Word of the Day – “dienen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
This time, with a quick a look at the German word for to serve,

dienen

 

 

The two are obviously not related but they actually have a really similar history. To serve comes from Latin and it ultimately comes from a word that meant slave.
And it’s exactly the same for dienen. The origin of dienen is the Germanic noun *þewa- which also meant slave, or servant. Now, this word pretty widespread throughout the Germanic world but surprisingly it has no relatives in Modern English. Or at least my servants couldn’t find any doing my resea… oh wait, I meant my unpaid interns, who are all really like it here, right John?
“Yes, it’s absolutely awesome. Would you like a coffee, Sire?”
Of course! Double shot hazelnut chai, please, thanks.

So yeah… the dienen is basically to serve.

  • Der Ritter hat dem König treu gedient.
  • The knight has loyally served the king.
  • Der reiche Lord hat einen Diener.
  • The rich lord has a butler.
  • “Äh, warum ist ein Elefant der Küche?”
    “Der dient als Erinnerung daran, dass du den Abwasch machen sollst.”
  • “Uhm, why’s there’s an elephant in the kitchen?”
    “It serves as a reminder that you should do the dishes.”

Actually, dienen itself is not as common as to to serve, though. So there are some phrasings where it doesn’t really work as a translation for to serve. And the biggest and most important one is serving in context of food. The word for the actual act of serving food is servieren. Yup, German took it from French. No surprise. I mean… a potato soup does sound a little more gourmet if it’s put down on the table with a French word.

  • Der Kellner serviert die Kartoffelsuppe.
  • The waiter serves the soup.

And that waiter is actually awesome because not only does he serve soup, she also serves as a nice transition to the prefix verb bedienen. Because that’s the general term for what a waiter does.

  • Essen war super, aber der Service… puhhh. Die Bedienung war super langsam und arrogant und hat nach Einhornharn gerochen.
  • Food was great but the service… ouffff. The service (waiter/waitress) was super slow and arrogant and smelled like unicorn urine.
  • Ich kann den schlechten Kritiken nicht zustimmen. Essen war Spitze, wir wurden schnell und freundlich bedient, und der Geruch war bezaubernd.
  • I can’t agree with the bad reviews. Food was top notch, we were served quickly and in a friendly manner and the scent was enchanting.
    (not sure if that’s idiomatic English… please let me know if not :)

 

  • Hier ist Selbstbedienung.
  • Here’s self service.
    (sorry, added this last minute :()

This isn’t the only meaning, though, and the next example makes it pretty clear.

  • Der Kellner bedient die Kasse.

This means that the waiter is operating the cashier. And that’s the more important meaning of bedienen.
An interesting phrasing, when you think about it. The device serves a purpose and to make it work we have to “be-serve” it. Who knows, in ten years that might actually be the literal reality. Like… Alexa’s like “Bring me my charger.” and we’re just like “Yes, ‘mam.” because we know it’s global extinction if we don’t. I mean, in fact… just look around, at people with their phones today in the train or bus. Or just walking. To an alien, we might well look like obedient servants to our phones. Like… phone’s like “New notification. You better check it ouuuut.”. And we serve them.
Anyway, so yeah, bedienen means to operate and die Bedienung can be something like the handling.

  • Das Baby kann noch nicht laufen, aber schon ein Tablet bedienen.
  • The toddler can’t walk yet, but is already able to use/operate a tablet.
  • Die Bedienungsanleitung ist super verwirrend.
  • The user manual is super confusing.

Cool.
Now, of course this isn’t the only prefix version. The REALLY useful one is …oh, hold on, I think my intern John is back the coffee. Sure took long enough.
“Hey man, here’s your coffee.”
Great, thanks bro.
“Do you need anything else?”
Nah, I’m good. Hey uh… I think you can actually take the rest of the day off and go surfing.
“Really?! But it’s only 10 hours I’m here. That’s amazing!!! Thank you.”
All good, bro. Don’t forget, we wanna do the prep meeting for the conditional series.
“Great, see you tomorrow then.”
I know what you guys are thinking now. You’re thinking “Emanuel, you’re way too soft on your interns.” But hey, they’re working hard, serving me coffee, not earning money, they at least deserve to be treated well.
And speaking of deserving... that brings us right back and topic. I mean… not sure if you ever noticed but deserve totally has serve in it. So it makes perfect sense that the German word for deserve is based on dienen. The question is just… which prefix. And it is… drumroll please… eVERyone’s favorite… ver.
The German word for to deserve is verdienen. And it doesn’t only mean to deserve, it’s also the German word for deserve‘s more mundane brother, to earn. And if you know that one of the ideas that ver carries is the idea of “for”, then it makes PERFECT sense. Something you deserve, is something you “served for”, you worked for. Tadah… sometimes, this language does make sense :).

