German Word of the Day – “gar”

gar-sogar-pictureHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will take a bite of the word

gar

 

I hope it’s cooked. I mean… I don’t want to get Cindarella. Had that as a kid once. I was throwing up for days…
Awfully unfunny joke as an intro. Check.
Yeah. 2014. Getting things done.

Gar is a weird word. It means cooked. And it means at all. And it has come a long loooooooooong way … (click here for the obligatory flashback harp)
Once  upon a time, the Indo-Europeans found a root (e)r,  and it meant something like to get going, to get into motion. They planted this root and watered it daily with use so it grew into a tree, a huuuuuge tree with many leaves. To run is one of those leaves, as is to ride. And to rise.  And to raise  … oh and earnest.
A few centuries ago, there also was a Germanic word *ga-arwa (or garawēr or something similar… the sources vary) on that tree. This was a combination of a form of the original root and the prefix ge/ga
which the Germanic people back then used to add to all kinds of things to imply completion. The meaning of that word was something like “done get going”… that is my very personal translation :)… and it meant something like… set, prepared. Now, in English people soon were just like “Meh… let’s just drop the ge, shall we  and so geraete turned to .. ready. They did keep one word with the ge in it too… to gear (up), which clearly also has the prepared, set, ready idea in itself. Run, ride, gear, ready… they’re all one big family.
In German, they never had a problem with ge- . They loved it. And so they kept garo in the meaning of ready, prepared. But for some reason, they also kept playing around with the root and after a while they replaced the ge with their new darling prefix be-. And that’s where bereit comes from.

So… bereit and ready don’t only mean the same… they also are family. I was surprised when I found that out. Now, what happened to garo? Well, bereit was a huge success. Garo lost more and more ground and today, the only field in which it is still the word of choice for ready is… the kitchen. And not even the general ready as in dinner’s ready. No. It just means cooked as in the opposite of raw.

There is also a verb garen, which means (gently) cooking.

Now, of course we don’t talk about gar because it can be used for cooking.
But on it’s walk through the centuries gar has taken on and lost  other functions too , some of which it still has today.
So… the original meaning was a general ready or prepared. That is not very far from a general  idea of completion. And, as we can see in English, that idea can be used as an intensifier

  • The glass is empty.
  • The glass is completely empty.

I mean… empty is empty and not sort of empty or almost empty. So what is completely adding if not intensity. And gar was used for exactly that.

  • Du bist gar schön.
  • You are utterly beautiful.
  • Sprich nicht gar so schnell.
  • Don’t speak all that fast.

This has come a little out of date. You can find it here and there but definitely sounds like you’re stage acting. But there is one use-case in which this gar is common… very common… incredibly hyper XXXL common.

garnicht

Let’s go right ahead and look at so…  wait, what’s that siren? Oh god, German spelling police… quick, I have to write it as two words.

That’s no joke, by the way. … they really did that. So awful.
All these versions, with nicht, nichts and kein are really really common and people use it every day. And if you want to put even more emphasis on the negative… well just extend the gar.

Now, sometimes people also use it with other words of negation…

That is weird sounding to say the least though and you shouldn’t try it. It might work but it might also be just wrong. But with gar nicht, gar nichts and gar kein/e/n/m/r/s  … those always work and you should start using them. By the way… stretching out the gar is not the only way to make it even more intense… there is also the following  common idiom

Literally, this means entirely and completely so it kind of super intensifies things. You can use that just like the regular gar and it is especially handy for those stand alone  no-s… a single gar nicht would sound a bit truncated in that case.

So, intensifying a negative is one of the things the complete-idea of gar has brought us, but it is not the only one. There is another super common word. Sogar.

Sogar – and the many things it doesn’t mean

Back a few centuries  ago… the words gar is still in common use as  completely. Two princesses sit around swooning over Sir Loras, that cool knight they have heard so much about….

People used that way of intensifying a lot and so it fused and became one word – sogar. And then the original meaning changes, from so completely  to even. So from today’s point of view the princess said the following.

  • He is strong and pretty and even smart.

I don’t really know why there was this change. Maybe people got so used to their dramatic sogar that someone one day said

And the people around him were like… “What?! Pepper from India, wine from Italy and so utterly potatoes? That don’t make no sense.”. But it sounded cool and so they kept using this to underline how special something is. I mean… so utterly smart and even smart... the both do have the idea of special in them. But anyway… the original meaning was soon forgotten and today sogar means even… 

Now, the word even is used for many different things and has many different translations. Sogar only works for the even that is reaching for extremes so to speak. Like… you can reach the apples on that branch but if you really really stretch out your arm you can even reach the bigger ones on that branch further up. You reach far out to include extremes for extremes with sogar. And that’s all it does. It is not like even that means all kinds of things.
In fact, let’s look at one example where sogar doesn’t work… or at least not without changing the meaning of the sentence.

  • Have you even read the book?

