Word of the Day – “handeln”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we’ll take a look at the meaning and family of

handeln

 
But we’ll need some mind bending today, so let’s stretch our brains together a little to warm up.
Handeln
is of course related to English to handle and they both come from the old Germanic noun*handeigh which was the word for “portable phone”. Back then, it was much harder to see each other in person because there were no cars and no planes and the people were practically dependent on their cellphones to keep in touch. Just as Cesar noted in his diary…

Germanum sine portabile in mano rarum est.

That’s Latin. In my dreams anyway.
Anyway, the tribesmen were always with their phone, and so it’s no wonder they eventually came up with the word hand which literally meant “thing that holds the portable phone”.
Everybody thinking “What the hell?” yet?!?! Yes?
Well, perfect. Your brain is all warmed up now, ready for real info. So let’s jump right in…

The origin of handeln and handle is of course the word hand. It’s actually unclear where that comes from, except that it had something to do with grabbing, seizing. And that’s also what the original meaning of handeln and handle was. But that really doesn’t do them justice. Our hands are actually quite the marvel. Super sensitive, fine tuned mechanical wonders, and we can do really complex, complicated stuff with them like calligraphy, guitar playing, knitting, forging weapons, forging sophisticated jewelery. Gee, I sound like a hand sales man :).
But yeah, what I’m going for is that it’s no wonder that the meaning of the verbs soon broadened waaaay beyond mere grabbing.
In English, it first become “using with your hand” and then, a step more abstract, it took on the broad idea of “(successfully) dealing with tackling” a problem or challenge.
The German handeln is kind of similar but doesn’t imply a challenge or a success. Instead, handeln simply means to act (in the sense of taking action, not putting up an act).

  • Wir müssen handeln.
  • We have to act.
  • Maria hat richtig gehandelt.
  • Maria took the right course of action.

The noun is die Handlung and it can mean something like course of action.

  • “Du isst schon wieder Kuchen???”
    “Ja, Übersprungshandlung. Ich kann mich nicht zwischen Pilates und Cross-Fit entscheiden.”
  • “You’re eating cake AGAIN??”
    “Yeah, avoidance behavior. I can’t decide between Pilates and Cross-Fit. ”

Not the best example, I know, but I can’t think of a better one for this Handlung because it’s not that common and sounds a bit scientific. What makes Handlung useful, especially if you like talking about movies or books, is its other meaning: plot.

  • Die Handlung des Films war ein bisschen dämlich.
  • The plot of the movie was a little stupid.

Yes, die Handlung is the German word for plot and it make a lot of sense, I think. The plot is what is basically what happens, what is being done.
And with that meaning of the noun in mind it’s also logical acceptable that the verb handeln, or handeln von to be precise, means to be about.

  • Der Film handelt von einem Löwen der Vegetarier werden will.
  • The movie is about a lion who wants to become a vegetarian.

In fact, handeln can actually mean just to be.

  • Es handelt sich um ein Missverständnis.
  • It is a misunderstanding.
  • Bei dem Objekt auf deinem Teller handelt es sich um frittierte Einhornseele mit Pürree aus Wünschen und Träumen. Und brauner Soße.
  • The object on your plate is fried unicorn soul on mashed wishes and dreams. And gravy.

This only works in phrasings like the two above.
So you can’t say

  • Ich handele mich um Thomas.WRONG

And it does sound a bit formal and it’s usually used when you want to give a little more explanation about reality. Kind of like “The plot of this, the core story of this is… “, if that makes sense.
Yeah… I know, we just went from to handle to to be in like three minutes. Don’t think about it too hard, or you’ll get really confused :).
And that’s actually still not all there is. Take the word

Buchhandlung

Based on what we’ve learned so far, this should mean the plot of the book.
Well… nope. It means book store. Because handeln also carries the idea of trading. Which makes a lot of sense actually. Just think of a busy market – goods and money go from one hand to another. And by the way… the word trade is related to tread, and one of its older meanings was path and also course of action.
Anyway, here are some examples.