  • “Morgen fahre ich endlich in den Urlaub.”
    “Oh, das freut mich. Du hat es echt verdient.
  • “Tomorrow, I’ll finally go on vacation.”
    “Oh that’s great. you really deserve it.”
  • Jeder kriegt, was er verdient.
  • Everyone gets what they deserve.
  • Thomas ist eifersüchtig, weil Maria mehr verdient als er.
  • Thomas is jealous because Maria earns more than he does.
  • Ich brauche für den Vermieter eine Verdienstbescheinigung.
  • I need a proof of income for my land lord/renter.
  • Dass wir das Projekt doch pünktlich fertig bekommen haben, ist vor allem Maria’s Verdienst.
  • The fact that we finished the project in time after all, is mainly credit to Maria.

As you can see, Cpt. Context usually makes it clear which of the two it is. Though sometimes, even he fails…

  • Thomas verdient mehr als er verdient.
  • Can you figure out both possible translations :)?

Cool.
Now, in the examples we just had the noun Verdienst and of course that also exists without a prefix.
Der Dienst is is usually translated as service or duty but I think it’s better to think of it is as “work done for someone“. Because it is NOT service in a sense of customer satisfaction and care (that is Service) and it’s not “duty” in the sense of obligation (that would be Pflicht).
Let’s just look at some examples for Dienst so you can get a feel for it.

  • Der Polizist trink einen Shot obwohl er im Dienst ist.
  • The police man drinks a shot even though he’s on duty.
  • Ich komme mir vor wie der Depp vom Dienst.(fixed idiom)
  • I feel like the duty idiot.
    (you’re the one responsible to be the idiot who everyone can make fun of… is there an idiom in English?)
  • Whatsapp ist ein Messenger-Dienst, UPS ist ein Paketdienst.
  • Whatsapp is a messenger service, UPS is a parcel service.
  • Das Einhorn bietet auf dem Wochenmarkt seine Dienste an.
  • The unicorn offers its services on the weekly market.

And of course there are loads of useful compounds like Dienstplan (work schedule, roster), Diensthandy (official cell phone/work phone), Dienstwagen (company car), Diensthengst (company stud) or the most week one of them all…. Dienstag.
Which literally means surf-day. Because as we’ve learned, dienen means to surf and the Germanic tribes have always been big fans of wave riding. No wonder, the waves of the Baltic Sea are world famo… wait a second…. this is not true. The waves at the Baltic suck. Hold on … let me look up Dienstag real quick… gee, it has nothing to do with dienen. It comes from the Germanic God Tyr. My script… it’s utter nonsense. Damn it! Diensthengst should have made me suspicious. Wait, there’s a note on the bottom…

“Emanuel, you just got pranked.”

Argghhhhhh, these interns. I let you go early and this is how you repay me? Damn it! Diensthengst should have made me suspicious. Well played, interns. But it’s on now. Tomorrow, they’ll get what they verdienen. And I ain’t talking money.
Anyway, that’s it for today. This was our look at dienen and its family. Of course, there are a few other words out there that we didn’t mention but I think with what you’ve learned you’ll be able to understand at least the gist of it.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you have good ideas on how to get back on my interns, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

The solution:

  • Thomas earns more than he deserves.
  • Thomas deserves more than he earns.

 

* * vocab **

dienen – to serve (as in render service, usually used for devices nowadays)
der Diener – the butler, also (rare): bow as in bowing down

der Dienst – the service/work rendered
der Dienstplan – the work schedule/roster
das Diensthandy – the work phone
im Dienst – on duty

bedienen – to wait on someone in sense of restaurant
die Selbstbedienung – self service
die Bedienung – the waiting personal, the handling/usage of devices
die Bedienungsanleitung – the user manual

verdienen – deserve, earn
der Verdienst – the income, the merit/accomplishment
unverdient – undeserved(ly)

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TheBestLanguageEver
TheBestLanguageEver
5 months ago

Emanuel you explain things really good. My non-native brain absorbs all what you say.

Häherwald
Häherwald
8 months ago

Moin moin,

Was für einen spitze Artikel. hab’ mal ‘ne Frage. Wie oft man als den Sinn von “die Nase voll haben” den Ausdruck “bedient sein” verwendet? Insbesondere zum Kellner im Restaurant kann das mal nicht so deutlich sein, im welchen Sinne bedeutet “Ich bin schon bedient.”

