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

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Word of the month: Lebenslüge

Word of the Month: Index

Here's another addition to Leben ("life") that creates a special meaning: A Lüge is a lie, and a Lebenslüge is a lie people tell themselves in order to be able to live with a clear conscience in spite of the fact that some actions in the past should give them anything but a clear conscience. It appears to be a particular manifestation of cognitive dissonance, which we talked about a while ago. According to the Wikipedia article I consulted, the term goes back to Henrik Ibsen's "The Wild Duck", which means there has to be an initial coinage in Norwegian—I wonder what that would be.

It is interesting to note that in German political discourse, the term has been applied to nations or countries; for example, to countries that go to great lengths to suppress the memory of and references to atrocities that have been committed in the past in the name of the country or were sanctioned by its leaders, or to countries whose self-image or policies are based on false assumptions about events that happened in the past.


Sverre Holm said...

Norwegian: "livsløgn" (literally life lie) - with its own Wikipedia article, which only exists in German apart from Norwegian it seems.

Ulrich said...

Thank you very much for coming to the rescue! The Germans clearly formed the term in exact parallel to the Norwegian original.

Anonymous said...

What a great word. I can think of several politicians to whom it applies. What verb do you use with it?

Ulrich said...

@Anonymous: Sorry for the tardy reply--I have been away for a week.

Most commonly, the word is not used directly with a verb, or at least not as the object of a transitive verb; rather, it's used to call a certain attitude or posture a Lebenslüge. The Wikipedia article, for example, states that before the fall of the Berlin Wall, some politicians in the Federal Republic called the wide-spread desire for unification in Germany a Lebenslüge of the republic.

I also found it interesting that the article mentions specifically "Death of a Salesman" as a play with a Lebenslüge at its center.

Anonymous said...

In the 2006 novel “Forgetfulness” by Ward Just, the theme seems to be lebensluge, both personal and collective, with mitigating hints of awareness and kindness. It is a very subtle book, baffling until I looked up the term lebensluge (which is used by the author). Thank you, Mr. Ulrich and commenters.