Have you borrowed a word lately?


A recent Globe and Mail article on the tribulations of Toronto’s mayor touched on the glee some people are demonstrating. Federal Industry Minister James Moor commenting on this, said, “Schadenfreude can be so incredibly ugly.”
Schadenfreude (1922), a feminine German noun, means, “Malicious joy at another’s misfortune.” It is one of the thousands of German loanwords in English.
Loanword (1856) is itself lifted directly from German, the original term being Lehnwort. It means, “A word taken into one language from another.”
Loanwords can be sub-divided into two separate groups — Gastwort and Fremdwort. A Gastwort (guest-word) is unchanged from its original language. That is, it has kept its spelling, pronunciation and meaning. A Fremdwort is a loanword that has been adapted with spelling or pronunciation change.
Lehnworts have been so thoroughly integrated they’re indistinguishable from other vocabulary. We’ve been borrowing from German for hundreds of years. So, in the English lexicon, we have such words as trauma, lager, sauerkraut, flak, blitz, waltz, kindergarten, and leitmotif (leitmotiv), to name but a few.
Trauma has been in English since 1698, but blitz and flak are relative newcomers, arriving only in 1940.
Flak is a good example of a Fremdwort. It is an abbreviation of the long German word, Fliegerabwehrkanone, which means, “pilot-defence-guns” (anti-aircraft artillery).
Flak, still spelled the same way as when we first used it, has taken on a couple of slang meanings, as well. It can mean a “press-agent” or “public relations person,” and it can mean “negative criticism,” or “interference.” All these slang usages originated in the U.S. in the 1940s, very soon after Flak began to be used in its war-connected sense.
Kindergarten is a Gastwort. There is no spelling, pronunciation or meaning difference in German or English. It is true that German nouns always begin with capital letters and that Kindergarten, in English, often does not get capitalized but, since 1852 when we borrowed this word, it has remained the same.
Both Kindergarten and flak are Lehnworts, as well as members of their sub-groups.
Alpenglow, the lovely word meaning the rosy glow that lingers on snow-clad mountains as the sun sets, has been partly translated. Alpen (Alps) and glühen (to glow) make up the German word Alpenglühen. Hybrid words of this kind are still viewed as loanwords.
Gesundheit is another example of a word taken unchanged into English. But once it was in English, its meaning altered. When a friend sneezes and you say, “Gesundheit!” you probably don’t know what you are actually saying.
The English response to a sneeze is, “Bless you,” or, “God bless you.” Gesundheit doesn’t mean that. It means, “Health!” However, the implication is much the same, and most of us think we are blessing the sneezer when we say it.
Loanword has three different but correct spellings — loanword, loan-word, and loan word. The term, however it’s spelled, is really a misnomer. A loan is something borrowed, and borrowings are not gifts. We’re supposed to return things we borrow. Loanwords are never returned. Rather, they are absorbed into our language as if they’d been born there.
Auf Wiedersehen!