Word of the Day – “die Not”

not-noetig-meaningHello everyone,

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

die Not

 

And no, Not is not not.
Not  is the German brother of English the need. But it’s much, much stronger. Like… if you’re in need, well, you just need something and that can be more or less urgent. But if you’re in Not you basically need rescuing…. and no… Not is not an awkward conversation with that colleague who’s trying to hit on you. It’s real distress.

Not by itself usually means a dire situation, often used in contexts where people lack the basic needs like food and clean water.

  • In vielen Flüchtlingslagern im Nahen Osten herrscht große Not.
  • Lit.: “In many refugee camps in the Middle East  penury/hardship/destitution reigns.”
  • The situation/living conditions in many refugee camps in the Middle East is/are dire.
  • VW in Not: neuer Manipulationsverdacht. Ist es überhaupt nicht das Auto?
  • VW in distress: new suspected manipulations. Is it not Das Auto after all?

I guess because life was rather hard for the majority of the people a few centuries ago, it’s no wonder that there are plenty of phrasings and expressions with Not that are all pretty common today.

  • I was so drunk last night I just barely made it home (lit.: with painful effort)
  • Ich war gestern so betrunken,  ich hab es nur mit Müh und Not nach Hause geschafft.
  • Zur Not kann ich dir den Schlüssel auch nachher vorbeibringen.
  • In(at) a pinch/”if it’s an emergency”/if nothing else works out, I could bring the key by later.
    (“in/at a pinch” … the dictionary suggested this but is that actually something people say in daily life?)
  • Wenn der Beamer nicht geht, dann ist Holland in Not.
  • If the video projector isn’t working, things go awry.
    (probably based on a mocking of Dutch people, who were in constant danger of flooding a few centuries ago)
  • Not macht erfinderisch.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention.
  • In der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen.
  • Lit.: When in dire need, the devil eats flies. 
  • Beggars can’t be choosers.
  • Der U-Bahn-Streik nervt? Machen Sie aus der Not eine Tugend und fahren Sie Rad – mit den neuen City Bikes von Rad-Iator.
  • The metro strike gets on your nerves? Make a virtue out of necessity and go by bike – with the new city bikes from Rad-Iator.

And there are many more. But not as many as there are compounds with Not, and in compounds Not is THE word for  emergency.

  • Im Notfall Notbremse ziehen und Notruf wählen.
  • In case of emergency pull the emergeny brake and call 911 (“emergency hotline”).
    (110 in Germany)
  • Ehrlichkeit ist wichtig aber eine kleine Notlüge hier und da muss  erlaubt sein.
  • Honesty is important but a white lie/ emergency lie here and there has to be okay.
  • Das mit dem Klebeband ist aber nur eine Notlösung, ja?
  • The thing with the duct tape is just a band-aid/emergency solution though, isn’t it?

So… we’ve seen that the translation varies but I think we can see the core idea of ‘strong need’ in all of them.
Now, of course there are quite a few related words and those are super usef… oh, hold on, I see we have a call here… Christie from Scotland, welcome to the show.
“Hi Emanuel. Thanks for taking my call. “
Sure thing, what can I do for you?
“I have a question about a compound with Not I saw in a newspaper today.”
Which one?
“Notdurft… the complete headline was ‘Frau nutzt Einkaufskorb für ihre Notdurft’ and if I understood the article correctly, a drunk woman took a shit into her shopping basket at Aldi….”
Hahaha… that’s accurate. It does mean that.  It can refer to the action of pooing as well as the result.
“Well… I can see the connection to urgent need I guess but I’m wondering about the -durft? Does that have anything to dürfen?”
Great question! And yes, it does. Today, dürfen is about permission but back a few hundred years ago it was the verb for to need. And not only in German. Old English had  ðearf which meant need, necessity but it actually also had niedðearf, which also was about need, necessity... just a stronger version. But need pushed ðearf  out completely.
“Wait… how did dürfen end up with the whole permission idea in German then? I don’t really see a connection there.”
Yeah, it’s not so obvious. The permission thing crept in through negative statements first. Like… imagine a mom at the supermarket telling her kid “No, you don’t need that candy bar.” with a very resolute voice. She clearly tries to deny permission without actually saying it. That’s how the idea came in … as a euphemistic way to deny permission. And then it caught on and the old meaning was eventually forgotten.
“Ah I see…  so and Notdurft has kept the old meaning of need.”
Exactly… but it narrowed down to the need to pee and poo.
“Cool… and what about notdürftig? I think I saw that in the same article… does that mean shitty?”
Haha, no… notdürftig is about strong necessity on a more general level. Originally, notdürftig meant needy, but today it has shifted toward needy of improvement. It’s kind of about the fact that something is an emergency fix….

