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In an essay describing the loathing that Ted Cruz’s face seems to inspire, the neurologist Richard Cytowic resorts to the German colloquial expression Backpfeifengesicht.

It’s a combination of two nouns: Backpfeife (a slap across the cheek) and Gesicht (face). Together they indicate “a face that invites a slap.” (Cytowic calls it “a face in need of a good punch” – close enough.)

With the efficiency of one word, a common sentiment is beautifully expressed. And in German, these words abound – from Ohrwurm (“ear-worm”) to Wunderkind (“wonder child,” “prodigy”).

So what is it about the German language that allows for such constructions? 

 Perhaps Backpfeifengesicht will join the many other German words that have found a place in English, nouns like Weltschmerz (world-weariness), Zeitgeist (spirit of the time), Blitzkrieg (lightning war) or Gedankenexperiment (thought experiment).

These four examples, however, lend themselves more easily to English translation than Backpfeifengesicht does. …

 Both German and English can create compound words out of most parts of speech, not just nouns, and English sometimes hyphenates them (“full-time,” “snow-white”) or even writes them as one word (“website”). The only important structural difference between the German and the English in these compounds is whether there is a written space between the two nouns; their similar semantic relationships are obvious. Gedankenexperiment and “thought experiment” are clearly equivalent. In fact, retaining the original German adds little except to remind us that it was Einstein who first coined the term.

The same holds true even for the lengthier noun chains, like Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, which aren’t too different from their English counterparts: Danube Steamship Navigation Company Captain. …

 Then there’s my own personal favorite, Verschlimmbesserung. This construction doesn’t just present contrasting concepts. It also employs a playful use of German’s grammatical structures to tie them together. The word begins with two verbs – verschlimmern (“to worsen”) and verbessern (“to improve”). It then conflates their prefixes (ver-), and adds the suffix (-ung) to turn it into a noun. This process compresses an idea that only a wordy English translation can unpack: “an intended improvement that makes things worse.” 

(Via my IRL pal Keef und Why the German language has so many great words)

Oh, and/i/und @Ambisyllabicity @donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaft

…finally, a word that describes every change my admin has ever made without getting employee input first: Verschlimmbesserung.

Also, I am totally down with using Backpfeifengesicht to describe Cruz’s face.



After dipping my toes into the academic life, I found that's not for me, so I went on a foray into the juicy world of smutty fanfic, where I found my true calling: making other people feel through my words. Preferably horny.

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