Word of the Day – “die Arbeit”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the Day.
And today, we’ll take a look at one of the most defining words for German culture and society:

der Humor

 

Nah, kidding. That’s the least defining word, of course.
The word we will talk about today is the perfect word for January, when all your resolutions of working hard and blah blah are still on. Because today, we’ll take a look at

die Arbeit

 

And I’m pretty sure most of you know what it means, but what you probably don’t know is the crazy family relations it has.
So are you ready for some insights and some vocabulary?
Then let’s get to work.

So, die Arbeit is of course the German word for work. And the two words line up fairly well.

  • Die Arbeit macht mir Spaß.
  • I enjoy the work. / The work is fun for me.
  • Gute Arbeit.
  • Great work.
  • Ich bin morgen auf Arbeit.
  • I’m at work/at the office tomorrow.
    (“auf Arbeit” is the proper term for the sense of being in the office or on site)
  • Thomas ist arbeitslos.
  • Thomas is unemployed/jobless.

And as you can see, the two line up pretty well, but I’d say that Arbeit leans a bit more toward labor. And that’s why it’s not idiomatic in context of a more divine or epic work, like the work of an artist or the work of unicorn. In these contexts, German tends to use das Werk.

  • Der Tempel der Eichhörnchen… niedergebrannt. Das ist das Werk der Einhörner.
  • The temple of the squirrels… burned down. That is the work of the unicorns.
  • Michelangelo betrachtet sein Werk.
  • Michelangelo looks at his piece of work.

In both examples, Arbeit would sound somewhat dry, like a job assignment.
If you want to find out more about Werk and its verb wirken, by the way, you can check out my article about them later. I’ll leave a link below.
Anyway, the verb for die Arbeit of course arbeiten,

  • Morgen muss ich arbeiten.
  • Tomorrow, I have to work.
  • Maria hat bei einem Start-Up gearbeitet.
  • Maria has worked at a start up.

And if you want to connect the thing you’re working on, you’d do that with an.

  • Thomas arbeitet jeden Abend an seinem Papa-Körper.
  • Every night, Thomas is working on his dad-bod.
  • Woran arbeitest du?
  • What are you working on?

..and here we need to note that it ONLY means to work in the sense of… well… work.
So it does NOT work in contexts that are about something “functioning” or “working out”.

  • You want to do what with what?! Bro, that is not gonna work.

Here, the translation depends on the context and it could be funktionieren, or gehen or passen. But arbeiten sounds really out of place. Like “that” is new in your office and you already know that it’s lazy and it’s not going to do any work.
Cool.
Now of course like any hard working German verb, arbeiten also has a few prefix versions.
But most of them are somewhat clear at least when you see them in context

  • Thomas, warum willst du immer die neuen Praktikantinnen einarbeiten?
  • Thomas, why do you always want to onboard/show around the new female interns?
  • Der Tisch ist aus unbearbeitetem Holz.
  • The table is made from raw/untreated wood.
    (bearbeiten is basically direct, intense “working” something, sounds very hands on.)
  • “Maria, ich bin echt überarbeitet.”
    “Von was denn? Vom Rad der Zeit Gucken?”
  • “Maria, I’m really overworked.”
    “Of what? Of watching the The Wheel of Time?”
  • Ich muss das Skript nochmal überarbeiten.
  • I have to rework the script again. (give it a do-over)
  • Maria hat die Trennung gut verarbeitet.
  • Maria has processed the break-up pretty well.
    (You basically “work” it “away” internally)

Those are not all of them and some of them have a second meaning, but hey… you can actually find them all in my awesome dictionary, if you want to dig a little more.
So instead of toiling over prefix versions, let’s get to what’s actually the most interesting … the origin.

The origin of Arbeit

Remember how I said that Arbeit leans toward labor? Well, that might because a few hundred years ago, Arbeit didn’t just “lean” toward labor – it literally meant hard, cumbersome labor. While the English work could be used for a serf as well as for the court musician, Arbeit was only used for like working a mine, tilling a field, working as builder… which essentially was the work of the majority of people, but ESPECIALLY of the lower end of society – the poor people, the serfs and the slaves.
In fact, the Old Slavic rabu, which is a relative of Arbeit, literally meant slave and rabota, which now means to work, meant to serve. That’s also where the word robot is from, by the way. I mean… Arbeit, robot…. they do sound kind of similar.

