Sunday, June 14, 2009

Daisy chain? Yes, no, si!

Fellow translator Margaret Marks just published a post in which she expresses her skepticism about the notion that English somehow lacks certain terms that it could borrow from German. Specifically, she cites another blogger as follows:

... what about all the other fun German words? The ones daisy-chaining multiple Nouns to build fun words like Fussballgott?
I completely agree that we do not need to borrow too much from anywhere, nor does any other language. A professor from Germany who had been in the US for decades once told me that only the Germans could come up with a feeling like Schadenfreude, but he had obviously never listened to country music.

In general, Americans seem overly impressed by the way Germans create long words out of short ones, but this is a mere orthographical quirk -- you could just as easily write them as separate words, as we often do in English: "job market reforms" is simply a kind of compound noun that Germans would express in one word (Arbeitsmarktreformen).

I just received a visit from an old college friend and his family from the US, and they expressed their fascination at all these long German words until I pointed out that we now do the same thing in English in URLs. Thus, "" is perfectly acceptable English orthography, while Germans constantly ask me whether there is a dash or period in there somewhere. In a sudden role reversal, the English-speaking world has begun daisychaining words in URLs, whereas the Germans do in domains names what they do in street names and put punctuation in between words. To take just one example, a major publication in English has the URL, but the German foreign office has the URL

There is, however, one word that we need in English, though we do not have to take it from German -- we could also take it from Spanish or French. If someone asks a question in the negative such as, "Didn't you see them?" We have no way of making an unambiguous single-word reply. The German "doch" and French/Spanish/etc. "si" would be a wonderful addition to English. I don't even care which one is taken; we could even create our own. "Di" would be fine with me ;-)


  1. Hi Craig, Good point! I hadn't really realized it, but my domain name has a hyphen. I wish I hadn't used a hyphen now, but it's too late (14 years) to change it. I was living in Germany at the time when I applied for it. I never put two and two together.

  2. Hey, is not taken, so you could always have both and redirect!