For the third year running, the German “Jugendwort des Jahres” (Young People’s Word of the Year) has been chosen by a jury of magazine editors, linguists and teenagers. The winning term will be included in Langenscheidt, a popular standard German language dictionary.
This year’s entries were whittled down to 30 from an initial 300 possible terms. 38,000 members of the public then voted online to reduce the number even further, with the jury having the final say – finally announcing the winning term in November.
This year’s winner was the noun Niveaulimbo (literally “limbo of standards”, a word invented to complain about the ever worsening quality of TV programmes, the atmosphere at a party that thins out before midnight, or a conversation that goes downhill fast when alcohol is involved). The noun Arschfax (literally “arse fax” – when somebody’s underwear label is sticking out from the back of their trousers) was awarded second place, while the verb egosurfen (to Google your own name) claimed third. Another entry among the top 30 was Schnitzelhusten (literally “schnitzel cough”), a humorous take on the official term Schweinegrippe, German for swine flu.
Winning words from previous years include the noun Bildschirmbräune (literally “screen tan”, used to describe the pale appearance of computer nerds) which took second place in 2008. Hartzen (to be unemployed/hang around idly, inspired by the benefit initiative for jobseekers called Hartz IV) which won first place in 2009. And Bankster (combination of banker and gangster, a credit crunch-related term) which was given second place in 2009.
To me, the results of this year’s “Jugendwort des Jahres” competition have made two things very clear: firstly, that German is still one of the most flexible languages around. Its functional and modular nature means different words can be taken and stuck together to form new expressions with a totally new meaning. And secondly, that English is influencing the German language more and more. In fact, 10 of the last 30 terms in the competition were of English origin, to some degree or other. Surfen, for example is the German word for “to surf”, and just carries the standard German verb ending -en, its pronunciation emulating the English. Others include haten (to nag or badmouth sth), flamen (to annoy), copypasten (to copy and paste/to plagiarise), and resetten (to reset).
The strong influence of technology on modern life is also reflected in many German words used today: a Konsolero, for example, is an excessive user of the various video consoles on the market; and n1 or nice one is one of plenty expressions taken from English and used by Germans in text messages and online on a regular basis.
Critics and many young people themselves say that the words are less frequently used than the jury would like to believe, and that many have an unfamiliar ring.
Be that as it may, what this proves is that German is certainly not standing still. Its flexible and modular nature, and its ability to adapt to cultural phenomena and to take up terminology from other languages, are proof that it’s a constantly evolving and beautifully diverse language.
For the top five words from the “Jugendwort des Jahres”, click here.
Christian from London, UKTweet