But now comes the crazy part. Because there’s one group of people which was especially prone to the fate of being a poor servant and having to drugde – orphans. I don’t know the numbers today, but I’m pretty sure, losing the father or not knowing him to begin with was pretty darn common a thousand years ago, so this was a pretty big group.
And THAT’S actually the origin of Arbeit – the old Indo-European word *orbh-, which simply meant “without father”. And yes, that IS where the English word orphan is from, so Arbeit and orphan are related.

Pretty crazy right?
But there’s more.
Because what happens if your parents pass, leaving you “without parents”? You get what they leave behind. Which in German is called … drumroll please… erben.
Erben is the verb, das Erbe is the inheritance (or heritage) and der Erbe and die Erbin are the heir. And the verb for passing on something is vererben. And yes, all that also works in context of genetics.

  • “Wie kann Thomas sich so eine Wohnung leisten. Der hat doch seit einem Jahr nicht gearbeitet.”
    “Ja, aber er hat geerbt.”
  • “How can Thomas afford such an apartment. He hasn’t worked in a year.”
    “Yeah, but he has inherited some.”
  • Die Eichhörnchen sind die Erben der Regenbogen-Elfen.
  • The squirrels are the heirs of the rainbow elves.
  • “Du magst Elon Musk nicht?! Ich enterbe dich!!”
    “Du bist nicht meine Eltern, bro.”
    “Egal.”
  • “You don’t like Elon Musk? I’m disowning you!!”
    “You’re not my parents, bro.”
    “Whatever.”

And that’s pretty much it for today.
This was our look at German’s favorite word, the center of the German universe – die Arbeit.
Here, have a couple of proverbs as a cool down:

  • Erst die Arbeit und dann das Vergnügen.
  • Business before pleasure.
  • Arbeit Arbeit Geld, Arbeit sparen Steuer Geld, Arbeit jeden Tag.
  • Work work work, work saving money taxes work, work every day.

Wait… the second one isn’t a proverb, but more of a blueprint for the average conversation between two Germans. Sounds boring, is boring. But I feel like there’s a Haiku in there.
Anyway, I you want to work some more and see how much you remember, just take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions about this article, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

*** vocab ***

die Arbeit = the work
arbeiten = to work (NOT in the sense of “working out, being okay)
arbeitslos = unemployed
bearbeiten = modify through work, to edit (Works for material, as well as for works of art and especially for all things digital.)
nachbearbeiten = to do some post production (Usually in context of digital stuff)
mitarbeiten (an) = to co-work on something
einarbeiten = introduce someone to a new job; to work in something (An idea into a story for instance)
Mitarbeiter = the employee, the coworker
ausarbeiten = to flesh out (Make a rough draft into a detailed plan)
nacharbeiten = do work that should have been done earlier
überarbeiten = to rework (modify a piece of work); to overwork oneself (“sich+Acc überarbeiten” – only works reflexively in German, so you cannot overwork your staff)
überarbeitet = overworked
verarbeiten = to process (For material and data); to process, to digest (In a mental sense, for processing experiences or information)
die Verarbeitung = the production quality; the processing (Works for mental processing as well as for computers)
aufarbeiten = to “work the past (Do the work to understand and come to terms with something that happened in the past)
erarbeiten = to work out (In the sense of working out a plan, for example, NOT a plan working out!); to get through working (“sich+Dat etwas erarbeiten” – for instance a reputation or a mansion)
durcharbeiten = to work without a break; to work something through (A long document for example)
das Erbe = the inheritance, the heritage (For the family based thing, “die Erbschaft” is usually more common)
der Erbe = the heir (“die Erbin” for a woman)
erben = to inherit
vererben = to pass on
enterben = to disown (In the sense of not giving them inheritance)
die Erbschaft = the inheritance (Only in context of family, not for genetics)

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JenGLWM
JenGLWM
4 months ago

Dankeschön, sehr interessant!