This can mean two things. One: you doubt that the other person has actually read it… and two: you think that reading the book is an extreme thing to do and the normal activity would be “put on shelf” or “look at the pictures”. The first one makes much more sense in this context and most people would understand it that way but the other one is possible too, at least in theory. And now guess what this sentence means.

Exactly, number two. It sounds genuinely impressed at how extreme and out there reading a book is. And that’s all sogar does – reaching for extremes. Okay… is it really all it does? Like.. really? Only that? The answer is … No. It doesn’t even do that properly :). It only works in positive sentences. As soon as you introduce a nicht sogar is going to leave . those two… they’re really awkward about each other. I don’t really know what happened, but not even is not sogar nicht it is nicht mal.

Ugh… German. Can’t you ever just use one word? Like.. what the translation is for something ALWAYS depends. Why must it always depend? Someone should tell the translations to grow up. On second thought though at least the stuff with sogar only working in the positive makes sense… we’ve said that sogar reaches for extremes, be they positive or negative. Add a not and  there is no more reaching… there is just missing something, if that makes sen.. meh whatever… let’s just say not even is nicht mal.

All right… so much  important uses of gar – gar nicht and sogar. Those are the ones you really need and those are the ones you’ll see every day.
There is one more usage that we could mention. It is a bit out of date but it is still around in books so you might come across it… it is gar that expresses surprise.

This question makes it sounds as if the speaker has hints that the other person read the book and the speakers finds that super surprising. The translation would be

  • Don’t tell me you’ve actually read the book. That… that would be crazy.

but not with this undertone of “don’t lie to me.” but rather in genuine surprise and disbelieve.Okay perhaps that’s a bit confusing. Let me just use an example that is more obvious.

There is genuine surprise and disbelieve in this. And that’s why it is mostly used in these kind of questions. And that’s also the difference to sogar, which talks about extremes but considers them realistic… and it often has a notion of on top of that.
All right. And I think that’s it for today. This was our German Word of the Day gar. It is related to ready, and it once meant ready but it got out of fashion and now it only means ready in sense of cooked. The idea of completion however, that is in the word, is part of two very important uses. Gar to intensify a negative and the word sogar, that means even in sense of reaching out for the extreme.
If you have any questions or suggestion or sogar complaints, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

By the way, here’s a little riddle for you… which word can you build from the three letters of gar, that is a synonym for very?  If you get it right you have the chance to win an exclusive meet and great with Justin Bieber.

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leo odongo
leo odongo

Vielen Dank

Paul
Paul

Mein Boss hat mir sogar was zum Geburtstag geschenkt.
My boss even gave me a birthday present.

My brains hurting – mein boss – my boss, hat..geschenkt – gave, Mir – to me, sogar – duh, zum geburtstag (to the birthday), what is was doing here, right in the middle?

Good post btw. Useful words we will see everyday is what we need.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi, thanks!
A question on your examples re the cat:

•Meine Katze passt sogar in diese Box.
•My cat even fits into this box
•Meine Katze passt nicht mal in diese Box.
•My cat doesn’t even fit into this box

I’ve looked up that die Box is feminine. But I’m confused as to why it’s still akkusativ and not dativ for being “in the box”?
I’m assuming it’s because it’s still in the process of being placed in the box but just wanted to clarify. The cases are confusing for an english speaker!

and also, would most people use “Box”? What then do die Kiste, der Karton and der Kasten then represent?

Thanks!

laledda

It’s fitting /into/ the box, as in its outside at one point, and then inside at the next point. From out to in. Dative would be used to describe this:

My cat isn’t doing anything called ‘fitting’ when it’s inside this box.

Makes little sense.

Sylvia
Sylvia

Wenn Maria Milch trinkt, und sogar, wenn sie nur daran denkt, wird ihr schlecht.
I don’t get that “ihr”. Does werden go with dativ?
Vielen Dank!

laledda

It’s similar to “Wie geht’s dir” “Mir geht’s gut” etc. In fact, it’s exactly the same. Instead however, the verb is werden and not sein. If you used sie and not ihr it would mean ‘she becomes a bad person’, instead of ‘the state of affairs to do with her become bad’.

JB
JB

So “was” is sometimes short for etwas in spoken and written german. What other shortened words do average german speakers use that may confuse the novice learner like me?

gp
gp

z.B. “mal” statt einmal!

Nikolaus Wittenstein

Re: “The washing machine only uses 5 liters of water and when in water efficiency mode even only 3”
I would say “The washing machine only uses 5 liters of water, and just 3 when in water-efficiency mode!”. I think “just” feels like it outclasses “only” to me. I would also easily say “just” in both places (“just 5” and “just 3”) or “only” in both places.

Bram
Bram

Vielen, vielen herzlichen Dank! Diese Worte haben mich seit so lange verwechselt! Außer „gar nichts“, wusste ich gar nicht (haha), wie man die benutzt. Danke noch mal!

