Saturday, January 17, 2004

The German connection-II

DURING World War I, Germany coined the catchphrase Gott strafe England, which meant ‘May God punish England!’ Strafe comes from the German strafen, meaning to rebuke or admonish. It has come to refer to an attack made repeatedly with bombs or machine-gun fire from low-flying aircraft.

Kulturkampf, so far an under-used word, refers to a conflict between secular and religious authorities. It comes from the struggle (1871-1883) between the Roman Catholic Church and the German government under Bismarck for control over school, church appointments and civil marriage. Bismarck was forced to concede to the Church. It is made up of the Latin cultura (culture) and the German kampf (struggle).

The living space or the territory that a state or nation needs for its natural development is called lebensraum. This German word meant the additional territory deemed necessary to a nation, especially Nazi Germany, for its continued existence or economic well-being. It is made up of leben (life) and raum (pace). The connotation is clear from this extract: "Hitler was convinced that Germany needed to conquer and control vast areas of Eastern Europe in order to provide Lebensraum, or living space." Joseph H. Berke, When Little Men Become Big, History Today, April 1, 1995.

An environmental cue, such as the length of daylight or the degree of temperature that helps to regulate the cycles of an organism's biological clock is zeitgeber, made up of the German components zeit (time) and geber (giver). The defining spirit or mood of a particular period of time as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time is known as the zeitgeist of the period. It is made up of zeit and geist or spirit.

Our K.G. or kindergarten is also German in origin, the establishment where children below the age of compulsory education play and learn. In German, it literally means ‘children’s garden’. One might find a wunderkind or many wunderkinder there. A wunderkind is a child prodigy or a person of remarkable talent or ability who achieves great success or acclaim at an early age. It is made up of the German wunder, meaning wonder or prodigy, and kind, meaning child.

Glitch is from the German glitschen via the Yiddish gletshn, meaning to slip. The term is technical jargon in the electronic hardware world to describe what happens when the inputs of a circuit change. When the inputs are changed, the outputs briefly spike to some random value before settling at the correct value. If the circuit is queried during a glitch, a wildly inaccurate response may result. From there, the word acquired a more general sense, meaning any malfunction. The term gained popular currency through the US space programme where electronics was used heavily. In general print, it dates to John Glenn's 1962 book We Seven.


One cognate is the word for ‘mother’, which is very similar in all Indo-European languages. There is: mother (English), moeder (Dutch), mor (Danish), Mutter (German), mat (Russian), m`EBm`EB (Albanian), ma'dar (Farsi), mama (Slovenian), m`E1thair (Gaelic), m`E8re (French), madre (Spanish), matka (Czech) and mata (Hindi). This idea remains just a theory for those who hold that the number of cognates is too small to be of any significance and there is enough dissimilarity to disprove this hypothesis. On the other hand, the linguists who swear by this theory quote the cognates found that are too large a number to be a mere coincidence.