Word of the Day – “der Ärger”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time, we’ll have a look at the meaning of

der Ärger

And many of you know Ärger very well, because Ärger is what you’re likely to experience when sit down and study German words and genders. I’m talking of course about … an orgasm.
Nah, of course it’s not an orgasm. And if you’re now secretly thinking “God, these dumb jokes are really getting on my nerves.” and you then, despite knowing deep inside that you shouldn’t, click on this link here, well, then you’re on your way to experience actual Ärger.
Because Ärger is about anger.

Let’s start with some examples right away…

The two don’t line up completely though. I feel like Ärger is overall a bit “weaker” than anger. Something between real anger and a stinky mood. For strong anger, you’d use the word die Wut. And that’s not the only difference between Ärger and anger. Because whilst angeris pretty much limited to the sentiment, Ärger is used more broadly.

Here, Ärger kind of refers to the cause of a stinky mood; some trouble. And in the next couple of examples, the focus is on someone releasing their anger onto a person, as in scolding them. And again, trouble is a good translation.

Note if troubleis completely focused on the notion of problem, then Ärgeris not the right word. There needs to be a notion of being pissed or angry involved. That’s the core of Ärger and as we’ve seen, it pretty much covers full life cycle – the cause of being angry, the sentiment itself and the release of anger onto someone.

Cool, now let’s take a look at the related words and first at the adjective ärgerlich. And it would make uber sense if that meant angry. Well, you know what that means… it’s likely not the case.
The better match for ärgerlichis annoyed, pissed. One reason is that ärgerlich is (like the noun) weaker than angry. Angry would be wütend.
Like… if your flatmate were to tell you that they’re angry about you never doing the dishes, well, then you should probably change habits till the smoke has cleared. If they say they’re ärgerlichabout it… well.. you there’s still some headroom :). Hey, by the way… do you wanna venture a guess what the German word for headroom is. Hint: compound.
If your answer is Kopfraum, then you’re wrong. Kopfraum… pfff… seriously.
The proper word is of course Aussteuerungsreserve. Of course. I mean … duhhhhhhh. A two year old would have guessed that**.
(**disclaimer: the word is not obvious at all, the last part was just for transitional purposes)
Anyways, let’s get back to ärgerlich and look at an example.

And ärgerlichcan actually also be used to describe a situation or a thing. You can’t say that a situation is angry, but you can say that it’s ärgerlich. That means that it “causes a stinky mood”and in fact “Das ist ärgerlich” is a good translation for “That sucks.”

Now, of course there’s also a related verb: ärgern. And this is a pretty useful one. It’s always about being or getting pissed of, but the exact meaning depends on the context. If a thing or situation is “ärgering” you, that simply means it pisses you off.
If a person does the “ärgering” then that leans more toward teasing, especially if animals are involved.

And then, you can also use ärgern with a self reference sich ärgern. Literally, this would be teasing yourself or pissing yourself off, but the actual meaning is just a very active sounding way to say that you’re pissed about something.

And you all know the old wise proverb “In for the verb, in for the versions” which simply means that no look at a verb is complete without a look at the prefix versions. Ärgern takes it easy, though. There are only two. Verärgern, with ver- adding the notion of state change, is a result focused version of ärgern and rumärgernis a pretty colloquial term that expresses the idea of ongoing hassle with something…. like a Windows Update or something.

So now we know everything about Ärger... except one thing.

Where does Ärger come from

Other people in traffic, your job, that forum post that spoiled your favorite series for you, adolescent unicorns… Ärger can come from plenty of sources.
But of course, I’m not talking about that the origin of the thing itself here, but about the origin of the word.
And that is actually pretty surprising.
Ärger is actually not related to anger, but instead based on an inconspicuous little German word:

Yup, this is actually a word. Kind of a funny coincidence seeing how “Argh!” is a common onomatopoetic word to express anger.
The original meaning of argwas bad, vicious, the more-form was ärgerand the verb ärgern essentially meant to make worse. And slowly the verb and the noun took on a meaning for themselves and the connection to arg was soon forgotten.
Not the word arg itself, though. Chances are that you haven’t noticed it, but it’s actually still totally around; and not only in written German. It still has its original sense of bad, both in compounds as well as a stand alone.

That’s not too common though and mostly used in semi-fixed combinations.
But at some point people started also using as an intensifier, and that’s what it still is today – essentially a synonym for sehr. Oh ..and by the way… guess what English word sehr is related to. It’s related to sore as in sore muscles. The root of those was about pain, and sehr originally meant painfully.So sehr ALSO was a negative word before it started its career as an intensifier, just like arg.

Now, I feel like arg sounds a bit weird when used to intensify positive things but maybe that’s just me. Either way… arg is nowhere near as common as sehr, but people do use it in daily life and it’s one of those nice little gems that’ll make you sound super idiomatic if you use it every now and then.

And I think that’s it for today. This was our look at the meaning of Ärger and the related words. They’re all pretty common in daily life, especially the verb ärgernand they’re a really useful addition to your active vocabulary, unless you’re a master of zen meditation who doesn’t get angry anymore. Although… on second thought, it’s probably still useful because you’re even temper will drive other people mad.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions about today’s article or if you want to try out some examples and get them corrected, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

der Ärger – the (slight) anger, the trouble (if it has some notion of being angry)
die Wut – the anger, rage
ärgerlich – irritated, annoyed, pissed (not very strong)
wütend – angry
das Ärgernis – a nuisance (rare)

ärgern +acc – irritate, make angry, tease (process oriented)
sich ärgern über – be angry about something (sounds very active)

verärgern – make angry (result oriented)
verärgert – pissed off

arg – bad, vicious, also: very, really
der Argwohn – the suspiciousness
argwöhnisch – very skeptical as in “expecting a trap”
arglos – unsuspecting (without “bad” in mind)

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