So, people always complain about Denglisch, of course they do. Part of it is, just, like, this desire for empty words, it’s so hard to know what to say to strangers and if you slag off Greek people/the royal family/your mum/God, you might end up accidentally saying something you actually mean and making an enemy for life or revealing too much about your inner soul. But if you slag off Denglisch/gentrification/women who live in Prenzlauer Berg and have children/the weather/Paris Hilton, well, you’re on safer ground. It’s basically just small talk.
But there’s other reasons why people slag off Denglisch. It’s language change and language change always reminds people about how we’re going to die soon. My little brother is 23, he was born 11 years after me, and a few years ago I said the word ’narky‘ to me and HE LITERALLY DIDN’T KNOW WHAT I MEANT. Plus, he pronounces the L in almond. Imagine that! I was born in 1980, I still pronounce forehead like forrid sometimes, though not often. That’s how old I am. I told him at Christmas that you’re not meant to pronounce the L in almond, he just thought I was crazy/weird/wrong and that the L in almond was like the L in milk or bell, you don’t say it if you’re talking fast or with your family but if you’re trying to talk properly or at a job interview you say it nice and loud and nice and slow. Of course that is petrifying. The fact that my little brother thinks you’re meant to pronounce the L in almond is a breathtaking, wonderful but petrifying fact. WE ARE GOING TO DIE SOON AND SOON THERE’LL BE NOBODY LEFT WHO’LL REMEMBER THAT FOREHEAD USED TO RHYME WITH HORRID OR THAT THE L IN ALMOND WAS SILENT. I think people think if you just force the kids to speak like you, you can ward off death.
Another reason people hate Denglisch is kind of sympathisch: these totally vague anti-capitalist feelings. German is the language of Goethe and Schiller and Lessing and other olden-days people we haven’t actually read and Denglisch is the language of capitalism and not just any kind of capitalism but boring capitalism, facility management and Business-Know-How-Tips and Small Talk and To-Do-Listen. Of course we would all rather be Goethe wandering around a meadow with his Dienstmädchen than some facility manager with a To-Do list of things he has to facliitate/optimieren, although we’d rather not actually read any Goethe, thanks. It’s just human nature.
AND ONE LAST THING I think people hate, I hate it too, is that resilient, parasitic quality of Denglisch. It’s just so catchy sometimes, the words literally drown the original German words out. I thought it was just me, because I’m English, but last time I was at Tropical Islands, I was staring at all the lifeguards with their shirts on emblazoned with the word LIFEGUARD on and I couldn’t remember what the German word was. I asked my son and he said it was lifeguard but I knew it wasn’t. Then I started asking randoms in the jacuzzi and it took years before someone finally remembered: Bademeister. It’s the same with the word gate at the airport. I swear when I first lived in Germany those things weren’t called gates yet but fuck me if I can remember what they were called. Tor? No, not Tor. But I think they weren’t gates, I think they became gates two years later.
„What did you use to say for auschecken when you were in a hotel in the GDR?“ I ask people sometimes. Total blankness on their faces, slight confusion. „We used to say auschecken!“ They sometimes say. „You couldn’t have done!“
„No,“ they say, shrugging. „We couldn’t have done.“ Short silence. „Maybe we said abmelden?“
Of course we hate Denglisch, it’s like a resilient little weed, we hate weeds.
So those are, I think, the reasons why we hate Denglisch. I think the line everyone always comes out with about hating it because it’s an impoverishment is basically a lie though. There’s a lot of Denglisch words that are kinda useful. Happy, for example. Happy is a useful word in German, it’s such a superficial emotion, a fleeting feeling, there’s a bit of relief in there, I think. Also because of happy it’s easier to explain to German people the difference between lucky and happy. Swimming pool is a good word. You have a swimming pool in your garden if you live in Zehlendorf/anywhere in West Germany/America, the rest of us plebs just go to the Schwimmbad. This is a good distinction to be able to make, and although my mum does sometimes talk about going to „the baths“ I don’t really think it’s one that British people my age can make anymore. Top versus Oberteil. Top is the fun, slutty thing, Oberteil is just the old skool granny does what it says on the tin item of clothing. And even when you think that the Denglisch is unnecessary – Rechner and Computer, frexample – it’s not an impoverishment, it means German has two words where English has one.
My favourite Denglisch is Einkaufen/Shoppen. Nobody can say that this distinction isn’t an important one. Shoppen is a hobby – no, maybe more than a hobby. Maybe a religion. Teenage girls do it, and rich women. They do it in shopping centres with shiny floors. The floors of the shopping centres glow and shine and then people shoppen and shoppen and their eyes glow and shine as well. They glow and shine with delight because they’re doing something beautiful – they’re buying eyeliner and necklaces and tops and face masks and bags and handbags and shoes. Einkaufen is a chore. Nobody’s eyes shine while doing it. Housewives do it, Turkish and Arabic and also German housewives, they shuffle unglamorously through supermarkets, trudging their way through the aisles, playing unglamorous item after unglamorous item into their unglamorous trolleys: eggs, butter, milk, cheese. Bread. Meat. Vegetables. Maybe a bit of oil. When you go Einkaufen, you buy things you could’ve bought years ago. During the war. Or even longer. In the Bible. There’s no joy to be had here. You’re just Einkaufing. You need to do it to survive.
So: instead of complaining about Denglisch so much, why don’t we look for more positive solutions? Denglisch obviously isn’t an impoverishment but an enrichment, so instead of whingeing and whining and yammering and yowling let’s put our money where our mouths are and spread these riches around. Let’s introduce the word einkaufing to the English language. We’ll keep shopping, but we’ll start using it like the Germans do – for a celebration of capitalism, a frenzied attempt at finding joy/nice eyeliner in a relentlessly depressing life. But housewives, when they shuffle through Lidl or Aldi will be doing their einkaufing.
What do you think? All we need to do is use the word once a day to a native English speaker who doesn’t live in Berlin. When they ask us what it means, we need to act shocked that they don’t understand us, explain, and then say that’s what the kids say now, actually. I think it would take us, like, seven years to get it in the dictionary? And that, my friends, is the Einkaufing Challenge.