Word of the Day – “graben”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to the epic new series Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel – the series in which we desperately look at uninteresting words because the interesting ones have already been discussed.
Okay… of course I’m being overly dramatic.
It’s not like we’re going to run out of words any time soon. But I do have to dig a little bit deeper, sometimes.
And speaking of digging, that brings us right to the word I brought back from the word mines, because today, we’ll take a look at the meaning of

graben

 

It looks a lot like to grab but that’s misleading. The better match in English is actually the grave because graben means to dig.
They are all one family though, so let’s excavate the root first :).

The origin is the seductively ancient Indo-European root *ghrebh- , which expressed the idea of grabbing, seizing. That’s where grab and also grip and the German greifen come from, but we’ll look at that branch some other time.
The thing is that the root had kind of a side hustle – the notion of “working the soil”. Seems a bit random at first but just think of digging a beetroot out of the soil for dinner! Or doing garden work using hands and simple tools that you “grab”! I don’t know, to me it makes perfect sense.
Anyway, so the German graben focused entirely on this aspect of “working the soil” and became the German word for to dig.

I guess it’s worth nothing that graben does NOT work for to dig in the sense of liking something or vibing with someone.

  • I really dig this song, bro.

I’m not even sure, if there’s a good translation for that in German, but it’s definitely not graben.
Graben is really about the notion of working down somewhere. And that idea is pretty visible also for the prefix versions, even though the actual translations vary a bit…

Ugh… this intern and his Bachelor o’ Farts. Thinks he’s so smart. Like… at the last meeting he was trying to tell me that untergraben was non-separable, can you believ… oh… wait… it actually really is inseparable. Haha … I… I guess he was right this time. Gee, that’s embarrassing.
Anyway, the other two inseparable versions of graben are vergraben and begraben. And they both mean to bury.  Vergraben is about the mundane act of digging a hole and putting something away in it, like a treasure or a bone. And begraben is about the more “epic” burying in context  of graves or being buried under something collapsing.

And this brings us also right to the related nouns –  das Grab (die Gräber) is the German brother of grave and das Begräbnis is the German word for burial.

Oh and then there’s also the noun die Gruft, which is also a kind of grave, but it’s usually a bigger hall underground. Crypt is the best translation, I think, but Gruft sounds less fancy. It sounds moist and dark and full of spiders and bats. Check out Gruft and crypt on Google image search, if you’re curious. The difference is quite obvious.

And there’s the somewhat derogatory word der Gruftie(s), which according to the German dictionary is used by young people for old people, but I mainly know it as a German option for a person who follows this fashion style, where they go to the gym a lot and are really tan and wax all body hair. I think you all know what I mean…  Goth(ic).

I think Goth is the more common word by now in German for that.
Cool.

First up, we die Grube. We’ve actually already seen it in one of the first examples and it is the German word for a dug hole, a pit.  A Grube can be rather big, but there’s also the cute version die Grübchen, which is the German word for dimples (or foveola as the Mr. Bachelor Man suggested)…. you know, these cute little indentations in the cheeks that some people have.

 

And then, there’s der Graben (die Gräben), which is the German word for a ditch.
Or a trench. Or a fosse.  Or a moat.
Or a rift.
English has quite a bunch of words for that actually but in essence a Graben is like a looooong Grube. Mir. Bacherlor intern guy suggested line-shaped excavation as a paraphrase, if you like that better.

And before we move on to the last word for the day, I’ll give you a nice little connection to English. Are you ready?
Die Grube and der Graben are directly related to… drumroll please… groove. Yup, the musical groove.
And while you now brood over how this connection could possibly make sense, let’s look at the last word for today…. the verb grübeln.

grübeln

And grübeln is actually the German word for brooding, ruminating, thinking something over and over.  Seems a bit weird at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Originally, grübeln was a repeated digging in the ground, maybe for finding a certain root or something, but soon people started using it in a figurative sense of digging for facts or answers and eventually, it focused on this intense thinking you do for big problems.

It’s much stronger than nachdenken. Like… when I hear grübeln I think of someone who looks really serious and tense and whose forehead is full of furrows. Nachdenken is a good thing, grübeln is a bit too much.
Cool.
So, that’s pretty much it for today but of course I still have to tell you about the connection between Grube and groove.
Now, when we hear groove we immediately think of music, but a little over a hundred years ago, the main meaning of the word groove was actually the same as for Grube and Graben… a ditch or pit. Then, jazz musicians came up with the expression of “standing in the groove” which meant playing well in the sense of not doing too much grandstanding. You’re not drawing too much attention, you’re “in the groove” with the band. And because rhythm plays a crucial role in jazz, groove slowly shifted toward this aspect.
Tadaah.
And that’s it for today. This was our look at the meaning of graben and all the nice related words.
As usual, if you want to recap a little you can test yourself with the little quiz we have prepared.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you digged it and see you next time :)

 

for members :)

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Livia
Livia

Hallo! Danke für den interessanten Artikel! Dieses Website ist immer eine Fundgrube von Kenntnis! Ich bin kein Englisch müttersprachige, aber ich glaube dass die Englische Übersetzungen sollten „bury“ und „burial“ sein

Bosko24
Bosko24

Danke sehr. Machen Sie weiter :)

Anonymous
Anonymous

“Wer anderen eine Grube gräbt, fällt selbst hinein”! Ich grüble darüber .
Noch vielen dank für diesen reichen Artikel. Ahmad

Jake
Jake

Bury and burial have one r, not two.