Bissell
Bissell
4 months ago

Ist Papa-Körper wirklich echtes? Gibt es auch „Mama-Jeans“?
„Bro“ ist auf Deutsche benutzen? Sigh…
Ich mag diesen Artikel!

pmccann
pmccann
4 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Wir nennen solche Anhängsel lieber “manboobs” auf Englisch, zumindest in Australien ;-) ((Falls es etwas wert ist… nach meiner Erfahrung ist die Verwendung von “tits” in Bezug auf Männer eine besonders schwule Sache, vielleicht insbesondere in Deutschland.))

Starbuck
Starbuck
3 months ago
Reply to  pmccann

“Man-boobs” oder “moobs” würden wir in England sagen. Aber nach meinem Transition, fande ich die Phrase ein bisschen unsinnvoll ^^

Veen
Veen
4 months ago

Ich lese eine Geschichte und die hat ‘das Werk’ darin.

“Tausend Mark Ausfall für das Werk, für ihn 3-5 Minuten Pause, die er sich nahm, weil das Werk sie ihm nicht gab”. Hier würde ich sagen dass es meint, wie ‘factory’.

Veen
Veen
4 months ago

Ich bin auch in Quarantäne wegen the Rona (kühler Name, bedeutet weinen auf meiner Sprache, aber nicht von Bedeutung) Für mich kommt es zu einem ungünstigen Zeitpunkt. Ich habe Schlussprüfungen, und ich bin hier. Aber ich glaube es ist nicht so schlecht. Ich schiebe Deutschlernen für Deutschlernen auf.

Veen
Veen
4 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ich habe ein bisschen Schüttelfrost also sitze ich vor der Heizung. Ansonsten geht es mir gut.

Danke für den Hinweis. Ich sollte alle Fehler hier machen.

Alan
Alan
4 months ago

100%! und wirklich nützlich danke.

Junie
Junie
4 months ago

Wie sagt man, “Let’s get to work“ ? Auf Spanisch sagt man ” A trabajar”. Gibt es etwas ähnliches auf Deutsch? Danke

dholquist
dholquist
4 months ago

Another interesting case where work/arbeit don’t line up: I just came across today the word arbeitzimmer for “study.” As in, the room in which one does quiet computer/book-type work.

But if you said workroom in English, I’d expect a room full of power tools or sewing machines or something more labor intensive and mess-making than what you’d do in a study–read, write, study.

Starbuck
Starbuck
3 months ago
Reply to  dholquist

Whereas if I hear “Werkroom” I picture a studio full of wigs, dresses, make up, and drag queens in various states of undress.

Ana Emilia
Ana Emilia
4 months ago

Gute Arbeit mit den post!

Ana Emilia
Ana Emilia
4 months ago
Reply to  Ana Emilia

dem!

Ebaa
Ebaa
4 months ago

Gute Besserung Emanuel. Ich hoffe dass es dir noch besser geht.

Mark
Mark
4 months ago

Nachdem ich diesen Artikel durchgelesen hatte, habe ich die anderen Wörter im Dictionary nachgeschaut, die mit dem Begriff “Arbeiten” verbunden sind, also “erarbeiten”, “nacharbeiten” u.s.w. Solche Wörter höre ich ja sehr oft in meiner Arbeit. Danke für den Verweis im Text auf das Dictionary! Sonst hätte es mir nicht eingefallen ehrlich gesagt. Es ist ser hilfreich, um einen Überblick auf den gesamten “Bedeutungsbereich” eines Wörtes zu bekommen!

Mark
Mark
4 months ago
Reply to  Mark
  • “wäre es mit nicht eingefallen”
David Schlesinger
David Schlesinger
4 months ago

It’s worth mentioning that in Japanese the word アルバイト (arubeito) is a German loan word that has twisted to a particular and specific meaning: not just any work, but specifically a part-time job (like what a student does)

David Schlesinger
David Schlesinger
4 months ago

I used German spelling for a Japanese word! – the transliteration should be arubaito

David Schlesinger
David Schlesinger
4 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