  • Maria handelt mit Einhornfellen.
  • Maria is trading in unicorn fur.
  • Als Aktienhändler höre ich natürlich gerne beliebigen Lounge-Jazz.
  • As a stock trader, of course I like listening to arbitrary lounge jazz.



  • Der Welthandel ist um 3 Prozent gewachsen.
  • World trade grew by three percent.

Oh, and it can actually also mean to bargain.

  • In Deutschland ist es nicht üblich, zu handeln.
  • In Germany, it’s not customary to bargain.

Bargaining is a way to agree on a price, so this use makes perfect sense. And it brings us right over to the first very very important prefix version of handeln.

verhandeln

And verhandeln is basically the more general brother of to bargaining. Like… the general way of coming to an agreement. Do you know what I’m going for ;)?
Verhandeln means to negotiate. And it works in all kinds of contexts.

  • Maria hat bei ihrem Gehalt gut verhandelt.
  • Maria negotiated well for her salary.
  • Die Verhandlungen sind gut verlaufen.
  • The negotiations went well.
  • “Kannst du bitte öfter abwaschen?”
    “Nein. Wie oft ich abwasche ist nicht verhandelbar.”
  • “Could you please do the dishes more often?”
    “No. How often I do the dishes is not up for negotiation.”
  • Der Kühlschrank kostet 40 Euro VB. (short for Verhandlungsbasis)
  • The fridge is 44 Dollars, price negotiable.

By the way, the background of to negotiate is actually quite interesting. The origin is the Latin word negotium, which meant business, occupation. So we have a direct connection to trading here. And the word is a combination of neg-, the negation-syllable, and the word otium – which meant ease, leisure. So the Latin word for business was kind of “no free time”.
Looks like sometimes Latin isn’t as boring as it is. Wait… does that even make sense?
Anyway, besides verhandeln there’s also aushandeln and raushandeln, which put a slight focus on the outcome of the negotiation.

  • Die Mitbewohner haben einen Waffenstillstand ausgehandelt.
  • The flatmates negotiated a truce.
  • Ich habe einen kleinen Extra-Rabatt rausgehandelt.
  • I have negotiated a little extra discount.

Oh, and there’s the der Unterhändler, which is a negotiator, but this one is only used in context of mediating serious conflicts and it does not exist as a verb anymore.
Cool.
Now, I know, we’ve had a lot already, but are you ready for some more?
“Not really, actually. My head is full.”
Well…. actually, this isn’t a Verhandlung ;).
“Emanuel, you’re treating us like we’re your reading slaves.”
Well, no, but behandeln is just too important to skip.
So read along, my minions.

behandeln

The be-prefix often carries a notion of “onto”, and a vibe of repetition and intensity. So taken super literally, behandeln means to “put hands onto repeatedly”. Or if we use the basic meaning of handeln, to act, we get to act onto.
And I think we don’t need much mind yoga to see why behandeln is the German word for … to treat.
When a doctor treats someone, they do literally put their hands on the patient. And when we treat someone nicely, we basically act nice.
Behandeln has a super wide range of uses but even if to treat isn’t the right translation, I think it’ll all make sense in context.

  • Das Eichhörnchen behandelt die Einhornbisswunde.
  • The squirrel treats the unicorn bite wound.
  • Die Praktikanten von Emanuel werden extrem gut behandelt. Berichte über eine Peitsche entsprechen nicht der Realität.
  • The interns Emanuel are being treated extremely well. Reports about a whip do not reflect the reality.
  • In diesem Artikel haben wir das Wort handeln behandelt.
  • In this article, we’ve discussed/talked about the word handeln.

The noun die Behandlung means treatment but except for a medical context, I think people would usually use a phrasing with the verb instead.
And last but not… well actually last AND least, there are two more prefix versions, abhandeln and einhandeln. The former is about treating, discussing a topic completely. And sich einhandeln means to get as a result of your actions and it’s usually used in context with getting negative things.

