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.


Heika said...

Although I like the visual aspect of Geistesblitz better than ephiphany,which doesn't call up that great image of a lightning flash lighting up the brain, do you think the two would be equivalent or at least very close in meaning? Great drawing by the way.

Ulrich said...

That's a good question. I would add another one: Is there a difference between Geistesblitz and Aha-Erlebnis ("aha moment" or "eureka effect")?

I would say yes, the three terms differ in subtle ways. "Epiphany" seems to be the "heaviest" of the three, a sudden insight that may change one's life. One would definitely not call Kroos's winning goal the result of an epiphany--the situation was simply not important or "existential" enough. An Aha-Erlebnis comes closer to epiphany, but it's typically used when someone suddenly "sees" the answer to a problem of long standing.

So, I would say an epiphany and an aha-moment are both a Geistesblitz, but that not every Geistesblitz qualifies as an epiphany or aha-moment--it may lack the profundity implied by those two concepts.

Ulrich said...

Addendum: I implied as much when, in order to illustrate the idea behind Geistesblitz, I drew Newton at the moment he formulated the concept of gravity in his mind when an apple fell on his head as he was sitting under an apple tree. This incident (never mind that it is probably a legend) is a classical example of an aha-moment--it solved a problem Newton had been pondering for a while. But it was also a Geistesblitz because of the suddenness of the insight.