To work is 働く hataraku. Work is 仕事 shigoto and you can also make that a verb by adding on the forms of suru (to do, to carry out) to it

gallia_a
gallia_a
12 days ago

It is worth pointing out that, while 働く denotes any kind of work (including knowledge work) the kanji is made up of radicals/components for person + heavy + power, so there too might be related to physical, heavy work

gallia_a
gallia_a
10 days ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Yes, because German is too easy ;)
Jokes aside, I am fascinated by Japanese culture, so I started learning Japanese two years ago. Still at the stage where I can barely read a long sentence, not to mention listen, but I will get there…

gallia_a
gallia_a
9 days ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

In part yes, since through learning German I became accustomed to think in terms of boxes, and that made it easier to understand where to place the various pieces of information in a sentence.
For example, the difference between thema and rhema, that in the more formal, written Japanese is clearly marked with the は particle, and the building up of more and more relevant information before including the subject and the verb. On the other hand, all the boxes are optional, including the verb. In some phrases, an adjective can take its place, just link in English you could simply respond “Interesting”, and that would be perfectly understood.
All in all, when I try to parse a long sentence, I first look for topic, subject, and verb, and this is something I learned while studying German.

Elsa
Elsa
4 months ago

Hello,
Let’s work on some typos:
“the work of unicorn” (the work of unicorns)
“I you want to work some more” (if you want to work some more)

Ok, cool!
[Hope you get better soon (which you will) and without wanting to get into an argument, this is what I meant back when we had that heated discussion about politics – it’s not serious in the majority of cases, we’re all gonna get it at some point (sooner rather than later, is what I think) and this means, IMO, it’s not worth turning our lives into a living hell. Ok, we’ve agreed to disagree, I just couldn’t resist getting my point across, not to be right, but just to be understood – being understood is important to me (when people are important to me, which you are; otherwise I don’t give a s**t)]

One question:
I translate for a living. I do the translation first, then I go through the text to see if there are any typos, sentences that sound bad, etc. Do I then bearbeite or überarbeite the text?

Bis bald!

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I think that about bearbeiten makes sense – I wonder if that has to do with the fact that it’s the standard translation in word-processing and similar software for the English “edit,” which usually has to do with formatting?

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
4 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Oh, that made a light bulb go off for me. I want to say I’ve heard “bearbeiten” fairly often in the SWR Handwerkskunst videos.

If anyone’s curious, you can find it on Youtube. It’s available outside of Germany and has subtitles (German, sometimes English too). You can see all kinds of cool stuff being made and they talk pretty slow.

Ahmad Mazaheri
Ahmad Mazaheri
4 months ago

Hallo lieber Emanuel,
Wie weisst du, ins Französiche, sagt man Travail für Arbeit . Es kommt aus Latein und ursprünglich bedeutet Folter bei Römern !
In der 68 jähriger Bewegung in Paris, sagte man ” arbeiten für leben und nicht leben für arbeiten ” Das war ein politisches Motto ( Slogan ) der Demonstranten gegen damalige President De Gaule .
Das ist immer eine heikele Sache : Arbeiten oder nicht !
Bis Morgen

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 months ago
Reply to  Ahmad Mazaheri

Ja, “travail” (sowohl als Substantiv als auch als Verb) gibt’s auch auf Englisch. Da hat es die Bedeutung “harte / mühsame Arbeit” behalten, klingt generell auch ein bisschen “epic”.

Anca
Anca
4 months ago

Erhol’ dich gut Emanuel, gute Besserung!

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
4 months ago

Fascinating. Not exactly a rosy picture of work. “Sorry, but you weren’t born a trust fund kid, so go make like Oliver Twist until you get lucky and come into some money or a robot steals your job.”

I was wondering if other languages have a similar idea around a word for work. Only got 3 examples myself, would be curious if there are counter-examples.

  • Romanian: “muncă” (Arbeit), which comes from a Slavic word for torture or torment.
  • Spanish “trabajo”, related to “travail” and goes back to a word for a yoke that slaves were put into and whipped, idea is suffering.
  • English/Italian/Latin in various forms: “labor” – toil, exertion, hardship, pain.
berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 months ago
Reply to  coleussanctus

I don’t know Ivrit, but like Classical Biblical Hebrew, the basic word for work seems to be עבודה avodah, which has the same root as “slave/slavery.” Of course, a slave just is somebody who has to work for somebody else – there’s not really the “pain/misery” aspect there, I don’t think.