  • Das Wort abhandeln haben wir mit zwei Sätzen abgehandelt.
  • We’ve dealt with, discussed the word abhandeln in two sentences.
  • Thomas hat sich mit seinem Kommentar über Marias Gewicht viel Ärger eingehandelt.
  • Thomas got himself a lot of trouble with his comment about Maria’s weight.

But both are quite rare and thus definitely a case for the passive pile.
That’s .. erm… that’s the pile of words you can kind of understand but you can’t use.
And that’s it for today :).
This was our look at the super important handeln its various super useful meanings and its super important prefix versions. If you need to review all the meanings, check out the little vocab list below. And as usual, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

** vocab **

handeln – to take action, to trade, to bargain
handeln von – to be about (for stories)
die Handlung – the plot, the course of action (rare), store
sich handeln um – to be (es handelt sich um, bei X handelt es sich um)

der Handel – the trade
der Einzelhandel – retail sector

der Händler – the trader

verhandeln – to negotiate
die Verhandlung – the negotiation
aushandeln, raushandeln – negotiate with focus on outcome
der Unterhändler – negotiator, mediator (only for big scale conflicts)

behandeln – to treat, also: discuss/talk about a topic
die Behandlung – the treatment

abhandeln – to fully discuss a topic
die Abhandlung – a treatment, treatise

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Mallory
Mallory
7 months ago

Good Day….

Interesting words. How does the definition of “behandeln” in the article apply to this sentence?

Die Jungs sind wirklich beeindruckt von ihr, aber sie behandelt einfach alles nonchalant.

….she “treats” everything nonchalant”….in the sense of “handling”? How is this different than umgehen?

thanks

EM C
EM C
1 year ago

Vielen Dank noch mal! Mithilfe von vielen deinen Beiträgen kann ich jetzt die Gründe für viele reflexive Verben verdeutlichen. Aber dieses “es handelt sich um” macht mir echt verwirrt … Warum gibt es denn hier ein “sich”? Es ist eigentlich erklärbar?

ngen31
ngen31
3 years ago

Wie würden Sie “negotiation skills” übersetzen? Verhandlungsgeschick?

ngen31
ngen31
3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Danke sehr :)

laural
laural
3 years ago

“Es handelt sich um ein Missverständnis.“

Could you explain the difference with “es geht darum, …” Would that work here? I’m thinking not but thought it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Tim Miller
Tim Miller
3 years ago

You really seem to be obsessed with unicorns.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
3 years ago

I’m back! TaDAA! Missed you all! Deutsch an der Universität is Super! Oddly, this first post that I’ve had time to deal with is about “handeln” and it was EXACTLY the word I asked about in class on Tuesday. The question in our book was:

Welche Thema behandelt der Projekttag?

Sounds wrong to me – I asked if it shouldn’t be “handelt” instead. Ok, with a different sentence structure, but “behandelt” in this context gefühlt falsch. Not good enough auf Deutsch yet, but something like, “Um welche Thema handelt sich der Projekttag?” perhaps. Point being, HANDELT seems more correct than “BEHANDELT” in the above example and very eerie indeed that Emanuel would just happen to blog about Just That Word the very same week… (Twilight Zone music in the background)

As for a possible correction to the blog:

The interns Emanuel are being treated extremely well. Reports about a whip do not reflect the reality.

Should probably be changed to “Emanuel’s interns are being…”

So glad to be back with y’all – gotta catch up on the blogs I missed from the beginning of term until now.

And if anyone is wondering – This blog has given me an AMAZING advantage over my classmates at uni. Seriously.

Bran
Bran
3 years ago

Ich habe auch einen Text gelesen wo handeln als “negotiate” behandelt wurde. Was ist dann der Unterschied mit verhandeln?

Negotiate hat auch andere Beugung auf Englisch: etwas umzugehen. Vielleicht könnte eine von deiner Sprachverschwörungstheorien davon handeln (oder darum sich handeln?) :)

Es kam mir vor als ob Einhorne (oder Einhörner?) auf diesem Artikel wirklich schlecht behandelt wurden. Was ist mit deiner Liebe für diese außergewöhnliche Wesen passiert??

