Word of the Day – “lenken”

lenken-ablenken-meaningHello everyone,

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

lenken

 

Lenken is one of those words that many learners somehow miss out on even though it is something we do every day. No wonder, because can lenken can be done to all kinds of things… bikes, cars, companies, rivers, attentions, lives and more. Quite a selection, right? The thing that all these have in common is that they move. And lenken is about giving the movement direction.
Today we’ll find out how exactly to use lenken, what related words there are and of course what’s up with the prefix versions one of which is really really really important in context of THIS.
Haha… the second one… so cute. Anyway, where was I. Uh yeah… so are you ready to dive in and find out about lenken? Great :).

Lenken comes from the old Germanic noun lanca which once was the word for hip. No, not Chai-Almond-Latte-with-Choco-Chia-Drizzle-hip. The other hip. The one where that chai latte settles down as fat. Lanca comes from one of the many Indo-European roots for bending,  and the original idea was simply  part where the body bends. In German this evolved into the very useful word Gelenk which is the word for all joints.

  • Mein Handgelenk tut weh.
  • My wrist hurts.
  • Maria ist sehr gelenkig.
  • Maria is very limber.

Lanka is also the origin of the word link, and this word actually kind of combines all the idea of the family. A link in a chain is bent, a chain itself bends, and the links are kind of like the joints (Gelenke) of the chain. But that’s not all. Today there’s another kind of link. The internet link. And what do those do? They direct us somewhere. Just like  lenken :). Because that’s what lenken is all about… giving direction to a movement.
And now with the history out of the way, let’s look at lenken in action.
And we’ll start with some examples from traffic where it means to guide or to steer.

  • Ich lenke nach links.
  • I steer left.
  • Selbstlenkende Autos sind keine Zukunftsvision mehr.
  • Self-guiding cars are not a vision of the future anymore.
  • Ich lenke also bin ich.
  • I steer therefor I am.
    (real book title of a book about biking in Berlin… word play with the famous “Ich denke also bin ich”)

And here are a couple of important nouns:

  • Das Lenkrad lässt sich schwerer als normal drehen.
  • The (steering) wheel is harder to turn than normally.
  • Ich hab’ einen Kaffeehalter an meinem Lenker.
  • I have a coffee cup holder on my handlebar.

But as we’ve mentioned it’s not limited to traffic so let’s look at some other examples, too.

  • Lenken sie nun all ihre Aufmerksamkeit auf ihren kleinen Zeh.
  • Now, direct all your attention into your small toe.
  • Thomas will seine kreative Energie in nützliche Bahnen lenken.
    Lit.: Thomas wants to steer his creative energy into useful tracks/orbits.
  • Thomas wants to channel his creative energy in a useful way.
  • Frau Schmidt lenkt den Konzern seit über 10 Jahren.
  • Mrs. Smith has been at the helm of the corporation for more than 10 years.
  • Der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt.
  • Man proposes, God disposes.

The translation of the last one (common idiom, at least in German) is a bit odd.  I guess the translator took some liberty because he or she wanted a rhyme but … in a normal contexts lenken is definitely NOT be a good translation for to dispose.
Anyways… now let’s get to the prefix versi… oh hold on, there’s a call here. Henne from Norway, welcome to the show. What can I do for you
“Hey Emanuel, so great to be on the show.  I have a question…. well two actually”
Sure, go right ahead.
“Cool, so I’m confused about  steuern. I’ve heard that used in context
of cars and I was wondering if there’s any difference to lenken.”

That’s a great question… steuern is actually the direct brother of to steer and the whole “helm” of a car for example is usually called das Steuer but as a verb itself it is not used that much for cars and not at all for bikes. It kind of sounds bigger, heavier, clunkier than lenken, and I wouldn’t use it in any of the examples we had.
“Oh okay… so it’s more the vibe than the meaning.”
Yeah… lenken sounds smooth… oh and also, lenken is a pretty continuous act and closely connected to direction. Steuern is also used for controls that only give one instruction per hour. Like… imagine a computer that turns on your coffee machine at a certain time… you can call that steuern but not lenken. Does that help?
“Yeah I think I got it. Great, thanks so much.”
Oh thank you for calling, this was a great question. Maybe I’ll actually do a WotD on steuern.
“Oh you mean because it also mean t…”
Hello, hello Henne are you there? Hmmm weird, I guess the connection failed.
Anyway, now let’s get to the prefix versions. And there’s one which is really really really useful: ablenken.
Ablenken is about directing something off the track or trajectory. In real world contexts it translates to deflect.

  • Thomas schießt und sein Mitspieler lenkt den Ball unhaltbar ab.
  • Thomas shoots and his teammate deflects the ball making it unstoppable.

But the really important use is about “de-routing” an abstract thing… our attention. Ablenken is THE word for to distract.

  • Die besten Tipps wie Sie sich vom Rauchen ablenken.
  • The best tips how to take your mind off smoking.
  • Das Geräusch lenkt mich ab.
  • The noise distracts me.
  • “Wo warst du?”
    “Äh… ich… sag mal , ist das Hemd neu?”
    Lenkt nicht ab!” (SUPER COMMON!!!)
  • “Where have you been?”
    “I … uh… hey, is that a new shirt?”
    “Don’t try to switch the topic.”