  • Ich habe das notdürftig repariert.
  • I patched that up for now.
  • Die Stadt hat die Flüchtlinge notdürftig in einer Turnhalle untergebracht.
  • The town provisionally sheltered the refugees in a school gym.

so actually it kind of does mean shitty but it doesn’t sound negative because it’s used for quick fixes.
“Cool, thanks so much for answering my questions.”
Oh, thank YOU for bringing up Notdurft and notdürftig. I would have forgotten that completely. Thanks, and stay tuned for the other related words now.
“I will, byeeee.”

nötig, notwendig and an unnecessary verb

Not itself is a good word to know but as usual it’s the related words that REALLY make it useful. Mainly the two words notwendig and nötig.
Wenden is one of the three dozen German words for to turn so taken literally, notwendig means something like “turning the dire situation around”. Like… something that’s notwendig is basically what is needed, necessary. And it is much less serious or strong sounding than Not so you can also see it in

  • Das neue Buch von Stephanie Meyer, jetzt noch besser – kein Lesen mehr notwendig.
  • The new book by Stephanie Meyer, now even better – no more reading required/necessary.
  • Teure Produkte sind nicht notwendigerweise besser als preiswertere Alternativen.
  • Expensive products are not necessarily better than more affordable alternatives.
  • Thomas sieht keine Notwendigkeit für eine Badreinigung. (sounds technical)
  • Thomas sees no necessity for a bathroom cleaning.

Nötig is essentially the same, but it sounds a tad bit less technical and the situations where you’d use it are a bit different.

  • Obwohl Maria versucht hat, nur das allernötigste einzupacken, ist ihr Handgepäck wieder zu schwer geworden.
  • Although Maria tried to only pack the absolute basic necessities her carry on wound up too heavy again.
  • Thomas’ Credo lautet: So wenig wie möglich aber so viel wie nötig.
  • Thomas’s creed goes like this: as little as possible but as much as necessary.
  • Mama, ich muss mal ganz nötig.
  • Mooom, I have to pee really bad (urgently).
  • Der Film hatte unnötig lange Action-Szenen.
  • The movie had action scenes that were overly/unnecessarily long.

Technically, you could use notwendig in the first two, but in the second two, (un)nötig is the only option.

Now, the cool thing about nötig are the common expressions that it’s used for.

  • “Hi, wir haben einen Kasten Bier mitgebracht.”
    “Ohhhh… das wäre doch nicht nötig gewesen.”
  • “Hi, we brought a case of beer with us.”
    “Ohhh… you shouldn’t have/there was no need for that.

This one is a very common  way of showing genuine appreciation for a little surprise or gift or favor. It might sound a tiny bit too formal for close friends but especially when you’re over 40 it’s totally something you can use.
Next up there’s the phrasing etwas nicht nötig haben. Literally it means that you don’t need something but the actual meaning is more about you thinking you’re above something, you’re too good for it. Depending on context it can sound stuck up or self empowered but it definitely always sounds confrontational

  • Ich hab’s nicht nötig, mich so unfreundlich behandeln zu lassen.
  • I don’t need to put up with/accept this kind of unfriendly treatment.
  • Die Kellnerin denkt, sie hat es nicht nötig, freundlich zu sein.
  • The waitress thinks she’s better than someone who has to smile.

