At my workplace, everyone communicates in English. Even the few German speakers and those who understand German really well speak English with each other. Most of the blogs and other media I read are English too. And as you very likely have noticed, I also blog exclusively in English nowadays - mainly because I am just too lazy to translate everything, and since I spend most of my day "thinking" in English, when I want to write something down it usually comes to my mind in English first as well.
But once in a while I come across a situation where I would really like to say something, and I realize that I just can't express it. I appreciate the English language for its variety of beautiful and flowery words and how long and elaborate sentences sound much more fluid than in German. For example, I find romantic vocabulary in German horrendous, it sounds contrived at best and just corny at worst. In English however, I can even appreciate romantic poetry - which is also one of the reasons why I prefer music with English lyrics over German ones anytime, even if the song itself is something I could in principle like.
But some German words just have no proper equivalent in the English language. And Austrian German again is a little bit different from "German" German, so again, we have some more words that have no proper German equivalent at all!
I know that some of my readers don't know any German, so perhaps you will find this entertaining. I will leave out all the hilarious swearwords that we (especially in Austria) throw around for now, mainly because I don't use them so I don't miss them a lot, but perhaps I will do a separate entry where I will introduce you to the wonderful world of German swearing?
So, anyway, here is my list of five words that I would sometimes desperately need when communicating in English, therefore I pledge for their incorporation into the English language!
This one is actually a bit cheaty, because the only reason there's a German word for this is because our language has compound nouns, i.e. nouns that are put together from more than one word to express something new. Fremdschämen means to be embarrassed for someone else, but it somehow is even more than that. It's such a strong feeling that we don't just apply it to someone we directly observe or know who behaves like an ass or says something stupid. The "Fremd" part of the word means "stranger", and in essence "Fremdschämen" is something you will sometimes find yourself to feel for someone you don't even know, not even remotely, like somebody you see in a public place, or even when something embarrassing happens on TV. Fremdschämen is the reason I cannot watch afternoon TV shows - German private channels are especially infamous for their various fake-documentaries featuring uncannily bad acting and blatantly stupid plots. Fremdschämen is also the reason I cannot watch romantic comedies. I simply cannot bear the watch them and start to feel physically unwell when people start to behave stupidly on the screen (also and especially applies to "bullshit science" which is the reason why I have stopped watching The Big Bang Theory). I cringe so hard I have to switch channels or my head will probably implode while I make a long drawn-out and extremely annoyed "Ughhhhh..." sound.
While it can be expressed to some extent with the English "being embarrassed for someone else" I feel like Fremdschämen has a much stronger connotation in German by now. It is not just you feeling embarrassment, it is you feeling the embarrassment that the other person should have felt in that situation, but usually for some outrageous reason does not feel.
I first noticed the absence of this word from the English language in high school. There was a guy in my class whose family was American, and who talked English at home. He once complained that arguments with his parents sucked, because there is no English expression for "Doch", making it extremely difficult to talk back to them.
"Doch" actually has two meanings. First, it can be used to start a sentence that will bring along a turn of event, topic or meaning, much like "however" or "but". But in colloquial German it is mainly used to express your disagreement with an argument somebody has made - that contradicts your previous statement. It is the typical "third reply" to a "Yes"-"No" conversation, such as: "I think I am responsible enough to be allowed to stay out till 1am on Saturdays by now!" - "No, I don't think so, you don't even take responsibility of your tasks in the household!" - "Doch, I take out the trash every time you tell me to!"
Usually these kinds of conversations play out between parents and their kids, and often are even simpler. "Ja!" - "Nein!" - "Doch!" - "Nein!" - "Doch!" is an often seen pattern here. It can also be used to contradict a negative statement as such: "I don't believe any of your friends are allowed to stay out that long." - "Doch, Hanna's parents allow it!". In English, there is just no single word that feels quite right to use in such situations. It's basically a shortened version for "That's not true" or merely "I disagree". In that context, it takes on a lot of its other meaning that I mentioned at first, turning the conversation into a different direction again.
In principle, it can be a very useful word during any kind of discussion, especially when you are target of criticism (though excessive use of the word will quickly make you seem like a 13-year-old who is not allowed to go out on Saturdays) but can also be useful when you want to correct not someone else but yourself - "Ah, I forgot to mention, that thing you asked me to do and I thought I had forgotten to do - I did it doch". Of course, there exist English words that can replace "doch" in many situations, but not in all of them, and especially "Nein!" - "Doch!" is so deeply rooted in German-speakers from their teenage years onward that you sometimes really miss the expression in other languages.
