Not a machine-gun repair part

Nancy Friedman describes a knack one really must have to work with English, the word for which is in German: Sprachgefühl. It’s like this:

It means, literally, “a feeling for language” — sprach is related to English “speech,” and fühl to “feel” — and like some other mouth-filling German words (weltanschauung, gemütlichkeit, schadenfreude) seems both slightly untranslatable and immediately, intuitively understandable. With sprachgefühl, you’ve either got it or you don’t.

You probably remember sprach from Richard Strauss.

She quotes Merriam-Webster’s superstar lexicographer (I do love the idea of a “superstar lexicographer,” so please let this be) Kory Stamper:

Sprachgefühl is a slippery eel, the odd buzzing in your brain that tells you that “planting the lettuce” and “planting misinformation” are different uses of “plant,” the eye twitch that tells you that “plans to demo the store” refers not to a friendly instructional stroll on how to shop but to a little exuberance with a sledgehammer.

I have, I think, a smidgen of this characteristic, though likely not enough to make it possible to earn my living with the pen, or for that matter to avoid ending up in the pen.


  1. fillyjonk »

    8 April 2017 · 3:52 pm

    People ask me why I am trying to learn German.

    Words like these are why I am trying to learn German.

    (Well, also because I think keeping my brain busy will probably keep it healthy, but also because of all the great compound nouns)

  2. McG »

    8 April 2017 · 9:58 pm

    Sledgehammer!? I prefer Jamie Hyneman’s rule of thumb: “When in doubt, C-4.”

  3. jsallison »

    10 April 2017 · 7:39 pm

    Learned in high school, quite useful on several tours in west germany. Haven’t had much use for it since, though I can sometimes catch our small clatch of Alte Deutsche Hausfrauen at church by surprise. I call them der Lawton kirkefrauenbund. Usually gets a chuckle out of them. Tried teaching myself arabic in later years. There’s a reason you should start young. Doable, but not easy. ;)

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