An FT article highlights a phenomenon that accords well my own observation; namely that the financial crisis is being described immer mehr in German. Unsurprisingly, Schadenfreude is first on the list, followed by one familiar to my readers:
Schadenfreude is not the only one suited to neatly capturing the Zeitgeist. Angst, which has been doing English service (on and off the couch) for decades is an obvious case – though its usage this year has slipped (down 3 per cent in the UK and 8 per cent in the US). Perhaps we have moved on from plain fear to something far more dramatic – a full-blown Götterdämmerung, maybe? When it comes to expressing volatile market behaviour, try Sturm und Drang.
But it is not just the credit crunch that has offered the chance for some payback. Take über. A handy little prefix that elevates all that follows, über was supposedly brought into English by a combination of George Bernard Shaw and Nietzsche (think übermensch). It has not looked back since. In the UK its appearance in media has risen nearly sixfold in the last decade; in the US fourfold.
But what is it about German that makes it uniquely suited to describe the credit crunch? The article gets it spot-on:
Compound nouns – a German speciality – with their ability to express different things lend themselves to the complex nature of the current crisis.
To a laconic fellow like me, compound words can be just plain wonderful. Weltanschauung, Weltschmerz, even Kühlschrank are wonderfully concise and descriptive.
Sometimes the Germans can be über-eager in shoving words together, however. Even if it's probably not true, I had no problem believing that Germans initially called their tanks Schützengrabenvernichtungsautomobile* when someone first told me.
For many moons I've had a post completely written in my head listing three elements of German language that I liked. This article reminds me of a fourth, and encourages me to begin forming my own English compounds willy-nilly.
*(Or "trench-destroying-vehicles"; the German word for "trench" is a compound itself, however, making for the odd and macabre English hyphenate of "protecting-grave." Putting it all together yields "Protective-grave-destroying-vehicles.")