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

Monday, August 29, 2016

Word of the Month: Zersiedeln, die Zersiedelung

Word of the Month: Index

Like English, German allows for the creation of new verbs by adding a prefix to an existing one. In fact, German offers a broader range of prefixes that can be used to this end, and I will dedicate one of my next posts to this topic.

For starters, let's look at just one of these prefixes, zer-, which has no real equivalent in English. It indicates an action that destroys something. It is particularly expressive because of the sharp z-sound it starts with. For example, reißen means "to tear", and zerreißen means "to tear apart" or "tear to pieces". Our current word of the month is another example. It's formed by adding zer to siedeln (to settle) and means literally to degrade [a countryside] by settlement. Zersiedelung is the noun formed from the verb. The term originated with urban and regional planners and is usually translated as "urban sprawl". But Zersiedelung is somewhat more general—it can happen far away from urban centers.

The image used in this post is a good illustration. It shows how the second-growth forests covering a good portion of Connecticut often look like moth-eaten carpets from the air. Roads through such areas are typically flanked by a monotonous succession of cookie-cutter houses sitting on grounds that have been cleared of all trees, producing, in the worst case, a barren "moonscape". A frequent consequence is habitat destruction. And when the cleared land is covered by a vast lawn that needs regular watering to stay green, there can be a noticeable effect on the water table (I know of a mansion in a neighboring town that needs a second well just for watering more than one acre of grass!).