Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Really Filthy Words

"Wörterbuch der 'Vergangenheitsbewältigung'" by Thorsten Eitz and Georg Stötzel is a new dictionary that highlights Nazi words to avoid

...To modern German ears, "Endlösung" will forever be associated with Hitler's genocidal "Final Solution to the Jewish Question," while "Selektion" is now verbum non grata due to its use to refer to the death camp practice of "selecting" inmates to be executed.

Now a new dictionary examines just what roles such terms play in the collective German psyche. The "Wörterbuch der 'Vergangenheitsbewältigung'" ("Dictionary of 'Coming to Terms with the Past'") examines around 1,000 words and phrases -- everything from "Anschluss," used to refer to the 1938 "annexation" of Austria, to "Wehrmacht," the name of the Nazi-era armed forces -- looking at how the meaning and usage of the terms have developed since the end of World War II.

...For many, the simple power of the words and their associations made them literally unspeakable. That applied especially to victims of the Nazis. "Survivors simply couldn't bear to hear the word 'Lager,'" says Stötzel, referring to the German term for concentration or death camp.

Another reason for avoiding Nazi terms in public discourse is the fact that the speaker runs the risk of being accused of harboring Nazi sympathies...Just using the same rhetorical techniques as Joseph Goebbels, king of Third Reich propaganda, and other leading Nazis can land you in hot water. Former Vice Chancellor Franz Müntefering found this out the hard way in 2005 when he described hostile foreign investors as "locusts." Müntefering, who belongs to the left wing of the Social Democratic Party, was criticized for comparing people with animals, a trope considered deeply problematic due to the Nazi practise of portraying Jews as parasites and vermin.

...But perhaps the taint of at least some Nazi terms may fade with time. Take the word "Mädel," for example, a dialect word for "girl" which was favored by the Nazis. Its Third Reich connotations appear to be lost on young Germans today, many of whom use the word -- often ironically -- without a second thought. "Young people don't know it was used by the Nazis," says Stötzel.

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