My nemesis, Sierra Godfrey, runs this segment on her blog every week called Word-Up Wednesday. Now, while I hesitate to give even tacit approval to anything my nemesis does, I do enjoy learning and sharing new words. The English language is wonderfully wide-ranging and flexible, absorbing expressions from anywhere and everywhere. It also changes with alarming rapidity—how fast did google become a verb?
Never fear though, writer-friends! I’m here to forge a path through the verdant vale of vocabulary with vorpal wit. Yes, indeedy! And for my inaugural post on word-wonders, why don’t we say a great, big “Thank you!” to those agglomerative geniuses, the Germans? No, not for their beer or wine (although I’m not above showing gratitude for a good Gewurtztraminer), but for their contributions to our dictionary!
To wit, I present you with some of my favorite Deutsch-words-that-can-be-used-in-English-conversation-to-make-oneself-look-urbane-and-cosmopolitan. In alphabetical order, then, we have:
You, er, may have gathered it had something to do with asses from the “arsche” bit of it, yes? This little gem, apparently, is the German word for “tramp stamp.” (For the more cultured among my readership… what are you doing reading my blog? Also, a “tramp stamp” is a nice word for a lower-back tattoo, usually found on women of questionable morality [unlike full-back tattoos, which are found on women of unquestionable awesomeness]). The literal translation of this word, by the by, is “ass antlers.” I’ll wait to go on until you’re done laughing.
(You can see the utility, though, can’t you? “Your arschegeweih is quite lovely, m’dear. May I get you another Colt 45?”)
I’ll lead with the literal translation of this one: “dragon fodder.” This (and my married male readers, all three of them, will likely appreciate this one) is a gift bought by a husband to appease an angry wife. I don’t think I need to elaborate further.
This has been on my favorite words list for a long time. It means “a sick delight in the misfortune of others,” and really, haven’t we all indulged in that from time to time? Yes. Yes, we have. It’s why slapstick comedy is funny. It’s why America’s Funniest Home Videos routinely shows montages of dudes getting whanged in the tenders. I’m not sure why it’s so amusing, since it’s anything but when it happens to me, but there you go.
Even a chimp will laugh if its trainer slips on a banana peel, so apparently schadenfreude showed up in the genetic pool quite some time ago. It must confer some sort of evolutionary advantage.
I’m thinking of you, my readers in the workplace, because this word is one you can and should use in front of your boss to impress the socks off him. It means “a supposed improvement that actually makes things worse.” This, my friends, is tailor made for use in business meetings.
You: Sure, Williams’ proposal looks good on the surface, but I’m worried it’ll be little more than a schlimmbesserung if we go forward with it.
Your Boss: Your vocabulary astounds me! Here: have a promotion and a raise. Williams? You’re fired.
(Note: Don’t say this if your last name is Williams.)
And there we go.
I’m a big fan of fun words, writer-friends. I figure I can make this a semi-regular blog event, since searching out obscure yet interesting wordage is happy-making for me. Next time perhaps I’ll look at lalochezia and millihelen. Stay tuned!
*I learned drachenfutter and schlimmbesserung from Simon Hertnon’s delightful little book, Endangered Words. Check it out if you’re a word-geek like me: there’s a hundred little gems with commentary for your edutainment.