Bosko
Bosko
2 years ago

Ja, ich weis. Oder, ich denke dass ich weis. :) etwas ist micht mehr neu, und man kann das nicht mehr verwenden. zum beispiel Das Schulsystem ist ausgedient. Ist das ok?

Bosko
Bosko
2 years ago
Reply to  Bosko

Pardon, HAT ausgedient. :) Entschuldigung Lehrer! :) ubrigens, was bist du von Beruf?

Bosko
Bosko
2 years ago

ausdienen ist interesant

Bosko
Bosko
2 years ago
Reply to  Bosko

Haben Sie es vergessen oder ist nicht vichtig?

Sherylleamer
Sherylleamer
3 years ago

Maybe I should have read the comments before offering my 2 (redundant) cents…

Sherylleamer
Sherylleamer
3 years ago

Maybe “whipping boy” is similar to “Depp vom dienst”?

Vincent
Vincent
4 years ago

I looked up in the dictionary and found that ‘der Verdienst’ means salary(=das Gehalt), and ‘ DAS Verdienst’ means merit or credit. Stimmt das?

Anna
Anna
4 years ago

In terms of “the scent was enchanting” – this doesn’t really work in terms of food.”Scent” is usually used for something more delicate :
“The scent of her perfume was enchanting”/ The scent of the roses filled the room. Whereas , you would say,in regards to food,”What’s cooking? It smells delicious.” I take the point someone made that “smell’ can often have a negative connotation as in “What’s that awful smell?” or “Go and have a shower, you smell. ” But I think mostly you’d say “stink”for that! but in terms of food, “smell” is most used. “Aroma” is quite formal and certainly not colloquial. “The aroma of Jean-Claude’s Duck L’Orange filled the restaurant.”

graberstogermany
4 years ago
Reply to  Anna

This is a tricky one. I kind of agree about “scent” – maybe not “delicate,” exactly, but it’s not something you’d usually connect to food. Hunting dogs track prey by “scent” (they’re “on the scent” or “pick up the scent”); many animals, including skunks, have “scent glands” (often producing very non-delicate smells!); and the examples you give fit perfectly. If anything, I’m inclined to say that a “scent” is the smell that identifies something, like “scent of roses,” “scent of her perfume” (or Chanel No. 5, or whatever), “scent of fox,” whatever. It’s not a term you tend to attach an evaluation to, which I think is why “the scent was enchanting” is a little odd. It kind of needs to be the scent OF something, which of course you might say is enchanting, or nauseating, or whatever.

I don’t think “aroma” is all that formal. To me, that’s the best way to describe a good food or beverage smell, certainly if you’re going to use a word like “enchanting” to describe it.

kohlgilbert
kohlgilbert
4 years ago

Hi Emanuel, I was hoping you could clear something up for me. I understood from the article that bedienen was the word used for operating devices. In the vocab list at the bottom you have:

dienen – to serve (as in render service, usually used for devices nowadays)

Can both be used? Sorry, just a little confused. Great article as always!

Lassi
Lassi
4 years ago

Hello All! I wanted to thank the wonderful community members here who contributed extra to this amazing blog! Your generosity has sponsored my membership, for which I am eternally grateful! This is an invaluable resource for anyone who is learning German. So, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for giving me the opportunity to learn more about the German language and word usage. ~ Lassi

NewbourneSprings
NewbourneSprings
4 years ago

Der Depp von Dienst might perhaps be translated by ‘class clown’. This is a pupil who is prepared to be laughed at so that they are the centre of attention and in the limelight. They are not concerned by nor take to heart the censure of their fellows. Should the teacher place a Dunce’s cap on their head then this would only in their mind further enhance their reputation for silliness.

Quang Pham
Quang Pham
4 years ago

“Because it is service in a sense of customer satisfaction and care (that is Service)”

Did you mean “Because it is NOT service in a sense of customer satisfaction and care (that is Service)”? I’m confused.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago
Reply to  Quang Pham

Quang: I should pro’lly let Ema reply to this one, but perhaps I can help until he’s back on his feet after celebrating Ostern, just a hunch…

I think that “der Dienst” is like a duty as in job duty, on duty, on the work roster to be doing his job, and then the job has to involve a service directly to a customer/user. like police officer, nurse, pilot, fireman, etc. Putting in 4 hours a day to do research in the cellar isn’t really “on duty”, but rather “going to work”. Being “on duty” connotes a feeling of someone being on the job, ready to do their job when/if necessary and that job involves doing something for somebody.

