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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Word of the Month: Der Stallgeruch

Word of the Month: Index

A Stall is a stable or a coop, a building for sheltering and feeding domestic animals, be they tall (like horses, as in Pferdestall) or small (like chickens, as in Hühnerstall). Geruch means "odor" or "smell". Stallgeruch, then, refers to the odor emanating from a Stall. But it's used today mainly in a figurative sense: When we say that someone has a certain Stallgeruch, we indicate that this person shares the background, values, or attitudes of a specific group or belongs to a certain milieu.



The term is used frequently to explain why someone was or was not hired to fill a certain position—he or she had or did not have "the proper Stallgeruch". I like the term very much because it is so evocative: I always picture a bunch of dogs subjecting a newcomer to the smell test.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Word of the Month: Die Extrawurst

Word of the Month: Index

Extra is a prefix that has in German the same meaning it has in English: It indicates a quality exceeding or a position outside some established range or norm. Wurst probably needs no explanation—boiled or grilled, it's the ur-German comfort food. For readers who have yet to hear of it: It means "sausage".

An Extrawurst, in the narrow sense, is an additional sausage, like the one a mother may put on her son's plate because "the boy is still growing". In the figurative sense, and that's how the term is mainly used, it stands for the special treatment someone is demanding or given, and when it's used in this way, there is at least a whiff of disapproval in the air.



The term pops up regularly in German media in discussions of the role Britain has played in the European Union, and it's typically said with some exasperation. The claim is that the Brits always demanded an Extrawurst in the resolution of an issue, and this may be the explanation why expressions of regret about the Brexit vote are remarkably muted in Berlin—or Brussels, where some officials seem only too eager to get the exit negotiations started.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Word of the Month: Die Gleichschaltung

Word of the Month: Index

Gleich is an adjective/adverb/prefix indicating that something is the same as or indistinguishable from something else. For example, if two people have "die gleiche Meinung", they have the same opinion. Schaltung refers to the sum of the connections between the components of an electrical, electronic, or mechanical device as depicted, for example, by the wiring diagram of an appliance. In a car, Schaltung refers to its gear mechanism.

Combining the two words we get Gleichschaltung. The term refers to the enforced uniformity of opinion and purpose in the administrative and cultural institutions of a country—the goal is to have them all "wired the same" in the end. The emphasis is on "enforced": Gleichschaltung doesn't happen by itself, but is always ordered and orchestrated from above, like when independent reporters at state-owned media are fired and replaced by conformists.



Gleichschaltung typically accompanies the beginnings of an autocratic regime or a dictatorship, starting with the media and moving on to the civil service, especially the judiciary; the police; the military; the arts; and eventually the universities, when professors critical of the regime are fired, if not put in jail, and research challenging the official propaganda is suppressed.

Getting the media under control is always an important first step because it takes away peoples' ability to receive uncensored news and to learn what's really happening in their country. We saw this taking place when Putin came to power in Russia and now in Turkey, where Gleichschaltung has already reached the universities.

Acknowledgment. I would like to thank Al Rodbell for pointing me to this term, which has lost none of its relevance [more about this in my comment].

Monday, January 23, 2017

Word of the Month: Der Dauerbrenner

War on Christmas
Word of the Month: Index

A Brenner is a burner (derived from brennen—to burn). Dauer means "duration" and refers to the time something lasts. Used as a prefix, it indicates that something lasts seemingly forever. Thus, a Dauerbrenner refers to an oven that continues to burn while consuming hardly any fuel and without human intervention. Used figuratively, the term refers to something that seems to be going on forever or to someone who has been performing for a long period of time.



Here are some examples demonstrating how broadly the term can be applied: The Lion King has been a Dauerbrenner on Broadway. Willy Nelson has been a Dauerbrenner in country music. And if you're looking for an issue that can be considered a seasonal Dauerbrenner, the so-called "War on Christmas" comes to mind (more on this in my first comment).

And here's an example from a recent issue of a popular German soccer magazine: Under the heading "Die Dauerbrenner" (note that the plural is the same as the singular), it identified the handfull of players who haven't missed a single minute of play so far in the premier German soccer league (the Bundesliga).