You kind of made it sound like the physical meaning of groove (a long, smooth indentation) has almost died out, but to me it’s still going strong. When I hear groovy, I think of the 1970s, but when I hear groove, I’m don’t immediately think of only music. Maybe I’m weird.

Elsa
Elsa

Hello,
Typos as usual:
“They are all one family the though”(They are all one family though)
“both mean to burry”; “being burried”; “where it burried its bone”; “burries his unicorn”; “burry the hatchet”; “word for burrial” (bury; buried; buried; buries, bury; burial) – justo one “r”
“tombstone” is just one word
“a Graben like a looooong Grube” (a Graben is like a looooong Grube)
“forhead” (forehead) – can it be full of Grabens when it gets furrows? Joking… how do you say forehead furrows in German?

I dug it!
No questions today, I’m tired, I did my first German test of the 2019/2020 schoolyear today and I’m all deutsched out :)
Oh, just one… are you doing an Advent Calandar this year?
Bis bald :)

Anonymous
Anonymous

To see the connection with “groove”, think about the grooves in a vinyl record ;)

Daphne
Daphne

Should I read this article Emanuel – I’ve only just moved to Germany and my street is called Am Ziehgraben – I don’t want to find that “I’ve dug my own grave”!!!!!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Graben is also the name of a famous Street in the very centre of Vienna,Austria and I am still trying to figure out exactly what it means in this context…

Pfkeus
Pfkeus

Very interesting as always. In English we use the word grubbing meaning to dig up or root around for food. Usually applied to animals or small children. That sounds the same as grübeln.

Abgasstufe Es-Zett
Abgasstufe Es-Zett

Was bedeutet Ruhrpott.‐. Pott ??? Pit? Kessel?

fairyhedgehog
fairyhedgehog

I love your articles! I’ve shared this one on Facebook.

I got two questions wrong: on related words and on how to handle your intern. I had you getting him to make coffee for a week!

imane
imane

nyway, the other two inseparable versions OFFFFF graben are vergraben and begraben. :))))

Shawn
Shawn

not sure how I stumbled across this, but I love it – subscribed!

Alan
Alan

Sicher war es Einhornkot?

LCantoni

I really dug the digging, man! :D One quibble – “ruminating” to me has the connotation of calm thinking, like a cow serenely chewing its cud in a peaceful meadow. If “grübeln” has the connotation of a more intense or negative thought process, then maybe “brooding” (which you suggested) or even “obsessing” might be better translations? Danke schön!

Jpanosky
Jpanosky

I would call a Baugrabe for a large building an excavation site. For a home, I’d call it the foundation hole or cellar hole – cellar hole in particular if it’s for a house that’s no longer there.

quiz #6: while grübeln may wreck your brain, I think you’re actually looking for the word rack (to strain in mental effort). And nowadays people often call this kind of thinking “obsessing over” something rather than ruminating. For me, ruminating brings to mind long, slow, deep thoughts, not stress.

donk747
donk747

A great article (as always). :)
Just a correction suggestion… one can ‘wrack’ one’s brain when thinking about something (which could lead to one wrecking one’s brain….)
An old word, ‘wrack’. Check it out.

SCviic
SCviic

I love the website. One thing: you haven’t done any posts on the prefix verbs with “setzen”, e.g “ansetzen” and “einsetzen”. Do you think they are not worth doing?

patrik.osgnach
patrik.osgnach

Last summer I came up on my own with the expression “stirb im Graben” as a way of saying “fuck you”, “fuck it”, “fuck this shit” and so on. I was pretty sure it’s a common German expression, but my colleagues proved me wrong. I felt proud

jeff
jeff

angraben is listed as one of the vocab words but i don’t see it used/demonstrated in the text???

did you mean to show ausgraben?

rileylee
rileylee

I think there is a misspelt word in quiz question #4 der Bergräbnis. It was spelled correctly in the text: der Begräbnis.
One question: Why is it that in my dictionary all five answers in #5 are listed as meanings for der Graben, though it said ‘rift’ was an old definition?
BTW, thank you for your entertaining newsletter.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Danke für den Artikel. Mir ist gleich aufgefallen, dass “untergraben” in deinem Beispiel mit “undermine” zwar untrennbar ist, aber auch noch eine trennbare Variante hat. Z.B. “Die Pflanzen, die als Gründünger gepflanzt wurden, müssen dann später mit untergegraben werden.” Was würde man auf Englisch sagen? “to dig in”? Viele Grüße, Birke