Jo
Jo

Thank you for another interesting and informative post!
In answer to your question in the washing machine example, I don’t think “…even only 3” works in English – I’d leave out the “even” there. I tried googling “even only”, and I did find some examples:
a. “If your Christmas card is even only half as good as this one from Lars Hinrichs, don’t bother.”
b. “Excellent property. Will be back (even only for the hotel)…”
c. “Even only if forever”
In example a, I think “If … is even (only) half as … (then) …” is an idiomatic phrase. And I think b is really “even if only”, which is also idiomatic. Example c is a song title, and it seems deliberately odd, so you have to think about it to try to figure out what it means. (Though the longer I look at it, the more it just looks like 4 words strung together…)

I’d like to be able to identify what the difference is between that and the other examples you gave, but it’s hard for me to put my finger on what it is about it.

captious

Wait, you left us hanging. How do you say “Have you even read the book?”

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Ist “nicht mal” eher umgangssprachlich oder kommt es auch in “seriöseren” Texten vor (Lehrbücher usw.)?

Frau Leonard

Very informative :) Glad I’m not the only one who likes etymology – I just so rarely get a chance to look at it from the German side!

Pamasich

Interessante Seite :D
Da sucht man auf Google nach einem Word-Problem und trifft solch eine Seite an :3
Obwohl Deutsch meine Muttersprache ist, ist der erste Drittel dieses Textes komplett neu für mich. Warum lernt man auf fremdsprachigen Seiten so viel mehr über die eigene Sprache als in der Schule oder im Alltag? D:
Wie auch immer, ich wollte nur sagen, dass ich diese Seite sehr lehrreich finde und ich werde noch den ein oder anderen Text zu früheren Wörtern des Tages durchlesen, bevor diese Seite in meiner vollgemüllten Favoritenliste untergeht :3

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Was fühlst du, wenn du ältere deutsche Texte liest? Z.B. die Lutherbibel. Die Wörter sehen oftmals anders aus, die Nebensatzstruktur hat sich noch nicht in die gegenwärtige Form umgewandelt… Empfindest du solche Text als irgendwie “fremd”, oder trotzdem als standarddeutsch mit mittelalterlichem Beigeschmack?

Lucius
Lucius

Hello Emmanuel, thanks very much for this post !
Is there any common conceptual thread (like ziehen is to pull with a string, a very useful concept) to the very many variants (with different prefixes) of richten. I am confused by the fact that so many of the meanings seem totally unrelated. richten judge, adjust. Hinrichten execute (OK probably a variant of to judge but why hin?) . einrichten install, set up. Unterrichten teach (with in) or inform (with über). berichten report. errichten to erect. not to mention ausrichten which has so many meanings (rectify, organize, please tell sb sth) that I find it impossible to remember.
Herzlichen Dank !! Lucius

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Wie immer hilft uns das DWDS:

“hinrichten Vb. ‘an jmdm. das Todesurteil vollstrecken’; im Frühnhd. zunächst ‘zugrunde richten, verderben, töten’ (15. Jh.), erklärbar aus der Verbindung von hin ‘nieder, zu Boden’ (s. oben) mit richten (s. d.) in derBedeutung ‘in eine bestimmte Richtung bringen’. Unter Einfluß der Rechtssprache, die frühnhd. richten (wie schon mhd. rihten) auch im Sinne von ‘das Todesurteil vollstrecken’ kennt, zeigt hinrichten vom frühen 16. Jh. an gelegentlich ebenfalls diese spezielle Verwendungsweise, die seit dem 19. Jh. ausschließlich gilt. “

Cinthya
Cinthya

Everyone talking about their doubts or adding their knowledge into this incredible post… and I’m just here to say I’ve been an avid reader of this blog for a few months and what convinced me to subscribe was that flashback harp, which by the way, cracked me up. Nice touch!
I feel so lucky I found this site that not only is poured with wisdom and witty remarks, but also it’s made by someone who has the time and love to pass on all of his knowledge. Keep up this amazing site! :D

Anonymous
Anonymous

Fantastic article, as usual

Anonymous
Anonymous

“Ich habe gar keine Kartoffeln noch” –
This is a mix between noch and gar nicht, but would the above sentence mean “I have absolutely no potatoes left.”? If not, how could I fit in the “left” bit there?

Bill Kammermeier
Bill Kammermeier

– Mein Boss hat mir sogar was zum Geburtstag geschenkt.
– My boss even gave me a birthday present.

Why is there a “was” in this sentence? I have seen other German sentences with seemingly random “was” words tossed in. Can you explain what is happening here please?

Chris
Chris

Hey Emmanuel kannst du mich eklären, die unterscheid zwischen ‘je’ und ‘sogar’, (und selbst) im Rahmen von ‘even’
z.B. ‘Ich hab’ mir die Badewanne geputzt, die Küche aufgeräumt, sogar/je das Abendessen vorbereitet… selbst war meine Mutter überrascht!’