Compare to someone who goes to work and screws caps on toothpaste tubes for 6 hours a day – they are not on duty, but rather “at work”. “On Call” means more that you are at home PREPARED to show up at work if they phone you, but “on duty” is actually at work, doing stuff like drinking coffee until someone shows up to report a crime, calls in to report a fire, shows up with a gun-shot wound, etc. News teams are often “on duty” evenings weekends – doing odds and ends at the office/in the studio, prepared to hit the road to film a fire, arrest, natural disaster, demonstration, or whatever else comes in over the Police Radio. Reinforcements are “on call” (at home, ready to mobilize) in case one of the above situation requires more personnel.

Does that give you a feel for the “on Duty – der Dienst”?

DavidSmith
DavidSmith
4 years ago

Um, a diener is the pathologist’s assistant in the autopsy lab, so, the word still lives, unchanged at least in that (very) specific usage.

chicken
chicken
4 years ago

thank you for the lesson.
I would be grateful if you could do a post on the multiple meanings of ansprechen, some of which are not intuitive at all

Charles Gleaves
Charles Gleaves
4 years ago

Depp vom Dienst: I can’t think of a direct translation. Someone mentioned “village idiot” but that misses the implication of arbitrariness. “Whipping boy” isn’t a perfect match either, but it does have the sense of someone appointed for abuse by everyone else.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago

It took me a few days, but it just hit me; Depp vom Dienst must be THE FALL GUY! The guy that takes the rap. Dict.cc doesn’t agree with me, but I’m getting a “fall guy-feeling” about “Depp vom Dienst.” Whipping boy also feels quite correct.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Already an idiom, is my guess.

RuthE
RuthE
4 years ago
Reply to  Amerikanerin

Yes, already an idiom well before the TV series, about 1904 according to this: https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/fall-guy.html

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago

What about scapegoat?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago

I really don’t think there’s an idiomatic expression that matches up. “Whipping boy” feels closest to me, but it’s a lot more serious than “Depp vom Dienst” sounds to me.

Jerry from the TV show Parks & Recreation is the best illustration of the concept I can think of, though: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Gergich

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

I think maybe a good one for this is “He’s always the butt of the joke”..??

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

Oh, I don’t think I’d picked up on that. “Whipping boy” is really a description of someone or something who’s ALWAYS the target of abuse – or maybe a better way to put it is that it’s someone/something that’s always safe and/or beneficial to criticize.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago

Oj, ich habe die “smell” vergessen. The smell could be enchanting. Intoxicating could also be used.

Difficult to comment on word usage – even if I had opinions on “swift service” above. The thing about English is that the language lends itself well to creative usage of words: A suggestion (especially for something fun or appealing in a decadent way) can be delicious. Being afraid of water/heights and therefore bridges can give us, “I don’t DO bridges”. u.s.w. Of course, a smell can be enchanting, mesmerizing etc. More mainstream would be “intoxicating”.

Methinks that like many languages, creative usage of a word will be perceived as lack-of-language-skills if spoken by a second-language speaker whereas a native speaker could land a Nobel Prize in literature for the same usage. Please differentiate between creative usage and just plain wrong/awkward.

What to do? The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts: if your personality is such, and general usage of the (second)-language is on a certain level, and you show an interest in certain areas, then I believe creative use of vocabulary will accepted by most, however, if you are very conventional, lack charisma/anima, are only interested in metal-fatigue in airplane bolts or the ergonomics of leafy-vegetable washing, perhaps you may find any creative usage of vocab being corrected. That is, if anyone will speak with you at all. In the right circles, a foreign accent will certainly give you poetic license. In the wrong circles, you’ll find yourself in the dunce’s corner. Although – who cares about those circles anyway?

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Dunce’s corner is an outdated and “gruselig” form of punishment. It involves shame. When someone did something wrong at school, anything from a wrong answer to unacceptable behavior, a cone-shaped hat (called Dunce’s Cap) was placed on the student’s head and said student had to sit in a chair, in the corner, in the front end of the classroom, for everyone to see. Sort of as a “lesson” to the other students. There was also a fair amount of rapping fingers with a ruler and I dunno what else – luckily, that form of discipline is no longer practiced. When I went to school, we had detention – sitting after school for a certain amount of time. I was actually expelled from one school for dressing up as a pregnant nun for Halloween – some people just don’t have any humor.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago

The more idiomatic/colloquial would be: The service was prompt and friendly. The “ly” at the end of “swiftly” makes it an adverb. Dunno why this isn’t true for friendly, but friendly is an adjective. So: the SERVICE (noun, needs adjective) prompt and friendly. Swift service? Hmmm… while I can’t describe why it’s awkward, it just is. Don’t think I’ve ever heard swift service – swift makes me feel the rush of cold air a person in a hurry leaves behind. Foxes run swiftly through the woods. Sorta quick, graceful and with stealth.