There are a LOT of these waitresses and waiters in Berlin, trust me.
All right.
Now, we’re almost done for today but a real word of the day article needs at least one verb. For Not it’s benötigen. Using the standard core of the be-prefix we can think of it as “to inflict needing on something” which is a pretty good match because benötigen is essentially a formal, technical sounding alternative to brauchen.

  • Der Computer benötigt 80% seiner Hardware-Power nur damit Windows 10 funktioniert.
  • The computer needs 80% of its hardware resources just so Windows 10 works.
  • Ein erwachsener Mensch benötigt im Durchschnitt 2000 kcal pro Tag.
  • An adult needs around 2000 Calories per day.
  • Bitte senden Sie uns die von uns benötigten Unterlagen binnen 2 Wochen zu.
  • Please send us the required documents within a fortnight.

What’s important to note is that benötigen DOES NOT work for activities. So you can’t say

  • Ich benötige zu schlafen…. QUITE WRONG

You can only benötigen things, and so I don’t think you benötigen benötigen and you can put it on the passive pile. But Not and nötig are really good to know and I’m sure you’ll see them quite a lot.

And I think that’s it. This was our look at the meaning of die Not. It’s related to the need but it’s pretty much never a translation for it because Not is much stronger. The relation totally shows with the adjectives notwendig and nötig which mean required, needed, necessari(ly).
I’ve added some more Not-compounds to the vocab list so check that out if you need to collect words. And as usual, if you have any questions or suggestions or if there are some more cool idiomatic expressions with Not you want to mention, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

die Not  – poverty, destitution, misery, distress
die Notbremse – the emergency break
der Notausgang – the emergency exit

die Seenot – distress at sea
die Notlüge – white lie, emergency lie

die Notlösung – the band-aid, the temporary solution-
die Notaufnahme – the emergency room

der Notfall – the (case of) emergency
die Notwehr – the emergency self defense (act of violence under threat)

im Notfall – in the case of emergency (formal)
zur Not – if it’s really urgent/if it’s an emergency (colloquial, common)

nötig – necessary, urgent
notwendig – necessary (technical, formal)
die Notwendigkeit – the necessity (technical)

unnötig – unnecessary
etwas nicht nötig haben – be better than having to do something (can be positive and negative)

benötigen – need, require (more formal and technical than brauchen)

die Nötigung – coersion, necessitation (legal term)

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Thutrang
Thutrang
8 months ago

First start thank you Emanuel for this lovely and great article. I understand more now about the Not. There is still a bit confusing for me actually the difference between notwendig and nötig. In school my teacher say that it is both necessary. Hope that you can clarify this one for me. Thank you by the way

Monty
Monty
11 months ago

When I think of the phrase, “In a pinch”, I feel like it’s typically in context of rationalizing/justifying a “less than ideal” solution to a problem.

For example: If someone recommends using zip-ties to reattach the bumper to your car, they’d follow up with something along the lines of – “Hey, it’s not , but it’ll work in a pinch.”

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Danke…

chovard
chovard
4 years ago

Hallo Emanuel,

danke für Deine “Deutschlektionen”, sie machen mir wirklich viel Spaß.

Ich hab eine (wahrscheinlich blöde) Frage. Wie ist der Unterschied zwischen nötigen und zwingen? Wann benutzt man nötigen und wann zwingen? Wird nötigen in der Umgangssprache verwendet?

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

“at a pinch, I’ll catch the 1 o’clock bus”,…. ‘at a pinch’ is definitely used in the north of England…I have used it all my life, which literally means, I can/could, just about (hopefully), do that.

“If needs be” means “if the need / your needs, warrant it, the task (etc) will be done come hell or high water”, again this phase is used a lot, but it may be used more in northern England. This second phrase is more definite.

not notdusching
not notdusching
6 years ago

It’s a map with that symbol (and others) on it, with the German and English translations of the symbols at the bottom. (I like to pretend I don’t understand German and that it’s marking the locations where the especially smelly scientists are.)

