Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When is a word not a word?

When it's an 'unwort' of course. Duuuuh.

Every year, around this time, Germany publishes its "Wort des Jahres" (word of the year*) I've blogged about it before and will possibly do so again, when they tell us what the word is. Yesterday I googled "wort des jahres" (using google.de clearly as google.co.uk would probably get a little confused) and stumbled across "Unwort des Jahres". My interest was piqued so I googled further.

It turns out that the same society that organises voting for the (probably slightly more prestigious) "Wort des Jahres" is also responsible for organising the voting for "Unwort des Jahres" (this must surely be the wooden spoon prize in dictionary admission applications) because surely if "Wort des Jahres" translates to "word of the year" then unwort must be unword**.

The idea of there being a "word of the year" that people actually vote for (oh, yes, things like this are taken very seriously here, of course) boggles me but that there should also be an unword of the year...double boggled.

I wondered, would the unword be a word that had fallen out of favour and risked deletion from the next year's dictionaries, or was it a piece of gobble-de-gook nonsense?

Neither it would seem. Where word of the year is a word, possibly new to the German language (such as vuvuzela last year) that has been popular in the year, and quite possibly over-used in the press and on TV, the winner last year was a new word "wutbürger" whose birth was apparently caused by the angry feelings (wut) of the common man (the bürger) due to politicians making decisions above their heads. The unword of the year is a word that is considered to have an "inhumane" or inadequate formulation - so a word that is ugly or clunky I guess, previous winners have been 2010 "alternativlos" (= alternativeless) 2009 "betriebsratverseucht" (= contaminated work council) and in 2008 "notleidende Banken" (= defaulting banks)

The unword of the year isn't settled until the end of the year, naturally, so you have until December 31 to get your entries in, you (yes, you) can email them into: vorschlaege(at)unwortdesjahres.net) then in January we can find out what won, the suspense and excitement are almost too much too bear!

* personally I think this is their cunning plan to try to catch up on the number of words in the German language, no-one likes being beaten by the English (least of all the Germans) and as English has around 600,000 words and German a mere 185,000, we're winning by a long way.Link** which I personally don't believe to be a word, at least not in English, which is where it counts.

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