I promised to use my recent trip to Germany to clarify the status of Schlimmbesserung. I’ll make it the word of the month in the near future and explain what I found out. For this month, I selected a different word, though, because I thought of it a lot during Euro 2008: Zweckpessimismus (literally "purpose[ful] pessimism", or better, "pessimism with a purpose"). The term refers to the sort of pessimism one adopts when in doubt about the outcome of an event one is personally interested in: At worst, things turn out as expected, and at best, one is positively surprised.
There was quite a bit of Zweckpessimismus in the attitude with which I looked forward to the final of Euro 2008 between Spain and Germany!
A note on pronunciation: Unlike the (voiced) English "z", the German "z" is very sharp (voiceless)--you almost spit it out with the tip of your tongue pressed against the back of your upper incisors. The Chinese apparently have a consonant that sounds exactly like German "z". One of my PhD students from Taiwan, Jonah Tsai, always told me to pronounce the "Ts" in his name like German "z".
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