Shitstorm Hit in Germany

by Translation Guy on February 27, 2012

The jury for the Anglicism of the Year contest, started by University of Hamburg linguist Anatol Stefanowitsch to acknowledge English’s contribution to German, has chosen “shitstorm” as the “Anglicism of the Year for 2011

“Shitstorm fills a gap in the German vocabulary that has become apparent through changes in the culture of public debate.”

Meaning that between footing Greek bills and giving the boot to a former German defense minister in a plagiarism scandal, the Germans had run out of German words to describe “an unexpected, persistent wave of indignation over the behavior of public figures or institutions, transported via social networks and blogs,” as the jury put it.

I thought it was odd that the Germans didn’t have enough potty words to describe this increasingly common phenomena, or at least make do with whatever words are on hand. Noted financial journalist  Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair came back from Germany a few months ago, with the news that,  “the German word for ‘shit’ performs a vast number of bizarre linguistic duties.” He claims a German obsession, consulting in turn the distinguished German folklorist Alan Dundes, who writes “one finds an inordinate number of texts concerned with anality. Scheisse (shit), Dreck (dirt), Mist (manure), Arsch (ass).… Folksongs, folktales, proverbs, riddles, folk speech—all attest to the Germans’ longstanding special interest in this area of human activity.”

With all that earthy folklore to dig through, why the English shitstorm?  For all things  German, my go-to guy is noted linguist Jost Zetzsche, (author of the free Translator’s Toolkit, an ultra-useful weekly resource for  translators, BTW).

Jost writes back, “You can make fun of that all you want. I’m proud of my environmentally minded folks back home. We don’t have fans that are hit by sh**. We break wind naturally”

Green. Natürlich! These are the kind of cultural insights you can only get from a native Hamburger (The city, not the sandwich). Tip o’ the hat, Jost.

So the answer is, I guess, more is better.  We English-speakers are just helping the German people to express their innermost feelings and enrich their cultural experience, and that’s a good thing.

Kate Shwartz calls shitstorm the English-speaking Peoples’ “No. 1 Gift to the German Language in 2011. “Germans are better off because of America’s potty mouth,” she writes.

So maybe German does have more poop words than other languages. And maybe it needs still more. But I find it difficult to believe that the Germans are worse than the rest of us. Wherever I have been in the world, in whatever languag, spoken,  whether young or old,   I have seen the same boundless  fascination with bathroom affairs. But maybe that’s just me.


  1. Janos Hrubin says:

    Doesn’t surprise me. Nothing they do does. I was there with my new wife (in Berlin) sitting by a lake and a group of locals cam and sat down a few yards away. They sat a few minute and then they stood up, stripped down, and when swimming in the lake. No clothes. After that, nothing surprises me there.

  2. My first trip to Germany gave me my best memory… ausfart. When driving on the highway I would see this sign at every exit and chuckle. Same area as sh**, no?

  3. The Saint says:

    Ken, if you keep using words like this in your blog you will need to put a parental rating on it.

    • Ken says:

      Maybe one of those “you must be 18 to view this page?” Sounds like a great way to boost readership!

  4. Gaurav Kumar says:

    Does Kate Shwartz really think English speaking people have a potty mouth? Maybe a few areas, but I know where I live (Canada) I don’t hear much of that kind of language. Maybe I’m too old?

    • Ken says:

      Maybe you’re just travelling with the wrong crowd.

  5. Good for them! Too many uptight people in the world and this is a good word that really doesn’t have a “potty” meaning.

  6. Why didn’t they just use their own words for shit and storm and compound them? You would think there would be a translation, or would it be too literal?

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