There’s also a nice Notausgang sign on the 3. floor by the door to the balcony. Basically, this guy, except with a parachute:
comment image This is what I actually meant to paste….
(I still haven’t figured out if it’s serious or not)

not notdusching
not notdusching
6 years ago

Yeah I think you’d hear “needs be” more in the southern part of America. But people down there put S’s on all kinds of things. Actually, I think it’s pretty common in day to day speech with the S. Just not in the proper, middle America dialect (which is what they go for on the news).

margit
margit
6 years ago

Wir haben ungefähr das gleich Worte im Norwegisch, -Naud/Nød. Ich denkst vielleicht unsere Norwegishe Worte kommen aus Deutsch(Germanic).

Diese Ausdrück ist sehr ziemlich als das Norwegische Ausdrück.

mit Müh und Not — Med naud og neppe.

In der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen — I naud et fanden fluger.

Ich denkst deine PDF ist eine gute idee. Ich Wünsche das Sie bitte machen dem mit mehr Luft am die Seite. Dann ist es leichter zu Lesen.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago
Reply to  margit

Interessant! Jeg forsøker å lære meg Norsk med Duolingo.
Interessant! Ich versuche, mich Norwegisch mit Duolingo zu lehren.
Interesting! I am trying to teach myself Norwegian with Duolingo.

Norwegian and German are at times confusingly similar – at least in writing.

margit
margit
6 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

I wish you luck with the Norwegian. :) A lot of the words are very similar, but they can have different genders in Norwegian and German. Confusing, I know! Anyway in Norsk Bokmål they mostly use two genders in written language. I use Norsk Nynorsk where three genders is always used.

I guess we have a bit easier grammar that German since we don’t use the Dative, but this is hard for me to say since I am a native speaker.

margit
margit
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

There is two written forms of norwegian. One(Bokmål) is more like Danish, and therefore mostly used with male/neuter. One can use it with female as well but less common. The other one Nynorsk is always with three genders. Nynorsk is collected from dialects in Norway. All this goes back to our history of being under Danish rule. Before that it was Old Norse(like Icelandic).

I guess you are totally confused now. ;)

margit
margit
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Something neuter can never be male or female. Female can be male. Male can never be female or neuter. This has to do with the endings of the words.

In the city of Bergen they only use two genders when speaking. Just outside of Bergen they use three genders again, as an example.

All this has to do with us not having an official language under the Danish.

Nicklas Kulczycki
6 years ago

A very literal translation you may enjoy for “zur Not”: “if need be”. Not only is this a rare instance of the subjunctive in English, but also it captures the original meaning without the use of an idiom.

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Good point, Nicklas. Not noticeably high brow or formal, in my opinion/experience, Emanuel. I thought it might be a touch old-fashioned, but using the trick of searching Google Books find it in a 2013 “Practical guide to stage lighting.” Not sure how common it is, but common enough, I’d think, to be widely understood. “If needs be” is also heard but sounds wrong to me – I wonder if it arises through association/confusion with “needs must”.

minna
minna
6 years ago

Thank you for all this work. And apologies, my question doe not relate to your topic, but rather to the verb ‘duerfen’ you also discuss.

Read somewhere that German men are ‘duerftig’. I thought it refers to being ‘needy’ in the sense of being dependent …..but any other meaning in this, and am I correct. with thanks Minna

Minna
Minna
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thank you for the reply. I can’t remember where I read this statement (must have been one of German on line newspapers); I thought it meant something along the lines of someone who is constantly in need of attention and ‘needy’, but I was wrong. Also recently I read this comment (about the German pop culture ‘philosopher’ Richard David Precht), and I translate: ” In those days (in the past) he looked so ‘duerftig’, but now he is a media star’. Then you what you say makes sense; it is about quality and not ‘neediness’. Of course I don’t think ‘German men suck’, I think they are lovely! Thank you I learnt something! Minna

Deborah
Deborah
6 years ago

I think die Notbremse is the emergency brake (for stopping things quickly), not an emergency break (making a dash for the loo?).

A good English translation for Notlösung might be ‘makeshift solution’ – which duct tape certainly is!

