note of the so-called Deunglish words I encounter. Over the coming days and weeks, I want to ponder some of them.
The first arrived, literally, almost on my doorstep.
Ferdinand Geriner, the very classy tailor next door, held a sale. This caught my eye for two reasons.
First, a sale at Ferdinand Greiner is not to be missed. Their shirts are exquisite. Master Right loves his FG pajamas so much that he is seldom found outside them.
Second, why a sale, and not an Ausverkauf or a Rausverkauf?
My landlord Roman and I were enjoying a bilingual beer one day, and I asked him about the strange words on our neighbour's window.
According to Roman, the concept of a sale is quite distinct.
For many years, he said, labelling and pricing in Germany remained under strict regulation. If you set a price, you couldn't just raise or lower it, willy-nilly. That would cause chaos—at least in the minds of those who remembered the hyperinflation of the 1920s.
You needed to wait (in Bavaria, at least) for the Sommerausverkauf or the Winterausverkauf. If a shop-keeper managed to score a good price on a particular item, he'd make a Sonderangebote, or special offer.
But you couldn't just lower a price because it wasn't selling. That was the seller's problem. I mean, how would you feel if you bought something one day and it were discounted the next? Look on it as consumer protection.
EU competition policy put an end to this silliness, but brought a new problem. What do you call these casual—indeed, whimsical—Ausverkaufen? Take a leaf from the Americans, the world's master sellers, and call it a sale.
The kind lady in the shop confirmed this. "You'd only use Ausverkauf if you were talking to really old people," she confided, in her elegant Hamburg English.
It turns out that they weren't using the word just to sound cool. Which brings us to the next post. Do Germans use the word cool just to sound cool?