The Duden Abides

0079 Duden 2Remember that time I wrote a post about schadenfreude? If you said yes, you already know that I have a bit of a “thing” for words. If you said no, then you obviously haven’t been keeping up with me, because I wrote about it on my last post. And although my feelings are terribly hurt by your neglect, for the sake of everyone else, I’ll do my best to soldier on and won’t cause a scene.

This week I ran across another awesome German word and, at the risk of being typecast as “that blogger with the the weird word fetish” (not to be confused with “that blogger with the weird-word fetish”), I thought I’d share my latest discovery.

I’d classify this word as being in the schadenfreude family; not a parent or a sibling, more like a cousin. A first cousin. Or even a second cousin or a cousin once removed (whatever that is … I have no idea how the cousin removal system operates), if you’re particularly close to them. So not the kind of second-cousin who lives in another state, who you only think about when you get their annual Christmas letter and have to ask your parents, “How are we related to them again?” But if you ever tell stories that begin with “This one time, me and my cousin …” that would be the type of cousin I mean.

I think of them as being in the same family because both words refer to feelings you have that are related to the actions or circumstance of someone else. Schadenfreude refers to the hand-rubbing glee you feel in reaction to another person’s misfortune, while fremdschämen is “the almost-horror you feel when you notice that somebody is oblivious to how embarrassing they truly are.”

Having spent many years as an interchangeable cog in the corporate machine, my most intense fremdschämen attacks generally occurred during all employee gatherings, like the Annual Winter Celebration That May Or May Not Include Gift-Giving But Is Definitely Not A Christmas Party. Those are generally the occasions when Human Resources gets the executive-management team to try and connect with the peons they ignore during the rest of the year by coercing them to sing or perform a cutesy little skit. If you’ve never worked in Human Resources or participated in the planning of these gatherings, you may know it as The Further Proof That Executives Are Completely Out Of Touch With Their Employees Show.

It was bad enough when they re-wrote “The 12 Days of insert winter holiday here or “The Night Before insert winter holiday here to reflect the company’s product or reminisce about what a wacky year it’s been. But I never could have imagined the intensity of the discomfort I would experience when executives started rapping. It almost defies description, but suffice to say I eventually stopped attending those events all together despite the fact that the last two companies I worked for supplied free booze!

If you’ve never experienced the horror of watching someone who appreciated Glen Miller but thought Cab Calloway was too edgy, try to rap, I invite you to watch this video and see how long you last. I made it through the first five seconds, just enough time to make sure it’s the one I was looking for, but not so much that it triggered the PSTD I developed from my years in a cube farm.

The worst part is that it doesn’t have to happen. Executives don’t have to pretend they don’t feel ridiculous and employees don’t have to try and act like they aren’t horrified. If executives want to “relate” to employees in a meaningful way, rather than their extravagant annual bonuses, they can get a $10 Starbucks gift card like everyone else and pretend they appreciate the company’s generosity.

The only issue I have with the wonderful words from Germany is that I have no idea how to properly pronounce them. Growing up in Southern California has given me confidence in the pronunciation of Mexican words, but all I know about German accents I learned from The Sound Of Music and they were Austrian.

According to the internet, fremdschämen is pronounced /ˈfʀɛmtˌʃɛːmən/, [-mən], [-mn̩]. What’s the difference between how to say a tiny capital “R” and a regular size or lower-case one? I’m also pretty clear on “e,” and have even come to accept that it, like “k”, is often silent for no good reason. But upside-down? Why? And what’s with that elongated f/s hybrid? Can’t we just invent new letters rather than re-using or combining the ones we already have? Is there a letter shortage of which I’m unaware?  And I have no idea what a regular 3 sounds like, much less a backwards one. When did the alphabet start letting in numbers anyway? Is it in response to algebra’s use of letters?

I promise that my next post will be about something other than German words. Unless I stumble across one that means “the frustration experienced when one is unable to pronounce a word from another language.” If that’s the case, you’ll have to bear with me while I wallow in the tasty, tasty irony of being frustrated that I can’t pronounce the word that refers to the frustration of being unable to pronounce it.


  1. This is delightful…I would totally read more posts on weird German words! 😀 It is wonderfully odd how specific German seems to be when it comes to describing feelings. I have not studied the language, but this is fascinating. Takes me back to my college days and the linguistics classes I took for fun. (I used to know the answers to your questions about the weird symbols of the IPA alphabet, but alas, I can’t read phonetics anymore.) And I know exactly what you mean about awkward company holiday parties…at the last one I attended, a coworker who had always been an asshole to almost everyone and whom I barely knew personally shouted across the room that I should come do shots with them; another coworker for whom I was trying to order a cab proceeded to physically run into the head of our department and feel him up in front of everyone. She called in sick the next day.



    1. Getting drunk with co-workers is one thing. Drinking with management is rarely a good idea.

      If you’re a “wordy,” you might want to take a look at Endangered Words by Simon Hertnon. Lotsa cool words, not all German though 🙂

      I made up my own German word not long ago. As of yet, it’s not being widely circulated there 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


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