PeterB
PeterB
3 years ago

The link to the csv file does not work for me.

Qwfwq
Qwfwq
3 years ago
Reply to  PeterB

nor I

Sarah
Sarah
3 years ago

10/10 on that intro

PeterB
PeterB
3 years ago

“Maria handelt mit Einhornfellen.” would be “Maria is trading in unicorn fur.” in the sense of being in that business.
Would “USA is trading with China” be “Die USA handeln mit China”?

Cyndey
Cyndey
3 years ago

Absolutely love these Daily German emails !
Was an exchange student in Germany for 18 months in Koblenz in the 80’s and I still enjoy reading German daily/weekly. Great info !

Behrooz
Behrooz
3 years ago

Emanuel, great work and thanks for all of these tasty foods for mind.
I’m new here and I’m not sure whether the minions are supposed to leave these sort of comments here, but please let me try: in your example “Das Wort abhandeln haben wir mit zwei Sätzen abgehandelt.”, you translated “zwei Sätzen” to “one example”. Shouldn’t that be ‘two examples ‘.

Peter Melzer
Peter Melzer
3 years ago

In Germany it’s not customARY to bargain. For the British (and not for Americans) “custom” can mean “patronage” as in “we appreciate your custom.” Americans would say “we appreciate your business” (or patronage).

Peter Melzer
Peter Melzer
3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Yes, to the best of my knowledge. I replied in greater detail to PeterB58 (the earlier ID was, if I recall, Berllingrabber
but the post seems to have disappeared.

christibos
christibos
3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

In Canada we would definitely use it the way you used it. It’s not customary to bargain. It means that it is not something we would usually do. It’s not according to our custom, or are customary way of doing things. :) It’s probably used differently in different places. I know England has words and usages that I never heard of before I started working with Germans who learned British English. :)

PeterB
PeterB
3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

One could say “It is a custom”, but in your context “customary” is better. See here:
https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/its-the-custom-or-a-its-a-custom-to-do-something.2226364/

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

To me, it sounds completely non-native. Glancing at the Google results, I’m guessing the vast majority are either from non-native speakers/writers, or just typos.

Peter Melzer
Peter Melzer
3 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Various English speaking countries have individual forms of expressions. Even in the US certain regions have their own ways of saying things. However, to the best of my knowledge, in the US, one says “it is customary to …” and not “it is custom to ”. Even in Britain, I have never heard the latter. If however one would wish to refer to a local custom one could say “It is A custom here to …” or “This (or Doing ) is A custom here.” All that said, language is always changing, and many Americans have been known to violate some of the rules of grammar taught in an earlier age. Lexicographers do not create rules but simply report on common usage.

PeterB
PeterB
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Melzer

In standard English, “custom” is mostly a noun, and sometimes an adjective with a fairly specific meaning:

1. made specially for individual customers: custom shoes.
2. dealing in things so made, or doing work to order: a custom tailor.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Melzer

Usage changes, yeah, but I think a phrase like “it’s a/the/our custom to…”/”it’s customary to…” isn’t a great candidate for that kind of shift anyway, because it’s not very colloquial.

To me, the confusion would arise because of the meaning PeterB58 brings up – it’s short for “customized,” rather than “customary.” That’s what my brain would tend to want to hear if a native speaker said “it’s custom.”

Mason-Dixon Line
Mason-Dixon Line
3 years ago

Really enjoying these articles. Small point. “Maria handelt mit Einhornfellen.” Americans would say Maria trades in unicorn fur. We would expect “trades with” to have as its object the trading partner – a person, company, nation, etc.

Kim
Kim
3 years ago

New member here, thank you guys for covering me for one year. It is a really big help.

TY
TY
3 years ago

In the example sentence “Die Verhandlungen sind gut gelaufen,” I think you are saying “Die Verhandlungen sind gut verlaufen.” Am I mishearing?

parisbongi
parisbongi
3 years ago

So no mention of Handel? Oh, but of course, “The only thing opera is good for is browsing the web” you once wrote…. Otherwise you handled this one quite well. Thanks, once again!