The “Here’s self service” is also awkward in English: I’d say “This is a self-service restaurant.” Or, if you wanna be funny, “This is a self-service establishment”. Always funny when someone tries to use vocabulary above the level of what they are describing. Self-service = joint, establishment = fine-dining. Sorta.

Ihr ergebener Diener,
Amerikanerin

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago
Reply to  Amerikanerin

I don’t know if “swift” sounds exactly awkward to me in that context, but “prompt” is definitely way more typical. “Quick” would be fine too.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Someone else here mentioned “speedy” – didn’t think of that one, but yeah, speedy. Ok, “awkward” was perhaps not a spot-on description, but swift still feels mal-chosen. When I hear “swift” I think of The Roadrunner disappearing into a huff of smoke and a “beep beep.”

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago
Reply to  Amerikanerin

I’m definitely on board with you about “swift” being the least likely choice of those mentioned. Actually, if you asked me to describe the Roadrunner, I kind of think I’d prefer “speedy.”

Like you mentioned, “swift” has a little more of an epic feel to it (Tolkien would use it to describe Legolas) and/or a connotation of gracefulness. You might use it to describe a server in a restaurant or a particular action he/she takes, but it doesn’t fit as well to describe the overall service.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Yep! I lett the ol’ College Degree out for a breath of fresh air on Sundays.

shauser31416
shauser31416
4 years ago

Emanuel –
As a relatively new subscriber, I’m reluctant to criticize, but
“Dienstag … has nothing to do with dienen. It comes from the Germanic God Tyr.”
Is that ALL?? You’re just going to leave us hanging?

Other than that, your posts are perfect. I’ve been trying to learn for German for almost three years. It has always been fun, but discovering your blog (is that still a word?) has made it fascinating. And deep. I might never be truly comfortable conversing in German, but I’m beginning to feel how it rolls. Thank you bunches!
– Susan

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
4 years ago
Reply to  shauser31416

Your academic interest is impressive, wanting to know more about the Germanic God Tyr and his/her influence on Dienstag. Personally, I’m fogged by thoughts of the Diensthengst and am wondering if he has a toll-free number…

Ruth
Ruth
4 years ago

There’s one Dienst that I know from baroque music. Gottesdienst, as in Georg Philipp Telemann’s Harmonischer Gottesdienst. Here’s a bit to try, if you dare https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iypfYlII_8I (Have the antihistamines ready, Emanuel.)

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago
Reply to  Ruth

“Gottesdienst” is the normal word for a worship service, at least in Protestantism. (Just don’t want anybody to get the idea that it’s basically a musical term.)

Ruth
Ruth
4 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

From what I can gather Gottesdienst, while probably most commonly used of Christian services, can be a ritual observation of any religion or denomination.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago
Reply to  Ruth

Sure – I mostly wanted to allow for the possibility that Catholics might tend to use “(heilige?) Messe” more.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Presbyterian, yeah. :) In English, like most Protestants, we’d tend to use “worship service” (so just like “Gottesdienst”); our churches in Berlin weren’t Presbyterian, but I think both EKD and free-church folks would refer to their service as “Gottesdienst” too.

I assumed “Messe” sounds “south” just because it is Catholic, but Googling a bit around Berlin, it looks like Heilige Messe is one of the various “Gottesdienste” held in Catholic churches/institutions. (Another is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, “Eucharistische Anbetung” in German.)

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

I’m loathe ever to carp about your English because I SO admire it, but this sentence is actually not idiomatic in any way. In addition to other problems already noted (incorrect use of friendly, inappropriate use of smell and enchanting), the word “swift” is infrequently heard in conversational contexts. It sounds either highfalutin or wry, and implies a pace faster than even the most impatient diner would require. We’d be more apt to say the service was speedy or efficient without the (slowing) “bulk” of a phrase like “I was served in a speedy manner.” (By contrast, you would have to say “in a friendly manner” because friendly is only an adjective.)

In general, best to reserve “swift” for the motion of gazelles, arrows, and assembly lines.

Why do I imagine you already know this?