At Deutschland über Elvis, it's the most wonderful time of the year!
No, I'm not talking about Halloween. In southern Germany, Halloween is nothing more than the night before All Saint's Day, a grumpy, morbid Catholic holiday on which you can't dance.
No, not Oktoberfest, during which nobody stays sober enough to recall if it's wonderful or not.
And no, not even Christmas. Like everywhere, Christmas in Bavaria demands you buy a shitload of useless overpriced stuff and drink too much. But outside, at a market, in the freezing cold.
The management of Deutschland über Elvis believes the most enchanting season starts with a vote for the Langenscheidt German Youth Word of the Year.
We love words here in Germany. New ones, old ones, and especially great big long ones. We take Word of the Year seriously, as you can tell from the list of official, grown-up, serious German Words of the Year.
Why does the "Z" key sit conveniently under the right index finger on German keyboards? Because when asked to describe Official, Grown-Up, Serious German Words of the Year, one simply may type zzzzzzzzzz.
Not so the Youth Word, or Jugendwort. Crack Munich lexicographers Langenscheidt sharpen their pencils and open their ears in pubs, on sports-fields and street-corners, at universities and Diskotheken. The results?
Ouch! Or as we say in German, Autsch!
Let's take a rando from the list of finalists. Nowadays, German youth refer to their bicycles as Eierfeilen, or egg files. In other words, a tool to sand off your balls, which are known in German as a gentleman's eggs. Not only does this earn a snicker, but it also raises several important linguistic issues.
Is a woman's bike an Eierfeile? Why is the word Ei (egg) neither masculine or feminine, but neutral? (In German, both males and females can have Eier.) And finally, why use the word file, and not sander? I looked up sander in German, and found two words, Bandschliefmaschine and Sandstrahlgebläse. Enough said.
The Countdown, or das Rückwärtzählen zum Start.
Here's a selection of the 2015 finalists. Many of them sound like they could have been stolen from Fede's 100 Days of German Words Project, except his are actually in German.
- Swaggetarier—A bling vegetarian. Someone who is a vegetarian only for the status.
- Augentinnitus—A ringing in the ears, of the eye. The unpleasant feeling of being surrounded by stupid people. Interesting that the word conflates stupid with ugly. Beautiful + stupid is a thing, too.
- Bambus—Bamboo. An adjective meaning cool. One wonders why the German language needs a word for "cool", when it has already borrowed the English word cool. But with the world dreaming up so many cool things every day, no language can have too many words for coolness.
- Rumoxidieren—To hang around, rusting. A verb that means to chill out. Another odd one, since fashionable German already adopted the verb chillen to mean the same thing. Are German youth trying to de-Anglicise their slang? (A move I would support, by the way)
Or are too-clever Langenscheidt linguists digging shit up from their Latin dictionaries? Let's really get Latin: how about intoxidoxidieren, for chilling out over a few drinks?
Hat tip to my pal at Berg ≠ Burg for deciphering that one.
- Bologna-Flüchtling—a student taking a break from studies. Literally, a Bologna refugee, so named for the Bologna Process that unified higher education in the EU. I had originally thought it might be named for the fashion of spending one's gap-year in Italy—which may still be the case. For American readers, Bologna ≠ baloney, though in context, that might still make sense.
- Shippen—to be a couple. A shortening of the English word relationship. E.g. Boris and Steffi are 'shipping.
- Maulpesto—Snout Pesto. This simply means bad breath. At first, I thought it might refer to the distinctive fax-papery texture of your teeth when hung over. Further, I thought that fax paper was a far better metaphor.
Then I remembered this is a youth word. No present-day youth were even alive at the time when faxes needed special paper, or indeed, when faxes were needed at all.
But that didn't seem to stop German youth from coining the word Arschfax, or ass-fax, to describe the practice of showing your fashion-brand underwear label above the belt of your low-rise jeans.
How did I get from bad breath to underwear in the space of a few sentences? Hey, that's how we roll at Deutschland über Elvis.
The Jugendwort never fails to attract controversy, and in 2015 the press is running hot with outrage. Langenscheidt plucked the word Alpha-Kevin from contention, in favour of kirscheln.
Kirscheln is a lame choice—if it had a literal meaning, would mean to cherry. The term refers to lovers who make it a point to stand close, like two cherries joined at the top of the stem, so that they may cuddle on impulse, or in German, spontan kuscheln. Gag me with a spoon.
OTOH*, the phrase Alpha-Kevin actually gets used. In German, Kevin is a byword for a dumb guy, and an Alpha-Kevin is a guy who has reached the zenith of dumbness...or maybe that should be the nadir of dumbness. The German language is often employed to complain about the stupidity of others, so new insults always prove useful.
