Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Friday, April 1, 2011

Word of the month: Prinzipienreiter

Prinzip is German for “principle” and a Reiter is a “rider” (of horses). Hitch the two words together, and you have a person who acts on principle, as a matter of principle, in the most inflexible, even bone-headed way no matter what the consequences are. I’ve found, both in Germany and in the US, Prinzipienreiter (singular and plural are the same for both nominative and accusative!) especially among the ranks of low-level officials who get their authority not from their expertise or charisma, but solely through their position, and are willing to use what little power they have to the max by following procedures to the tee.

Here’s an incident during this year’s mardi-gras in Cologne that shows beautifully Prinzipienreiter at work (I’ll summarize the incident in my first comment for people who don’t speak German).

Note on pronunciation: Prin·TSEE·pee·en·RYE·ter.


Ulrich said...

The incident in question involved Lukas Podolski, the enormously popular captain of the Cologne soccer team (and a starter for the National side). He was invited to join the people on one of the floats that are the main feature of the annual parade on the Monday of mardi-gras (which comprises the week before Ash Wednesday). Apparently, there are rules that a) all participants on a float have to be registered before-hand; and b) they all have to be on the float before it starts moving. Now, after Podolski got on the float, parade officials tried to remove him. The report is not clear which rule was violated--some claim his name was misspelled on the application [!]; some say he got on after the float had started to move. In any vase, the officials were thrown off the float by attendants (who mentioned with glee that they were overweight!).

The general reaction was that the whole incident was ridiculous, especially in light of it happening during mardi-gras, when people are supposed to relax (which puts an ironic twist on the whole affair): Since Podolski is so well known, an exception should have been granted in the spirit of mardi-gras no matter which rule was violated. But following the spirit of a rule instead of its letter is exactly what Prinzipienreiter are incapable of doing.

Heika said...

Well, I wish I could come up with a funny story like the Poldolski incident to illustrate my claim, but god do I ever know people who are Pincipienreiter (s) (What's the plural actually?) They are extremely fond of the expression, "It's the principle of the thing," which means, to me at least, that they can't think of any better reason for what they are doing or saying. We need this word in English, desperately.

Heika said...

Sorry Ulrich, I think you answered my question about the plural form. I guess it's "reiter" as well. I thought you were saying that there was no difference between the nominative and the accusative in either case, but I just re-read your post and think now you meant that the spelling shown was the same in all forms, singular, plural, nominative, and accusative.

Ulrich said...

@Heika: Yes, that's what I meant. When I wrote the original post, I realized that in my third sentence, Prinzipienreiter is both plural and the direct object of "found", i.e. it's also an accusative, if you want to get fancy, or if you had several years of Latin!--that's why I threw in the parenthesis.

I'm happy to see that someone actually noticed it.