Posts tagged ‘loan word’

February 16, 2011


I first encountered the word acme in Far Side cartoons where it invariably showed up as the brand name of a wide variety of fictional products and some especially inept enterprises.  So somehow I always believed acme was used for just – fictional brandnames.

An Acme Corp product at it's finest, pic:

And that is partially true, as acme – derived from the Greek acmē – made its appearances in the English language in the 1920 as the name of fictional products and companies in cartoons such as Road Runner.  Products supplied by Acme Corporation had a tendency to fail catastrophically at the worst possible time.

In real life acme means:  the highest level or degree attainable or the highest stage of development.  As such it makes sense to choose this as a brand name for your bakery or plumbing business.

Although one can think up example sentences using the word such as “His fame was at its acme” or “The acme of their soccer season was when they beat team xyz 3 :1″   nobody – in all my years in the US  – has actually ever ued that word in a complete sentence.

February 8, 2011

Yiddish words

Yiddish is a language that is used by Ashkenazi Jews that is related to German (it  also has Slavic, Hebrew, and Aramaic loan words). .  There is a good number of words that have made their way into everyday language.   Not surprisingly, many of them sound familiar to me from German and other I find onomatopoeic and keenly describing a thing or concept.

Here are a few examples and explanations:

Apparently animals can be klutzy, too. Pic:

Chutzpah – nerve, brazenness, arrogance; in English it has a connotation of courage and confidence – actually somewhat too much of it.  A real good description I found is the following: that quality of a man who, having murdered his parents pleads with the court to show him mercy because he is an orphan.

Klutz – definitely of German origin, a Klotz is a largish piece of wood – klutz refers to clumsy, awkward people who constantly knock things down, stumble over stuff, run into corners, walls, tables, etc.  The adjective is klutzy.  “Joey fell of the play structure again – is a really klutzy little guy.”

Kvetch- this is an interesting one, I had to read it out loud a few times before I got it.  Quetschen in German means to squeeze or pinch and kvetch in Yiddish originally means the same but it is used to mean complain, whine, fret, grip.  “Stop sitting around kvetching all day – do something useful!”

February 3, 2011

Another German loan word

Here is one of my favorite German loan words: “zeitgeist”.  It is in so many ways a typical German word starting with the fact that it is a composite noun to it’s somewhat abstract, philosophical meaning.

Zeitgeist of the 60s, pic:

Zeitgeist means “the spirit of the times” or “the spirit of the age”.  Wiki adds: “Zeitgeist is the general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual, and/or political climate within a nation or even specific groups, along with the general ambiance, morals, sociocultural direction, and mood associated with an era.

Now, that’s a mouthful so here are some examples where the word is used in a sentence – not sure it makes the meaning any clearer, though.

“The zeitgeist of the Victorian era  is generally  seen as being prudish and increasingly industrial.”

“The zeitgeist of the 60s was one of protest.

In English the adjective “zeitgeisty” is also used.  Funnily enough, there is no German equivalent for zeitgeisty – this is a recent English addition.

January 24, 2011

German words

There are a few German words that have been adopted in the English language and have become “loan words”.  I’ll write about the most interesting ones of them in a few blog posts going forward.

perfect scenario for schadenfreude:

Let’s start with Schadenfreude.  Schadefreude is when somebody takes pleasure in somebody else’s misfortune.  The word derives from Schaden which means adversity, harm, and a bunch of other unpleasant negative things.   Freude means joy, delight, elation.

Some sources define Schadenfreude as “malicious joy” but that is overreaching somewhat.  There certainly can be malicious aspects to Schadenfreude, where it borders on the pathological but more often Schadenfreude is what one experiences when watching an episode of Tom and Jerry or some other comic where one character or another gets whacked over the head, somebody spilling a glass of coke on their white pants, or falling into the pool in an evening dress.

Though few languages other than German seem to have a specific word for Schadenfreude the concept seems rather universal, that’s why the word has become used in other languages as well.