Monday, December 2, 2013


Ben Schott is not well known on this side of the Atlantic but has gained quite a following in the UK, not large but a quality bunch, for his work initially as a photographer as well as his way with language and his ability to describe matters with a precise amount of pith.  (He described his session while photographing Tony Blair.  As they finished, Blair offered to show Schott his son, then an infant, but Cherie barked at him that they were about to have lunch.  Cherie, like Hillary – often her own worst press adversary.)

Yet Schott is best known for a series of small books – three altogether now – gathered together as Schott's Miscellanies, collections of trivia that deal with the culture of the UK and to some extent with the EU and Commonwealth.  He has since expanded into a series of almanacs.

His latest endeavor is published with the delightful title of Schottenfreude (a take on the more common and enjoyable term 'Schadenfreude'), and reflects on how the German language has the elastic capacity to enjoin meanings into words that are simply too tempting not to incorporate into other languages: e.g., Doppelgänger, Zeitgeist, Wanderlust, Götterdämmerung, Katzenjammer, Schrecklichkeit, Schwerpunkt, Sitzpinkler, Gemütlichkeit, Sprachgefühl, Weltanshauung, Weltschmerz. 

Schott's idea is to help along this remarkably conjunctive quality of the language by crafting words that we can immediately put to good use, those words that we have unconsciously sought to use but didn't have at our behest.  Some are admittedly a bit too precise for everyday usage but still enjoyable to know, while others we can put to use in short fashion. 

Some examples which caught my eye:
- Plauschplage (prattle-plague): The pressure to make bantering small talk with people you interact with every day.
- Tantalusqualerlösung (Tantalus-torment-redemption): The relief and delight of perfectly slaked thirst.
- Fingernageltafelquietschen (fingernail-blackboard-squeal): The visceral hatred of certain noises.
- Gastdruck (guest-pressure): The exhausting effort of being a good houseguest. 
- Fingerspitzentanz (fingertips-dance): Tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity.
- Traumneustartversuch (dream-restart-experiment): The (usually futile) attempt to return to the plot of the dream after having been awakened.
And my particular favorite (the word, certainly not the action), if only for the imagery enticed:
- Dornhöschenschlaf (thorny-lingerie-sleep): Feigning sleep to avoid sexual intimacy.
It promises to be quite entertaining and a welcome source of useful words in general, as well as words of limited application:
- Gaststattenneueröffnungsuntergangsgewissheit (inn-new-opening-downfall-certitude): The certainty that a newly opened restaurant will fail.

Besides the words themselves, the entertainment value of the book is found in the accompanying notes to each of the words.

In time for Christmas ...

(H/T to Never Yet Melted)


  1. Heh. Sounds like a winner. Thanks or the tip.

  2. Mercy Fieldmouse, as we used to say. Back when I spoke broken Kraut, or Germlish, mixed with Frenchlish, but even most of what I had then has disappeared along with the vanished brain cells.

    1. Though if you were placed back in that environment, you'd be surprised how much would eventually come back.


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