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German Taboos

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News – German Taboos
2008.01.30

Today’s Spiegel reports on the use of taboo words in German. From ‘degenerate’ to ‘selection’, words that seem harmless in other languages can be offensive if poorly translated into German. Most will know to avoid mentioning the ‘Endlösung’ (‘final solution’) to a problem, but what about making a ‘Selektion’ (‘selection’) or the English speaker tentatively requesting a ‘Lager’ (‘concentration camp’)?  This does not just affect non-native speakers. Joachim Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne, was criticised for using the word ‘entartete’ (‘degenerate’) in a speech about art. Equally, Former Vice Chancellor Franz Müntefering was reproached for describing hostile foreign investors as ‘locusts’, despite coming from the left. Even seemingly innocuous names can be problematic: Reichstag should only be used to refer to the historical building; the modern institution is the Bundestag. If you think you might be in danger of using a term with unwelcome connotations, please don’t hesitate to talk to one of our language advisers today.

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