Word of the Day – “erledigen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the Day. This time with yet another one of those words that are quite common in everyday German, that somehow get overlooked by textbooks. Ladies and gentlemen… get ready for a look at the meaning of

erledigen

 

And because erledigen isn’t only really useful itself but also has quite an interesting family, we’ll start thousands and thousands of years ago, with the hyper ancient, allegedly incredibly good looking Indo-Europeans.
More specifically, with the Indo-European language root *el.

The core idea of this root was bent, limber and we can actually pretty much see the original root in the German and English name of a bodypart. I’ll give you a hint… its main purpose is bending.
I’m talking about … the elbow, der Ellenbogen in German.

  • “Nimm deine Ellenbogen vom Tisch.”
    “Du bist nicht meine Mutter.”
    “Ich BIN deine Mutter!”
  • “Take your elbows off the table.”
    “You’re not my mom.”
    “I AM your mom!”

  • Ellenbogengesellschaft ist scheiße.
  • Elbow society sucks.

In German, there’s also the word die Elle, which is one of the bones in the lower arm (ulna) and an old unit of measurement (ell). And even though the lower part of an arm is usually not that long, the word ellenlang somehow ended up with a negative sense of super long.

  • Thomas erklärt Maria in einem ellenlangen Monolog, warum er nicht abgewaschen hat.
  • Thomas explains to Maria in a interminable/lengthy monologue, why he didn’t do the dishes.

Well, I guess if the monologue has the length of a lower arm in print then it can be quite lengthy. But anyway, the elbow is actually not the only body related word that comes from the Indo European root *el. We mentioned that it carried the notion of limber. Well, guess where the word limber comes from :).
And the same goes for the word for the most moveable body parts… the limbs. Quite obvious, right? Despite that I never noticed how close limb and limber really are.
Anyway, the German counterpart of limb is das Glied.

Glied

On first sight, the “i” seems to be the only thing they have in common, but the connection becomes more apparent once you know that Glied is actually a ge-form. It used to be Geliethe, referring to the whole, the sum of bendable parts.
And if you’re now like “Wow, that’s really interesting.” then you’ll love the book that I have been promising for like five years. I know, I sound like I’m pulling a George R.R. Martin on you, but it’s definitely coming :).
Anyway, let’s look at a few examples for das Glied.

  • Gliederschmerzen sind ein typisches Symptom von einer ernsten Erkältung.
  • Limb pain is a typical symptom of a serious cold.
    (note that it’s plural in German)

  • Legt euch auf die Matte und dehnt alle Gliedmaßen aus.
  • Lie down on the mat and stretch all limbs!
    (only exists in plural)

  • Eine Kette ist nur so stark wie das schwächste Glied.
  • A chain is only as strong as the weakest (chain) link.

As you can see in the last example, it’s also the word for the link of a chain. Makes sense, I think. I mean, the link is the bendable part of the chain.
And what’s also worth mentioning is that Glied is usually used in plural in the sense of body parts. Because in singular, it refers to one specific body part. This poem from Goethe might give you a hint.

Gerne der Zeiten gedenk’ ich, da alle Glieder gelenkig – bis auf eins.
Doch die Zeiten sind vorüber, steif geworden alle Glieder – bis auf eins.

Yes, that really is THE Goethe. What he’s saying in the poem is basically that he misses the days when all his members were limber, except one because now all members are stiff, except one. And with the one he is referring to… well.. his little Johann, as we say in German. His member.
And speaking of member… that actually brings us right to another really useful member of the family: das Mitglied, which is the German word for member in the more common sense of belonging. If you’re wondering why, just recall that Glied was also the word for a link of a chain. A Mitglied is basically a part of a whole.
Oh and just in case you were wondering: yes, technically it means “with a member” and yes, there’s a pun to be made there.
Anyway, examples

  • Die Partei hat viele Mitglieder.
  • The party has a lot of members.
  • Die Mitgliedschaft bei Yourdailygerman verlängert sich nicht automatisch.
  • The membership at Yourdailygerman does not auto-renew.

And then, we also need to mention the verb gliedern which is about dividing something into sections and the corresponding noun die Gliederung.

  • “Wie weit bist du mit deinem Essay?”
    “Ich habe noch nichts geschrieben, aber die Gliederung ist fertig.”
  • “How far are you with your essay?”
    “I haven’t really started writing, but the structure is done.”