Interestingly, another word (seems to be the same in CBH and Ivrit) for “work” is מלאכה mela’chah, which has more of an emphasis on a particular task or craft (at least in CBH) and is related to the word for “messenger” or “angel.”

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
4 months ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Oh, neat! I like the connection with messenger/angel, that sounds pretty epic. Made me think of “opus”, like opus dei or magnum opus.

A slave without the pain and misery…that sounds a lot like a servant. Although now that I’m reading about it, being given something from your master’s flock or wine cellar when your service is over – I can’t think of a modern equivalent off hand. Interesting stuff.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 months ago
Reply to  coleussanctus

Yeah, “opus” lines up nicely with Werk. It’s kind of interesting how “work” in English has sort of swallowed up all those different aspects of labor/effort/toil/achievement.

There are quite a few Bible translations that use “servant” instead of “slave” – it’s hard to know what’s the best gloss, since “servant” tends to sound more like somebody who’s paid to do their work and has the freedom to quit or find another job or whatever. That wouldn’t have been the case for an ‘eved in the Old Testament (or a doulos in the Greco-Roman world, for that matter), and they certainly could be (very badly) mistreated, but that aspect just isn’t built into the vocabulary at the etymological level in Hebrew.

Elizabeth K Hilprecht
Elizabeth K Hilprecht
4 months ago
Reply to  coleussanctus

Also Hungarian “munka”

cvickery
cvickery
4 months ago

The word robot is said to have been coined in 1920, when “Czech writer Karel Čapek published a play titled R.U.R. Those initials stood for “Rossum’s Universal Robots,” which was the name of a fictional company that manufactured human-like machines designed to perform hard, dull, dangerous work for people.” (Merriam Webster online) Nobody seems to mention that Čapek didn’t make up the word out of whole cloth. Thanks for another nice etymology lesson!

Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
4 months ago
Reply to  cvickery

Thema – ”Faktoids” über Androids

Stimmt !

Das Wort ist kaum mehr als hundert Jahre alt,
und etwas entartetes bei den deutschen Braunen
war was es damals galt.
!!

https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/the-origin-of-the-word-robot/

13.1.22

ade0
ade0
4 months ago

Thanks Emanuel. Fascinating about the history and the link between orphan and Arbeit.

I hope you don’t mind me asking a question that isn’t directly related to Arbeit, bur rather relates to one of your examples above:

“Wie kann Thomas sich so eine Wohnung leisten. Der hat doch seit einem Jahr nicht gearbeitet.”

I’ve often seen/heard this use of der rather than er (and similarly for other 3rd person personal pronouns in the various cases). Is there any difference in meaning/emphasis or when you would use der rather than er, die rather than sie etc?

Thanks in advance!
Ade

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

That helps me!

ade0
ade0
4 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Yes, that’s really helpful, thanks Emanuel

Bissell
Bissell
4 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ich auch!

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 months ago

Lest anybody be held in suspense: Arbeit is not related to “arbiter, arbitrate, arbitrary” etc. Apparently that’s from Latin ad + baetere, and nobody knows where the verbal root comes from. (Arbitrary is more or less equivalent to willkürlich; the other arbit- words have to do with judging or mediating between parties.)

Aformanek
Aformanek
4 months ago

Diese Etymologie hat mich sehr viel interessiert! Wow! Ich erinnere ich mich einmal lernen zu haben dass ‘robot; eine Beziehung zu dem Russichen Wort fuer ‘work’ hatte, aber nie wuerde ich geschaetzt haben dass es eine Verhaeltnis gebe zwischen robot und arbeit! Wirklich Cool!

(bitte Hilfe mit den Verben!)

Thrugg.
Thrugg.
4 months ago
Reply to  Aformanek

Neyn brother, es kommt von alten solvenisch (Rabota) und dass heisst arbeid in ihrer tunge. Vielleicht sie sind verwandtenworden zwar ich weise nicht deruber, aber in alten englisch erfeth bedeutet harde arbeit.