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Author Topic: German language question
The 7th Baron Bartok
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I did a degree in German and have done some chunky stints living there, but there's a vocab point which still puzzles me.

The dictionary tells me that the German for "congratulations!" is something like "[herzlichen] Glückwunsch!". Can that really be right? It just sounds nonsensical. It seems to mean, literally, something like "happiness wish!". Surely if someone's just achieved something that you want to congratulate them on (as in "well done mate, I'm pleased for you") it totally misses the point simply to wish them happiness?

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ursus arctos
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It's right; it is what one says (at least in Frankfurt).
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Alderman Barnes
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Yep. It's also what you say on someone's birthday.
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The 7th Baron Bartok
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thanks ua. I thought as much. Still sceptical as to whether it conveys quite the same message though.

[edit - to AB - well, I can see it's more appropriate on, say, a birthday. I mean, just reaching a birthday is - in normal circs - no great achievement. Contrast, say, where someone has passed an exam. Saying "Happiness Wish!" to them just doesn't seem to convey any concept of "well done!"]

[ 27.09.2006, 12:00: Message edited by: The 7th Baron Bartok ]

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ursus arctos
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I had the exact same reaction the first time I saw it, but my sense is that it has come to have a meaning beyond the literal, though you could read it as something like "I am so happy for you", which isn't that far off.
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G-Man
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German is full of such compound words. The economy of the German language might even explain the Wirtschaftswunder.
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macocha europy
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Never thought of it that way.
Come to think of it, at a birthday you also congratulate the person for completing another year rather than wish him luck for the future when you say "Glückwunsch", so it's basically also a "well done" here.

Hm. Must give it a think.

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Exploding Vole, The
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Surely newcomers to the English language must have trouble understanding "compound" words like butterfly.

This, which I believe is from CS Lewis, might be appropriate here:

quote:
I was beginning to think in Greek. That is the great Rubicon to cross in learning any language. Those in whom the Greek word lives only while they are hunting for it in the lexicon, and who then substitute the English word for it, are not reading the Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle. The very formula, “Naus means a ship,” is wrong. Naus and ship both mean a thing, they do not mean one another. Behind Naus, as behind navis or naca, we want to have a picture of a dark, slender mass with sail or oars, climbing the ridges, with no officious English word intruding

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The 7th Baron Bartok
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Interesting points EV, but not wholly convincing to my mind.

English approaches the compounding of nouns in a different way from German. Our language distinguish between cases where each of two nouns keeps its own original meaning, in which case one normally has a two word compound expression (such as "butter knife", "butter dish", and cases where they don't [edit] have to, because they are in a single, new word (such as buttercup, butterfly etc.)

German knows no such distinction. If you have two nouns in sequence, with the first qualifying the latter (as in the English "butter dish"), they always combine them into a single word (leading to the hilarious multiple compounds nouns cited from time to time as examples of how unwieldy German words can get). So it's not at all clear that "Glückwunsch" should be seen as in the "butterfly" rather than "butter dish" category. It is an analogous formulation to "Liebesbrief" (love letter) for instance, i.e. it carries a strong flavour of a "Wunsch" relating to "Glück".

[edit: even where the meanings of the contributing nouns are not 100% literal, as in the endearingly clumsy German word "Baumwolle" for "cotton", the components usually contribute logically to the meaning of the compound. G-wunsch being a strange exception.]

And, sticking to CS Lewis's exhortation about thinking in the relevant language, I would ask, with regard to this bizarre word, "Warum in Gottes Namen wünscht man einem Glück, der das schon geschafft hat, was er schaffen wollte?"

[ 27.09.2006, 15:27: Message edited by: The 7th Baron Bartok ]

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ursus arctos
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Genau.
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Exploding Vole, The
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I didn't mean to compare the two languages in quite that way. I wanted to suggest that to think about how German words and phrases are formed from an English-language perspective may not be helpful.

I take your point, though.

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