And as a 60-year old Brit, I would definitely use ‘at a pinch’.

not notdusching
not notdusching
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

And to confuse things more, there are things you break in case of emergency. You see signs like this all the time in public buildings like schools, usually with a fire extinguisher or fire alarm pull lever or even the pane of glass in front of an emergency brake. I think I’ve seen that last one, anyway.

comment image
comment image

I’ve heard “in a pinch” a good amount, but I always associate it with older people from another part of the country (USA). Not sure which part, just “some other part.” But I’ve heard it said by people in my age group, too (30’s).

“Honesty is important but a white lie/ emergency lie here and there must be okay” would also sound right. “Must” here would be less the strong “you must!!” command version, and more the “Did so and so already do that thing?” “They must have, because that other thing is changed” not quite sure but it’s probably true version.

On a side note there’s a great sign in my lab building that has symbols for stuff like “Notruftelefon/emergency telephone,” but then there’s “Notdusche/need shower.” Because, you know, personal hygiene and scientists.

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago

Another possibility is to make up a little story about riding a bicycle or driving a car in which using the brake is associated with other -ake words. You might brake to avoid a lake and/or to pick up a particularly appealing cake…..or you might find that a fake brake lands you in a lake. Anything you’ll remember that makes a strong association between applying a brake and something that you know is -ake.

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago
Reply to  Ruth

Oops. Put that in the wrong place. Pardon me.

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

A couple of suggestions –
If you can remember the spelling of ‘breakfast’ the fact that it is breaking the fast imposed by sleep and about getting going, not slowing down might help.
More convoluted – an ‘e’ in the middle breaks it up the non-word ‘brak’ but an ‘e’ on end …..seems far fetched to say that it stops it, but maybe that can work as a mnemonic.

Hugh Warren
Hugh Warren
6 years ago

Australian here: “at a pinch” is what we use. Don’t recall ever having heard ‘in a pinch’.

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago

Haven’t finished reading this one yet, but –
could you possibly shorten the bar thingummies that link to your recordings? Please? I do find all those black and grey stripes disturbing.

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago
Reply to  Ruth

Very odd. Having posted that I find that they’ve all shrunk into little black boxes, each with a triangle/arrow head. Magic?

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Firefox (47.0.1), on Windows 7 PC. Still weird. Again comes up with the long, intrusive version on first arriving at your site, but now “continue reading” is enough to shrink them to play buttons. I think I had been getting only the nice, little play buttons for quite some time.
Through Firefox (no idea which version, but it appears to be the most recent) on iOS (also apparently most recent version) I get just the buttons.

TW
TW
6 years ago

I listen to a lot of German music as a way of practicing. I first came across “Not” (that I can remember anyway) in the Song “Leben ist schön” from Eisblume. The first lines of the song are:

Dein Herz – tropft rot.
Ich werf ein Rettungsseil in dein Boot.
In See – und Not.
Wirst du sonst kopfüber untergeh’n.

(Song here with lyrics if interested – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6HxyGna4qA)

Thought of this when I first saw your vocab word “die Seenot”.

This was cool for me to read, since my experience of this was more of the “in distress” or “in danger” type of meaning I thought this was all of it. This article cleared this up a bit for me. Thanks for another great article!

Robertus
6 years ago

What about Notung? The name of Siegfried’s sword? What does that signify?

duuuudeZ
duuuudeZ
6 years ago

more heard then said

duuuudeZ
duuuudeZ
6 years ago

I’ve never heard/said “at a pinch”, but I have heard/said “in a pinch”.

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thank you for choosing the former.

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Just trying a bit of positive reinforcement. It might help you to see the light. …. or achieve bilingualism in English. which would be valuable.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Das war ich, Camille. Your story-listener. Wie immer. :)

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

We do say “in a pinch”. But not often. I think it’s an older expression. But I think it’s universally understood. Although I don’t expect as much these days. : /

W
W
6 years ago

Great explanations!
It’s more commonly expressed as “in a pinch”.