• January 31, 2023

Pandemic Inspires More Than 1,200 New German Words : NPR

A woman walks past a closed flower shop in Berlin on Thursday. A research group identified more than 1,200 new words in German that were inspired by the pandemic. Tobias Schwarz / AFP via Getty Images Hide the caption

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Tobias Schwarz / AFP via Getty Images

A woman walks past a closed flower shop in Berlin on Thursday. A research group identified more than 1,200 new words in German that were inspired by the pandemic.

Tobias Schwarz / AFP via Getty Images

The pandemic has changed the way people speak and write. In English, dictionaries have added a few dozen new entries and revisions: social distancing, Frontliner, Super spreader, “Zoom” as a verb.

But in Germany, lexicographers at the Leibniz Institute have compiled the German language more than 1,200 new words in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Germans’ propensity to put words together was a big part of the spread.

For example, the coronamutation area is an area where coronavirus mutations are widespread. A ghost event is an event that doesn’t involve people, usually sports. Live music is allowed at a car concert, provided the audience stays in their cars.

New nouns in German are often formed by combining two or three nouns, says Anatol Stefanowitsch, professor of linguistics at the Free University of Berlin.

Oxford's defining words of 2020:

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re finding so many new words,” he says Scott Simon in the Weekend Edition. “It’s just so easy to coin. Many of these words disappear after they are used once. But some of them remain.”

There are different variations of the “face mask”.

Mouthguard fashion includes “mouth for mouth, protection for protection and fashion as a term for fashion. A literal translation would be mouthguard fashion,” says Stefanowitsch.

But the Germans have also spoken of a face condom – a “face condom” which, as he notes, creates a “novel image” in your head. Makeshift mouth protection would be an “improvised mouth protection”.

Muzzle or snout is not on the list of new words. But people who speak out against mask requirements are using the word snout in a new way: “To portray compliance with reasonable public health measures as an act of submission to an authoritarian government,” says Stefanowitsch. “From their point of view, that was a stroke of genius.”

Only a small fraction of the new pandemic words are likely to make it into the dictionary. He believes that those who are most accurate have more sustainable potential.

“Contact restrictions, contact restrictions and going out restrictions, outbound restrictions, that’s interesting,” he says.

“One of the things that the pandemic really showed us is that people have tried to differentiate linguistically, not to use too strong a word for a measure, but also not to make it sound too harmless. And so I think that these words are interesting because they show the function of language and the potential of language to create smaller and smaller differences in meanings in an attempt to get things just right. “

According to one of the researchers at the Leibniz Institute, all of this new language also has a deeper emotional aspect.

“When new things happen in the world [we] looking for a name, “said Christine Möhrs said the guard. “Things that have no name can make people feel fear and insecurity. However, if we can talk about things and be able to name them, we can communicate with each other. This is especially important in times of crisis.”

Peter Breslow and Kitty Eisele produced and edited the audio version of this story.

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