There’s are also two common related words… die Ablenkung and abgelenkt.

  • Nacktpicknick neben der Landstrasse führt zu größtem Auffahrunfall in 10 Jahren – alle waren Zitat “kurz abgelenkt.”
  • Nude picnic causes biggest pile-up (car accident) in 10 years – everybody was quote “distracted for a second”
  • Maria und ihre beste Freundin machen heute Ablenkungsshopping.
  • Maria and her best friend want to go distraction shopping.

Theoretically there is also ablenkend which would be the equivalent to distracting but nobody uses it. You could use störend or nervig or you could just  make a normal sentence.

  • That sound is distracting.
  • Das Geräusch stört/nervt/lenkt ab.
  • He has a distracting voice.
  • Er hat eine nervige Stimme./Seine Stimme ist nervig.

All right.
Besides ablenken there are a few others. Umlenken is just a general term for changing abstract directions, einlenken is about changing the direction in a discussion and coming around to the course of the other party. Umlenken is mostly used for changing of abstract courses and  auslenken is mainly used in physics in context of moving something out of the normal position.
Here are some examples…

  • Wenn ein Drucker nicht geht, kann man den Druckauftrag auf einen anderen Drucker im Netzwerk umlenken.
  • If the office printer isn’t working you can redirect the printing order to a different printer in the network.
  • Thomas signalisiert ein Einlenken beim Putzplan.
  • The party signals relenting in the matter of the cleaning schedule.
  • Die Auslenkung der Feder/Amplitude ist jetzt maximal.
  • Now the elongation/displacement of the coil/amplitude is at its maximum.

but neither of those is really common so I’d say… passive pile.
The one you need is  this one.
… …. hahaha… at 0:45 the move… so funny…. hahah.. oh my God that is so cu… oh… oh sorry, I forgot we’re still on. But I think we’re done for today anyway :).This was our German Word of the Day lenken. It is related to link and it’s a continuous rather hands on way of giving direction. It’s THE word for steering cars and bikes but it also works for abstract stuff.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

lenken – to steer, to direct (continuous process)
die Lenkung – the steering
das Lenkrad – the (steering wheel)
der Lenker – the handlebar (also used for managers)

ablenken – to deflect, to distract, to divert
die Ablenkung – the distraction (both good and bad), result of a diversion
das Ablenkungsmanöver – the diversion 
abgelenkt – distracted

einlenken – come around, give in, relent
umlenken – change direction (all kinds of abstract stuff, not really for cars and bikes)

auslenken – to displace, to deflect (physics)
die Auslenkung – displacement, elongation (for a coil for example)

das Gelenk – the joint
das Handgelenk – the wrist
das Sprunggelenk – the ankle
gelenkig – limber
ungelenk – ungainly, bearish

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Anonymous
Anonymous
9 months ago

U

Spoiler

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago

So that’s where Gelenk comes from. Fascinating. It’s a nice mental picture to remember the meaning, since joints move fluidly/continuously (at least when they’re working right) and you can use them to change your direction or the direction of stuff you touch. That at least helps me separate “lenken” from the other verbs about bending, steering, guiding, and the comments on this article were really interesting too.

It looks like “flank” is related (makes sense I guess, a bendy body part) and also “flinch.”

It’s nice to have the option to log out. I’m not sure I’ll use it as much as dark mode, but it definitely could come in handy.

Jake
Jake
2 years ago

How does einlenken feel compared to überreden lassen or breitschlagen lassen?

Jake
Jake
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yes, I think so. Thanks.

Nathan Robinson
7 years ago

One note about “to dispose”. In some contexts dispose could mean “direct” or “command” such as when saying “I will use all the means at my disposal to accomplish the task.”
The Latin root “disponere” meant “to arrange” and the French “poser” meant “to place”.
So it could be closer to lenken than you think.
It’s more recent that it came to mean “place in the trash”.
Thanks for the awesome descriptions of German words!

carolina schwab
carolina schwab
7 years ago

Hallo! I am very interested in having skype 1-to-1 lessons with you. Can you give private lessons? If you can, could we talk further through email? Thank you!!!

Ronald
Ronald
7 years ago

Hi, I loved the article as usual, but I had an entirely unrelated question. Why does ‘die Brille’ mean ‘toilet seat’ in addition to ‘glasses’? Do you have any idea how one word has come to have two totally different meanings?

a.n.onymous
a.n.onymous
7 years ago
Reply to  Ronald

Auf Französisch, “les lunettes” bedeutet “glasses/spectacles”. Und “la lunette” bedeutet, unter anderem, “toilet seat”. Koinzidenz?

