False Friends Explained – “art vs Art”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: June 26, 2021

art-false-friends-german-enHello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of False Friends Explained. As usual, we’ll take a pair of false friends, see  what went wrong with their friendship and then, in an epic, tear-ridden finale we’ll reconcile them.
Meh… okay, I guess we can’t make them friends again. But it’s definitely gonna be super epic because today, we’ll look art, old and contemporary, English and German. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for

art vs (die) Art

A famous man once said

A poem, a fart, 
everything is art.

In  English, this statement is controversial.  In German not so much. 

die Art

In German, everything has some Art to it because the core idea of die Art is “how something is/is done“. The real translation highly depends on context and there are many option like way, type, kind, manner… oh and species.

  • Es gibt verschiedene Arten von Intelligenz.
  • There are different kinds/types of intelligence.
  • Die bayrische Mundart ist schwer zu verstehen.
  • The Bavarian vernacular/dialect is hard to understand.
    (lit.: type of mouth)
  • Die Tonart des Songs ist C-Moll.
  • The key of the song is c minor.
    (lit.: type of tone)
  • Eisbären sind eine bedrohte Tierart.
  • Polar bears are an endangered species.
  • Die Eier stammen von Hennen aus artgerechter Tierhaltung.
  • The eggs are from hens in species-appropriate animal rearing.

These examples all focused on how something is. And here are some that revolve around the idea how something is done.

  • Die Art, wie man küsst, sagt viel darüber aus, wie man im Bett ist.
  • The way you kiss says a great deal about how you are in bed.
  • Das Problem war nicht, was er gesagt hat, sondern die Art und Weise.
  • It’s not what he said but how he said it.
  • Ja, der Manager ist klug. Aber seine arrogante Art geht mir auf die Nerven.
  • Yes, the manager is smart, but his arrogant attitude/way of behaving goes on my nerves.
  • “Schatz, was gibt’s zum Frühstück?”
    “Spiegelei nach Art des Hauses.
    “Also mit Kalkflecken?? Hahah.”
    “Haha…. sehr komisch.”
  • “Honey, what’s for breakfast?”
    “Egg sunny side up à la maison.”
    “So with lots of chalk stains? Hahah”
    “Haha… very funny.”
    (lit.: the way it’s done in that house)

And of course if we talk about Art, we have to mention artig as well. As a standalone, it’s a slightly out of date option for well behaved. What makes it really useful is that you can add it to nouns to create a word with the meaning “like that noun”.

  • Sie bewegt sich gazellenartig.
  • She moves gazelle-esque.
  • Aus meinem Laptop läuft eine ölartige Substanz. Hat irgendjemand eine Idee, was das ist?
  • There’s an oil-like substance coming out of my notebook. Does anyone have an idea what that could be?

And let’s also not forget eigenartig which literally of its own kind, unique  but which has shifted has shifted toward  strange.

  • Deine Suppe riecht eigenartig.
  • Your soup smells strange.

So… looking at all these examples (and there are actually more related words, though not as common) we can but say that German Art is actually really really really freaking useful. Much more useful than, say… uh…  a balloon dog. They have one thing in common though, German Art and a balloon dog…
they’re not art.
Ooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…. burrrrrn.

die Kunst

Whether the balloon dog of Jeff Koons is art is not for us to decide (#irony). What’s sure, though, is that at least the name Koons sounds like art, the German word for art, that is.. die Kunst.

  • Maria hat Kunst studiert.
  • Maria has studied art.
  • Ist das Kunst oder kann das weg?
  • Is that art or can it be removed?
    (this has become kind of an idiom in German,
    used whenever something looks like it should be gone but isn’t… here’s an example… a postcard in that case)
  • Ich bin Künstler.
  • I’m an artist.
  • Diese Suppe ist ein Kunstwerk.
  • This soup is a work of art.