A Wide Longlist
The long-list of nominated words on the Jugendwort website offers greater insight into the brains of our youth than the official shortlist. If he wants to tell you he's hungry, a youth might remark "I'm a model". In reply, you might suggest a visit to the Restaurant of the Golden Seagulls, or McDonald's. A selfie-stick acts as an Idiotenzepter, or an idiot's sceptre. A Twizzelditwazzelen means a long, satisfying draw on a cigarette; a word whose etymology, alas, defeats me.
Why does Langenscheidt devote such attention to youthspeak? The language spoken by the youngest among us surely gives us a clue to the future.
And it's wicked fun to boot. The Jugendwort mocks all those pompous language-purists, who figure large in chats held by the German chattering classes.
Munich has more than its fair share of blue-rinse pseuds, ready to tut-tut the way young people speak. Bayerische Rundfunk, the Bavarian BBC, collected some senior citizens—combined age 238—to see if they could guess the meaning of the finalists.
After breaking the Eis with a slug or two of Eierlikör, the trio were asked what they thought might be the Youth Word of the Year. They agreed that it was likely to be an English word or phrase. The youngest panelist, a mere slip of a lass at 74, guessed Fuck You.
One of the first words to trip up the panel was Tinderella. They imagined it must refer to a woman of incredible beauty, worthy to be a princess. Or perhaps a modern day cosmetician, which stretches the meaning from Cinderella's original job as a cleaning lady. As a sexually active speaker of any language in the 21st Century might guess, the word actually describes a woman who expects, naïvely, to find her Prince Charming online.
(Its gay male equivalent, Grindrella, has a slightly different nuance.)
Smombie perplexed the trio; on first sight, it perplexed me, too. Smombie mashes up smartphone and zombie. It evokes a familiar scene; the wandering brain-dead, staring down at their iPhones, awaiting the next cat pic. Though the elders couldn't guess the meaning, they responded warmly to the concept, and vowed to employ the word when next they sneered at kids nowadays.
So far, Null Punkten for the Bejahrter (literally, in German, the Enyeared).
They didn't do much better with Earthporn, which describes a beautiful landscape. The earth part posed no problem, since even wrinklies know about Google Earth. But astonishingly, they couldn't decipher the term porn.
Even a cursory look at the internet auf Deutsch will reveal the term "porn" in common usage. The panel may have had better luck if they checked the longlist, which contains the mildly more Germanly Erderotika. Perhaps the elders were being coy.
Die Rätselhaftige Kanzlerin
Struck me as pretty rum that our group could not decipher the verb merkeln—to Merkel.
The panel worked out instantly that it referred to Chancellor Angela Merkel. They imagined it might refer to a noble manner, dignified and respectable. It surprised them to discover that it meant to do nothing, to say nothing, not to betray what you really think or feel—at least, not until you see the opinion polls. e.g. When his girlfriend accused him of cheating, he Merkeled for several minutes.
The rest of the world would not be so surprised. The foreign press often describe Mrs. Merkel as inscrutable, an enigma, a sphinx. It's her trademark.
This New York Times op-ed by Anna Saubrey, opinion editor of Der Tagesspiegel, seeks to decode Merkel's quiet mystery. Alas, her account ends up just as inscrutable as its subject. Perhaps those privy to the Chancellor's gehacktes Handy may know more of her inner thoughts, but the rest of us can only speculate.
Merkeln, by the way, is winning.
What word got my vote?
Since I can't vote for Alpha-Kevin, I threw my weight behind Hayat, a term of endearment. Hayat comes from the Turkish word for life. E.g. I love you, you're life.
Why? Well, first of all, it's Turkish. Outside of Berlin street argot—and fast food menus—surprisingly little Turkish has made its way into modern German.
(By the way, German isn't the only language that puts up a fight. Think of how little Spanish has made its way into American English, with Spanish speakers a much bigger slice of the US population than Turks in Germany.)
Second, it's really nice.
Cynicism weaves through the Jugendwort list. A good deal is just trash talk.
Don't get me wrong, I like a good zinger as much as the next guy. But there's a time for optimism, too.
Hayat has echoes of l'chaim, the Hebrew toast to life. Conflate the words love and life? May we always find them in harmony.
The photo of Mrs Merkel and her patriotic iPhone is embedded from the Huffington post, and the photo links to the source.
All translations are my own, and thus subject to catastrophic mistakes.
*English Youth Word of the Year 1998