There is no English equivalent of this expression - at least none that I can think of. In French, there is the literally same expression "Ça va". It is usually the answer to the question "How's it going?" or in German "Wie geht's?" (or in French "Ça va?", again). The German "Es geht" literally means "It goes" and for some reason that sounds way less stupid in German and we use it all the time. In contrast to the French "Ça va", which usually mean something like "I'm fine/okay", the German expression usually implies an unspoken "but" after that, as in "I'm fine.... but actually I am not." It is nonetheless obviously not expected that you actually express your discomfort, as the question "Wie geht's?"/"How are you?" is usually merely an opener for some meaningless smalltalk and nobody actually cares about how you really feel in such a conversation. I actually find that kind of communication habit - to ask how someone is feeling, but never expected an honest reply and vice versa being expected to lie about your emotional state if asked in such a situation - pretty horrible, but there is one, and only one, application of this expression that I miss a lot in my daily life, and that is when my supervisor asks me "How's it (the experiment) going?" because usually "Es geht" would be the absolutely perfect and appropriate answer, implying "Pretty much everything sucks, this does not work at all, and I am running out of ideas what could be the cause, but I am working on it, and if you really want to know more, please ask more clearly."
"(Etwas) geht sich aus"
This is an especially beautiful expression, that to my knowledge is an Austrian particularity. It literally means "(Something) will go itself out", which of course makes absolutely no sense, but also in German it actually does not have that much meaning when taken literally. Also, we're back to the verb "going" - "gehen" again, in this case in its most beautiful application. When not used to throughly confuse Germans in a conversation, the term is used to describe something that will work out somehow or will be finished just in time. Imagine you missed your train and you know your date is waiting in front of the cinema for you. You might text them something like "I missed the train, but I'll be in time for the start of the movie". In German you could express the second half of the sentence with a variation of "Es geht sich aus". Conversely, if something won't work out you can say "I won't make it in time for our date, sorry!" as "Es geht sich nicht aus" ("nicht" meaning "not").
I mentioned how this expression can also be used to confuse Germans. It was not until a few years ago that I wasn't even aware that this expression is Austrian German (perhaps Bavarians might understand it?) and it just makes no sense to Germans. But once while playing World of Warcraft and being in Teamspeak with some guild mates, there was a question if the healer will have enough mana to make it through the fight. He replied "Es geht sich aus" - It will work out, but the Germans understood it more like "Es geht aus" - It's running out, or something like that. We then started to realize to what enormous extent we use that expression every day - especially when gaming. "Will you come to the raid tonight?" - "I have to work late but I guess es geht sich aus". "Do you have enough materials to craft this item for me?" - "Yes, geht sich aus". "If the damage dealers could just try to put out a little bit more damage, the boss encounter definitely geht sich aus."
It's a simple but beautiful, extremely versatile phrase that Austrians are using all the time. While English provides individual expressions for each of these situations, the Austrian "Es geht sich aus" casually implies that we're actually putting in more effort than we want credit for. I guess we're actually just trying to look really cool when we say it. So instead of, for example telling your colleague "Fuck this shit, you expect me to do all this additional work in addition to what I already have to do in such a short time?" you'll shrug it off and cooly let them know that "I guess es geht sich aus" while slowly turning into a bottomless pit of rage on the inside.
Last but not least, another word that proves invaluable in any working environment when asked about your work and not being able (or willing) to give clear answer before gauging the level of actual interest and care of the person who asked. "Jein" is a mixture of "Ja" (Yes) and "Nein" (No), meaning yes-no. Especially in my field of work it will probably be the default answer to "Is this (experiment) working out?" or "Are you finished with this?" because there will always be something that at least to some extent was unexpected, or will delay your results, or will just not work out the way you want it to. "Jein" is the perfect answer. It is not yet as bad as "Es geht" and usually still implies a somewhat neutral emotional approach to the topic, whereas "Es geht" is rather used at the onset of frustration. Yet "Jein" will make anybody who hears it immediately understand your situation. And depending on the actual interest of the person who asked, they will know to either not continue asking questions and walk away to leave you to concentrate on your work, or in contrast know exactly what kind of questions to ask you make you spit out what is wrong with you, the project, experiment or whatever, and then hopefully try to help you.
Since we live in a world where many questions just don't have an obvious "yes" or "no" answer, I appreciate the existence of this word in German, especially considering so many people expect you to answer with a clear "yes" or "no" even if you simply can't. "Jein" is the perfect solution, because it politely tells those people to either fuck off or actually put in some effort to understand the situation and see that there is no clear, definitive answer.
So this was my list of German words that the English language needs!
How about your native language - are there equivalents to the expressions I mentioned?
And what about the German readers, did you know the expression "Es geht sich aus?"
What other words do you "miss" when talking in another language?
Let me know in the comments! ^_^
What other words do you "miss" when talking in another language?
Let me know in the comments! ^_^