Schott, Ben, Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition

Reviewed by George F. Simons at diversophy.com   Amazon review 

Recently I did a review of Liesl Schillinger’s Wordbirds: An Irreverent Lexicon for the 21st Century, an attempt to name things for which there should be a word but there isn't. I noted that the book was tongue-in-cheek, but it raised a point about the importance of word creation in the development of culture and its relationship to language. Now, for the passionate polyglot there is a similar work for fehlende Wortschatz in German. Even the title of the book is a play on words, replacing the “damages” in Schadenfreude (taking delight in others’ misfortunes) with perhaps similar delight in potential damages done to the German language by this text.

My high school German prof, besides requiring that we learn and use the already abandoned Gothic penmanship, always insisted that German was the “sectional bookcase of languages,” namely that one could put together words pretty much ad libitum to come up with new words or at least words more amply descriptive of subject one was discussing. He gave this tongue-twisting example: a single word to amply denominate a “Danube steamship cruise company captain's assistant,” namely a Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsassistent. Such conjunctivity is certainly the case in Schott’s book. Though his newly-minted nouna are not yet to be found in Duden, their suggested meanings can, I suspect, be more evident to the German ear than the similar English constructions in Wordbirds. There is of course tongue-in-cheek fun-poking here as well, and perhaps cause for a bit of Schadenfreude on the part of the non-German reader whose sauerkraut, lederhosen and herr professor stereotypes are tickled.

Shott’s book differs from Schillinger's in a number of ways. First, no illustrations, no birds. The words are presented three to a page, each with a pronunciation guide, the author’s definition of the word, and a translation of the exact German words that were shoved together to create the neologism. Here are a few examples that resonate to my own human condition:
1. Kissenkühlelabsel, (pillow chill-refreshment): “The ineffable pleasure, and instant relief of the cool pillow.”
2. Traumneustartversuch, (dream – restart – experiment): “The (usually futile) attempt to return to the plot of the dream after having been woken.”
3. Marksismus, (deutsch Marks-ism [not Marxism]). “The distorting influence of wealth. (Still valid despite the €uro).

Finally, the book is in another respect much richer as the facing page produces a column of related text for each word created, sometimes historical, sometimes poetic, sometimes just a literary comment, with, of course, footnotes as to the source. How could this presume to be a German scientific work without the latter! This alongside commentary, both confirms the experience described in the newly created word and is sometimes more delightful than the concocted term itself.

A good read if you are convinced that language and culture should be fun as well as serious social constructions leading to our needing to manage political, economic, colonial and military intervention.


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