Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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618 words

You don’t need to be a pensioner to note that strange things are happening to the German language. It’s full of foreign, that is English, words these day. That isn’t a problem per se as loads of words have been adopted/borrowed/nicked from other languages over the centuries without doing harm. These days, however, many of the words taken from English are used for no good reason and in a mindless way.

It appears that it’s more important for the expressions to sound English than rather being English that native speakers would actually use. (What’s a Handy? What’s a Service Point?) And it’s also a fact that many of these words aren’t adopted because there is a need for them as German lacks a word of the same meaning. They are just added to the language, replacing the perfectly good German words with the same meaning.

All of that frequently happens in a rather mindless way. With people not actually thinking about what they say. And it happens mainly courtesy of nonsense outlets such as advertisements, business people or consultants. Which raises the suspicion that English is merely used to obfuscate the triviality of their statements. That it serves as a way of making things sound more interesting by using foreign words which the listener possibly doesn’t even understand. But, if caught on the wrong foot, will just keep on using himself without further thoughts, thus moving the whole mindless terminology on.

It was refreshing to find a couple of good articles on the issue in this week’s issue of Die Zeit: Die verkaufte Sprache, Anglais oblige? and An die Wand geworfen (including Perikles PowerPoint).

Touching the same point slightly and from a different direction are these Book recommendations at Presentation Zen. While I haven’t read the books, a summary of the third one ‘Made to Stick’ [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de] is given. It touches the tricky topic of – well – making whatever you tell people ‘stick’. And in the course of that it highlights once more that the problems people see with English being used in German isn’t the fact that English is being used but more with the kind of English that is used: Language which seems to be made to obfuscate statements once more and which isn’t helpful in English either. Which violates the tackily labelled ‘SUCCES’ principle the authors of the book came up with.

Where SUCCES isn’t a mis-spelled word but an acronym for simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, story. These words (‘story’ doesn’t quite fit in as a noun, it seems) are supposed to make your presentation ‘stick’. And most of them sound like they will help. The problem – which authors on these topics normally conveniently ignore – of course being what you’ll do if the topic you are presenting just don’t fit into that scheme. Should you just make things up then?

I also think that the points have very different weights. While the emotional and credible points look like they might almost be the same, the simple and concrete points look like extremely strong and important ones. The only one I am tempted to disagree with is ‘unexpected’. The PR machineries just have conquered that area too much already. You literally cannot read a newspaper, web page or press release these days without stumbling over something presumably unexpected. It seems they figured out that it catches the attention. Meaning that instead of simple straightforward statements we get rhetorical questions, sentences unnecessarily split by dashes or contradictions. With most of them not being real but just looking like surprises or contradictions. My point would be that if you don’t have surprise, then don’t pretend that you do. It’s called honesty.

July 29, 2007, 14:18


Comment by sweavo: User icon

Nice post. (I got here through presentationzen) I can cite a single example of the reverse happening. Here in England the slogan of the Audi car company is “Vorsprung Durch Technik” and it has been for decades. Pretty much nobody knows or asks what it means, but we all just know that German engineering means good engineering, so the very presence of German words tells us the car must be good.


August 2, 2007, 0:49

Comment by ssp: User icon

I wouldn’t take advertising too seriously, perhaps. At least it doesn’t seem to signify a problem for the English language.

Particularly as Audi have been using that slogan for many years (I still remember ads with it from the 1980s and it seems that the slogan has been around since the early 1970s. So in a way it’s probably more ‘authentic’ for the company than many other things would be and they didn’t just come up with the slogan to fool the British.

August 2, 2007, 1:41

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