ubungmachtdenmeister
ubungmachtdenmeister
7 years ago

Just when I thought you had taught me everything there was to know and BOOF, out comes an ace from your sleeve. Lenken seems to have fallen under my radar over the years. must have been ein bisschen abgelenkt when it popped its head out from beneath the woodwork. I had genuinely never heard of it until you posted just there. I knew about lenkrad and gelenken but hadn’t made THE connection. That’s what you do here better than anything, you make the connection for us that makes all the words seamlessly fit together under one umbrella. What is the German word for the theoretical abstract connecting of things? Like I figure/suss out something, means I make a connection. I know die Verbindung but I think that’s more an electrically orientated word, more for actual physical things that are connected together, like a computer to the internet through a cable, but i’m sure that’s not the correct word for the abstract idea. Also one more question. Is there a name for constructions, when you use only the prefix verb together with a negation or participle to form a three or four letter sentence that only contains the verb first, its negation/participle/direction and then then the separable prefix at the end e.g lenkt nicht ab (danke), komm mal rein, schau mal hier an, schiess mal los (I love that one), dreh sich um or nicht schlapp machen? Ok that last one probably doesn’t fit the same but I added it because I like the sound of it, its fits at least in rhythm. Whatever they are called, I especially love learning/hearing them, they sound very German to me, real native stuff.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
7 years ago

Imperativ.

What I’d really like to know is how the “impersonal imperative” is called. Like: Nicht Peter ablenken!

juan
juan
7 years ago

Hi, so you can use *lenken* or *Umlenken* to point out that you change your mind? in case of abstract examples

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

Can lenken be used as a synonym for “to guide”, in the context of physically moving a person in the direction you want them to go. For example, if you were in a crowded shopping centre and you put your hand on your partner’s shoulder and steer/guide them in the direction you need them to go rather than yelling over the crowd? Or is a different verb used for this?

Also, I’ve been having a problem with the site over the last few days. Posts on the main page have been disappearing/rearranging themselves. I missed “Listen to German – 1” when it was posted as it appeared under the post for “Fähig” and now the post for “Fähig” is under the post for “rücken” (after vanishing for a little while earlier today). “Ausnahme” has also disappeared, reappeared, and rearranged itself. I’m not sure if you are doing something with the archives or if it’s a wordpress thing, and maybe you’re aware that it’s happening – but I thought I’d mention it just in case.

harrowmykel
7 years ago

how do i contact you?

harrowmykel
7 years ago
Reply to  harrowmykel

i have a proposal to make.

harrowmykel
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

thanls but you havent replied..

harrowmykel
7 years ago
Reply to  harrowmykel

hope you reply soon though

harrowmykel
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

that would be very amazing… Thanks!! :-) ;-) :-

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
7 years ago

“Der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt.
Man proposes, God disposes.”

We also have this proverb:

“Chelovek predpolagayet, a Bog raspolagayet”.

Also, as I was reading, I thought of “lanky”, and sure enough it stems from the same root.

berlingrabers
7 years ago

I imagine the sayings in various languages are derived from Proverbs 16:9, which in Hebrew sort of rhymes, I guess: Lev ‘adam yechashev darkho; vaAdonai yakhin tsa`ado. (“A person’s heart plans his way; but the Lord establishes his steps.”)

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Probably, but that doesn’t explain why they all rhyme :d

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Sure.

Ruth
Ruth
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I don’t know about ancient Hebrews, but their next-door neighbours, the ancient Egyptians, believed that intelligent thought originated in the heart. The meaning conveyed to the original audience might have been quite different from what is understood by a modern one from the word “heart”.

berlingrabers
7 years ago
Reply to  Ruth

Yeah, this is more or less the case for ancient Hebrew – the heart is the seat of thought and will (together with the kidneys). The seat of the emotions? The intestines. :)

I do think the English version sounds a little harsher to modern ears, but that really could just be because “propose” and “dispose” have shifted a bit in meaning (or at least connotation). In any case, I think the meaning of the proverb is the same – people come up with plans, but the outcome is ultimately in God’s hands.

Ruth
Ruth
7 years ago

The verse from Proverbs may well be where his inspiration came from, but Thomas à Kempis (von Kempen) is credited with “Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit”, which was likely the beginning of all the short, rhyming “proverbs” in various languages.
Спасибо, Grateful Reader, for the Russian one.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Wahrscheinlich. Ich müsste die lateinischen Bedeutungsnuancen kennen, um das zu beantworten.

Übrigens, würd’ Folgendes auch gehen?

Mensch [nur] überlegt, während Gott festlegt.

(Ich weiß, Verbzweitstellung; aber man verzichtet oft drauf bei Sprüchen.)

Dushan
Dushan
7 years ago

Thomas wants to channels his creative energy in a useful way. he wants to CHANNEL stuff into stuff :-)

nadgerz
nadgerz
7 years ago

Minor: “I steer therefor I am.” -> “I steer thereforE I am.”

berlingrabers
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yeah, “therefor” would correspond to “dafür,” but it sounds waaaay archaic.

– There’s an app therefor.®™

Alan
Alan
7 years ago

Great post as usual, I learn german a lot from you, vielen danke. Another cat lover here. Ich war ein bisschen mit den Katzenvideos abgelenkt.. Gruß :D

Alan
Alan
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Danke! ;)