And this word comes from a very famous verb: können. The verb that describes ability. And that makes sense. I mean, creating a piece of art does need inspiration but just look at Michelangelo or Goethe or Debussy… there’s always a lot of skill involved.
And thing you can do well was the original idea of  die Kunst.  This sense is still visible in words like Schmiedekunst (the profession of smithery) or Braukunst (art of brewing) and it’s also the bridge to the other big idea of the Kunst-family today: the idea of being man-made as opposed to natural. or in one word, artifical.

  • Die BBQ-Soße schmeckt irgendwie künstlich.
  • The BBQ sauce tastes somehow artificial.
  • Künstliche Intelligenz wird ein großes Thema in den nächsten 10 Jahren.
  • Artificial intelligence will be a big topic in the next 10 years.
  • Marias Schuhe sind aus Kunstleder.
  • Maria’s shoes are made from artificial leather.

There’s a whole lot of Kunst-compounds like Kunstfaser (artificial fibre), Kunstrasen (artificial lawn) but the best one of them is Kunststoff which means  plastic, synthetic material.  Kind of cool name actually, “artificial stuff”.
Anyway, so we’ve seen that die Kunst and art do line up perfectly while die Art doesn’t mean art at all. That leaves us wondering… who screwed up?

So… what happened?

When you know Spanish or French or another Romance language, you’ll know that the art-words also exist there and that they roughly have the same meaning as in English. That’s because it comes from Latin. Back then, it was still about the idea of general skill, piece of work  so the evolution is exactly like the one of die Kunst. That’s why you can make a Bachelor of Arts in economy.
Now,  from the thing that is made to how a thing is made it’s not THAT far. German has pulled way crazier stunts. So we could assume that German, and a few other Germanic languages like Swedish or Dutch for that matter,  just imported it and messed up the meaning at some point.
But in this case, it actually wouldn’t be fair to blame German. Why not? Because the origin of German Art is not entirely certain.

The thing is… about 1000 years ago, there was a word art but that was about the idea of  “tilling the field”  and it belonged to a completely different family than English art. A few hundred years later, this art had shifted toward the idea of “area where you live, home”  and even more general “where you belong”. And from that meaning it’s really not too far to meanings like species and type and the general idea of “how something is“, that the word has today (and has had for a few hundred years). The reason why this is unclear is that there isn’t enough source material for etymologists to make a definite statement but what’s pretty sure is that it’s not just a standard scholar import from Latin that got twisted.
German does have words however that are directly related to English art. The word der Artikel for example. And artikulieren (articulate).  And Arm.
Now you’re like “Whaaaaat? What do these have in common?”.

Well, the whole art family goes back to the super ancient European Root ar- and this root was about the simple idea of joining things. Think about it. An Artikel brings together words and ideas, artikulieren is about joining sounds, an Arm is made up of three joined parts. And art… well, we’ve already learned that it originally was about skill and pieces of work. Making a chair or a boat or a house… it’s always kind of about bringing things together, joining things.  And now listen to this:
We already mentioned the Bachelor of Art, right? What’s the other big type of bachelor? Exactly, science.
We learned that art comes from joining. Now guess, where science comes from?
From separating, dissecting, shedding – same family as shit.
drops mic

*picks mic back up
Yeah… so… uh… that’s it for today :). This was our look at the pair art and die Art. English art means die Kunst, German die Art means type, way, species, kind and it’s definitely a word you should add to your active vocabulary.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions about

** vocab **

die Kunst – the art
der/die Künstler(in) – the artist
kunstvoll – artful
künstlerisch – artful

künstlich – artificial
Kunststoff – plastic
Kunst+noun – artificial noun

die Art – the way/type, species, kind, the manner (in which something is done)
artig – well behaved (rare)
X-artig – X-like

eigenartig – strange
abartig – disgusting
ausarten – get out of hand (for parties or meetings or the like)
die Unart – bad manner/bad habit

der Artist – the acrobat

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