  • Berlin ist in 12 Bezirke gegliedert.
  • Berlin is divided/grouped into 12 districts.

Cool. So this was the word das Glied and its close relatives.
But that wasn’t our actual word of the day yet. Remember… that was erledigen.
And the next step toward that is the adjective ledig.

ledig

Do you remember the super ancient root *el that we learned about? Ledig is another offspring of that. Its original sense was simply free, unrestricted but eventually it focused on a more narrow meaning, that’ll make perfect sense to all those of you who have been in a long relationship or worse… uh… I mean… more serious. Ledig is the official word for not married. As in never been married.

  • Familien-Status: ledig, verheiratet, geschieden, verwitwet
  • Family status: single not married, married, divorced, widowed.

What makes this adjective useful is the fact that it is at the core of a few other words. The first one is lediglich, which is a somewhat fancy alternative for only. I tried to find a connection between the idea of free and the idea of simply, but I wasn’t too successful to be honest. Maybe something like “little burden”, “almost free”. Not sure, if that makes sense to you. Anyway, lediglich is not a word you need to use yourself, but you’ll see it sooner or later in texts.

  • “Das geht dich gar nichts an. Ich habe ein Recht auf meine Privatssphäre.”
    “Bleib ruhig. Ich wollte lediglich wissen, wann du nach Hause kommst.”
  • “That’s none of your business. I have a right to privacy.”
    “Chill out. I just wanted to know when you’ll come home.”

Also primarily found in writing is the verb entledigen. The proper full phrasing is actually sich einer Sache entledigen (with a Genitive), and the meaning is to rid oneself of something. That fits quite well with the notion of free that ledig used to carry.

  • Europa und Nordamerika entledigen sich ihres Mülls, indem sie ihn nach China und Afrika verschiffen.
  • Europe and North America rid themselves of their garbage by shipping it to China and Afrika.

And last but not least we’ve finally reached our actual word of the day … erledigen

erledigen

Originally, erledigen was about setting something free. But then the old Germanic tribesmen started using it in the sense of getting tasks done because they thought of tasks as pent up energy that needs to be released. Okay… no, I just made that up. I actually don’t know why the meaning shifted. But shift it did, and today erledigen is a quite common option for the idea of taking care of something in the sense of getting it done. And it’s especially common in everyday German in context where you don’t really want to say what exactly it is that you’re doing.

  • “Ich habe alles von meiner To Do Liste erledigt, und es ist erst mittags.”
    “Meinst du die To-Do-Liste, wo nur draufsteht: aufstehen?”
  • “I did everything on my to do list and it’s only noon. ”
    “Do you mean the to-do list where it only says: get up?”

  • “Kommst du heute zu unserem BBQ?”
    “Ja, aber ich weiß noch nicht, wann. Ich muss vorher noch was erledigen.”
  • “Are you going to come to our BBQ today?”
    “Yeah, but I don’t know when yet. I have to do something/take care of something before.”

  • Ich muss ein paar Erledigungen machen.
  • I have to run some errands.

Also common is the phrasing sich erledigen, in which the tasks basically take care of themselves. Or not.

  • Thomas… die Wäsche erledigt sich nicht von alleine.
  • Thomas… the laundry won’t take care of itself.
  • “Warum hast du mich vorhin angerufen?”
    “Ach so… ja. Das hat sich erledigt. Aber danke.”
  • “Why did you call me earlier?”
    “Oh yeah… that took care of itself/nevermind. But thanks.”

Especially the second one is a really common phrasing and often a good translation for never mind, so you should definitely add that to your active vocabulary.
Besides the main meaning, erledigen also carries the idea of killing someone, which is kind of a morbid take on the whole free-idea. And the ge-form erledigt is a somewhat common colloquial way to say that you’re exhausted.

  • Puh… ich bin erledigt.
  • Puh… I’m k.o. /exhausted.

And because I don’t want you to feel completely erledigt after this and we actually have erledigt all on the to do list , we’ll wrap it up here.
Hooray :).
This was our look at the meaning of erledigen, Glied and a few other useful words. As usual, you can test how much you remember by taking the little quiz I have prepared for you. Of course, if you have any questions or suggestions about today just leave me a comment. And if you’re not a Mitglied of yourdailygerman yet, it’s time to take care of that.
I hope you liked it and see you next time :)

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