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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Word of the Month: Der Geistesblitz

Word of the Month: Index

Geistesblitz Isaac Newton
In the present context, Geist means "mind" or "intellect." A Blitz is a lightning stroke, as it occurs during thunderstorms, or a flash, as used in photography. Taken together, they signify a promising idea that suddenly occurs to a person, illuminating his or her mind like a lightning stroke or flash.

I got the idea for the current Word of the Month recently when my friend Thomas Kreifelts sent me an article with the headline Geistesblitz in der Matschnacht—"Geistesblitz in the Mud Night," with intended pun on Matsch ("mud"), which is pronounced (almost) like English "match" so that the headline can also be understood as "Geistesblitz in the Match Night." The article describes a friendly soccer match played on Nov. 18 at night in pouring rain between the Spanish and German national teams. It was an uninspiring affair, not only because of the miserable weather, but also because neither side had been able to field the strongest team owing to injuries to key players. Just when spectators resigned themselves to a scoreless tie (the most boring of soccer results), the German midfielder Toni Kroos saw, in the penultimate minute of regulation time, a sudden opening and hammered the ball towards the Spanish goal from a distance—it slid over the surprised goalie's outstretched hands into the net for a score. It was Kroos's Geistesblitz that illuminated the night like a flash and warmed the hearts of at least the German fans.

Attentive readers will ask why our current word interjects "es" between the two components Geist and Blitz. Well, I guess the time has come to talk about the Fugen-s ("joint s" or "joining s"), which occurs sometimes in German compound words—we encountered it already in such Words of the Month as Armut-s-zeugnis or Glück-s-pilz. Its function is to make the word easier to pronounce. The "s" becomes "es" when this further facilitates pronunciation, for example, by breaking up a consonant cluster.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Flemming's First and Second Law of Taking Offense

We live in a culture (and I'm speaking not only about the USA) that puts a high value on feeling offended. It seems that, for some people, finding occasions that allow them to be offended is a central purpose in their lives (if they have a life). I find this annoying most of the times, if not outright exasperating some times. And so, I formulated two laws of taking offense.

1. It is silly to be offended when no offense was intended.
This is so obvious to me that I won't elaborate.

2. It is silly to be offended when an offense was intended.
This law may need some explanation, which I'm providing below.

You do would-be offenders a great favor when you react as they want you to react, i.e., by being offended. A much more effective strategy is to frustrate them and beat them at their own game, by laughing at them or playing along (did I mention the name of this blog?). For example, there was a time when I followed live chats accompanying sports events like tennis matches. The level in these chats is so low that one has to participate to actually believe it; for example, a popular retort to someone whose remark a commenter does not like is, "I f***ed your mother last night." My standard response has been, in this case, "And she loved it and wants more," which shuts them up immediately. Of course, I now avoid chats like that like the plague.

A more serious illustration for my second law at work is provided by groups who adopt a moniker meant to be derogatory and use it themselves—with pride. A recent example from Germany is the adjective schwul, which was, when I grew up, a really negative designation of homosexuals. But gay people adopted it and it's now a completely common designation stripped of its former connotations. Homophobes had to come up with a new derogatory term, which is now, as far as I can see from my remote perch, the noun Schwuchtel. I hope gay people adopt this one, too; i.e., keep the bigots continuously on the run, rather than trying to continuously run away from them.

Here's an example from history: The Dutch who fought for liberation from their Spanish occupiers in the 80-year war (1568-1648) called themselves geuzen, a word derived from the French word for "beggar." It had been used initially by the Spanish as a derogatory moniker for the Dutch who resisted them. By making the word their own, those same Dutch robbed it of its sting. (Source: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geusen, visited on Dec. 2, 2014)