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

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Word of the Month: Kadavergehorsam

Word of the Month: Index

A Kadaver is a cadaver or corpse, and Gehorsam means "obedience." Kadavergehorsam refers to an unquestioning, blind obedience or a total abandonment of one's free will to a higher authority. The term entered German via the constitution of the Jesuit order as written by its founder, St. Ignace of Loyola. It demands from every member that he obey his superiors "as if he were a cadaver that lets itself be carried anywhere and treated in any which way." The term was used in Germany in the 19th century first as an anti-Jesuit catchphrase and later also in polemics against the Prussian military. It serves nowadays as a general reference to a blind obedience that's no longer desired, not in the army, not in civilian life, not anywhere. [My source]

According to the Wikipedia article I referenced, the comparison that St. Ignace uses goes back to a formulation by St. Francis of Assissi, who wrote several centuries earlier and, in turn, relied on an even earlier scholastic tradition. But it's the Germans who distilled the underlying image into the compound noun that's our current Word of the Month. This illustrates again how easy it is in German to succinctly express shaded meanings by hitching seemingly unrelated words together. I must also confess that until I did research for this month's word, I thought Kadavergehorsam simply meant obedience till you're dead. The history of the term that I discovered, though, shows that it has a much more interesting pedigree.

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