Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Vorsprung durch Schadenfreude

If a language runs out of the words to describe things properly, it is not uncommon to borrow expressions from abroad.

This way the French have given us Menage A Trois, the Italian can claim Al Fresco dining to be theirs and Germany has thrown Schadenfreude into the mix.

Ergo, one would wonder whether there is a pattern.

Then again, European countries have been at war with each other with horrible regularity over thousands of years and have invaded their neighbours and were invaded back by their neighbours since the old Roman days, a fact that contributes its fair share to the mixing of languages.

It is remarkable however, how influences seem to be particularly prominent in certain aspects of life.

Clearly anything medical is firmly in the hands of Latin but since this is a language that is dead beyond any medication, it shall therefore hardly be counted. (I don't even mention my profound Latin knowledge in my CV any more - what an irony.)

The legendary obsession of the French with matters of love have therefore brought us rendez-vous and the above-mentioned menage a trois, but also surprisingly many militaristic contributions such as sabotage and Agent Provocateur. And since apres-ski is pretty much non-existent in the French speaking part of Switzerland, it has to origin in France as well.

A few culinary add-ons such as hors d'oeuvre and amuse bouche can't be left out although the Italians with their pasta, pizza and al fresco dining certainly compete for the top spot.

But since our friends from Italy have given the world amore, they actually don't have to compete with anyone.

Which, in terms of major languages leaves us to contemplate the German influence. Schadenfreude, ie finding pleasure in somebody else's misfortune, clearly says a lot about how Germans are perceived (and we don't mean perceived as in wearing Lederhosen and eating Bratwurst and Sauerkraut). They have also given England the Blitz, which is a dubious claim to fame if there ever was one, and on a only slighter note Poltergeist, Doppelganger but finally Kindergarten.

But maybe to strike a balance with a fair few negative connotations, teutonic benevolance is heard whenever some replaces "Bless you" with "Gesundheit".

So maybe not all is kaputt yet, and it's not all about enjoying other people's misery which should provide some piece of mind next time you leap of a rather tall building in a charity "Abseiling".

Fortunately, the German word for fast, schnell, is, while occasionally used, not common enough to really have rightfully gained its place. Otherwise, our beloved Wikipedia - derived from the Hawaiian word for quick wiki, could have turned out to be Schnell-pedia.

And somehow I doubt it would have been the Uber-website it is nowadays.



My experience and knowledge of the countries and cultures involved prop me to disagree with some of your sayings in that post.
Apr├Ęs-ski (whatever you mean by it since you are in the chapter "love matters") are ALSO and in 90% of cases boots you wear after ski! This word is used commonly in both the French part of Switzerland and in the Alpine parts of France neighboring Switzerland.
On the concept of Schadenfreude, perhaps the Germans came up with a word, a brilliant word in what it describes.. but if I may it really represents the spirit of Parisian top circles...