I have a crush on the lexicographers at Langenscheidt. They make my favourite German-English dictionary—yes, I actually own one, you scoffing Deutschsprecher. From their HQ here in Munich, they put some much needed excitement into the dull business of wordcraft.
But it is the German-Youthspeak dictionary which earns our interest this holiday season, as Langenscheidt announces its Jugendwort, or German Youth Word of the Year.
In partnership with the teen magazine Spiesser and the social networking site MySpace, Langenscheidt put a barrage of words in front of a jury of language experts, plus three carefully-selected teenagers. After explaining to the teenagers what MySpace was, they scoured the list for words that were popular, influential, or useful.
And the winner for 2010 is...Niveaulimbo.
Niveaulimbo translates to Limbo Level, after the popular Caribbean dance. It serves as a metaphor for as low as you can go, and was coined to describe, among other things, German free-to-air television.
Now that's useful. Words like drivel (Blödsinn), excruciating (entsetzlich), feculent (widerwärtig), idiocy (Blödsinn), abominable (widerwärtig), obnoxious (widerwärtig), mentally deficient (blödsinnlich), awful (entsetzlich), repugnant (widerwärtig), appalling (entsetzlich), stupid (dumm), nonsense (Blödsinn), repulsiveness (Widerwärtigkeit), or Quatsch (Blödsinn) do not properly describe the level of human debasement it takes to appear on, or watch, German TV.
(I told you I owned a dictionary.)
German TV has many apologists, who meekly assert that sometimes Tatort is kinda OK.
Don't get me started.
The Runners-Up, or in German, the Vice-Meisters
Some of the top five words were useful, but not particularly novel. N1, a thumb-culture abbreviation of the English nice one, gained a berth. As did egosurfen, the German equivalent of vanity googling. Both had been around for a while, but the rise of texting and social networks finally gave them award-winning stature.
And then there's Speckbarbie, or Bacon Barbie. She is a young woman of fulsome figure, who wears the latest fashion when perhaps, on reflection, she shouldn't.
Sending a Message
From a linguistic point of view, I find the second-place word the most interesting. Arschfax, or ass-fax, appears in both German and English native forms. But their meanings diverge.
According to the Urban Dictionary, an ass-fax in English may refer to one of two things.
It may refer to a long piece of toilet paper, stuck in the elastic of your undies, following you from the lavatory.
(Teen jury members might need an explanation for this, too. Rolls of thermal paper disappeared from fax machines about 20 years ago. Right?)
On the other hand, an ass-fax may simply refer to that time-honoured tradition of photocopying your butt, and sending it to someone.
In German, it's slightly different. An Arschfax is an underwear label affixed to the outside of the waistband, with the intent that it be seen above the belt of one's low-rise trousers.
In English, we describe this manner of dress with the intransitive verb sagging, but in German, it becomes sending an ass-fax.
The jury lauded Arschfax, since "...in High German, there is no simple word for this situation."
Not that Arschfax will get much use in my neck of the woods, sadly. The way I understand it, in order to sag properly, one's waist must be slightly thinner than one's hips, so the pants kind of hang there.
So I'll be sending no Arschfaxen. Call me a Bacon Ken.
It's Wutbürger, pronounced to rhyme with foot-bugler. In other words, an "angry citizen".
Wut a snooze! Is that the best they could do? Germans have been angry (or at least grumpy) citizens for centuries. Have these guys ever attended a public meeting at their local Rathaus?
The appearance of public protests over Stuttgart 21 (the runner-up for Word of the Year) brought it to prominence. German WOTY for 2009 was Abwrackprämie, a cash-for-clunkers scheme. In 2008, they chose Finanzkrise.
Never overlook the obvious, I guess.
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P.S. A great big fat hat-tip to PapaScott for his tweet on this fascinating subject.