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.