Word of the Day – “neigen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the day.
Do you know these words that you only start noticing, once you know they exist. Like… you never see them and you never miss them, but once you learn them they suddenly appear all the time?
Today, we’ll deal with one of those words, because we’ll take a look at the meaning of

neigen

 
Now, just by looks neigen seems like it could be related to the English word for the sound of horses –  to neigh.
But that’s not what it is. The German word for neighing is wiehern, and I have to say, that German does a better job at capturing the sound.
I mean, wiehern isn’t a perfect capture either but “neigh”? That sounds more like something you’d hear in the Senate in a debate on raising taxes. The neighs have it. In both senses.
#emanuelsocialistconfirmed #gme
Seriously though, neigen is absolutely not related to neighing but the visual image of a horse neighing can still be helpful. Just picture a horse on a beautiful meadow. It neighs, head upright upright. And then, it angles the head down to eat the rich
green grass.
And that’s kind of what neigen is… putting at a (slight) angle.

German actually has  a whole bunch of options revolving around the idea of angle. And before you go like “Ugh… Germaaaan.” let  me tell you that English actually isn’t any better, in this case. I mean… there’s angled, slanted, skewed, bent, bowed, crooked, tilted, oblique and inclined. Not all the same of course, but the overlap is huge.
Actually, I’ve kind of been wanting to do a post on that topic for a while. Like… talking about angles in German. I mean… who wouldn’t click on THAT headline.
Anyway,  neigen is primarily used in contexts of things inclining or slanting by themselves and German actually makes that explicit by a self reference.

  • Die Waage neigt sich nach links.
  • The scale leans/tilt to the left.
  • Der schiefe Turm von Pisa hat sich schon während der Bauarbeiten geneigt.
    Heute hat er einen Neigungswinkel von 3,97 Grad.
  • The leaning tower of Pisa inclined already during construction.
    Today, it has an inclination of 3.97 degrees.
  • Die meisten Busse in Berlin haben Neigetechnik.
  • Most buses in Berlin have tilt technology.

Tilt technology … for some reason that sounds really futur-y to me. Like it’s some advanced space tech.
If you don’t know what it is… buses and trains that have Neigetechnik can sich neigen down to one side, so as to make it easier to step in and out.
Anyway, the more common uses for neigen in daily life are actually the figurative ones.
There’s the pretty common phrasing sich dem Ende (entgegen) neigen which expresses the idea of slowly coming to an end and it works for events, periods of time and even for resources like patience.

  • Das Jahr neigt sich dem Ende. *allen gefällt das
  • The year draws to a close. *everyone likes that

But the most useful meaning of neigen is probably the metaphorical sense of having a penchant or inclination.
And here, we actually DO NOT need a self reference.

  • Astrologen haben endlich enthüllt – Diese 4 Sternzeichen neigen zum Abwaschen.
  • Astrologers have finally unveiled – These four zodiac signs are prone to doing the dishes.
  • Thomas neigt dazu, seinen Gesprächspartner zu unterbrechen.
  • Thomas has a penchant/inclination to interrupt his conversation partner.
  • In kalter Umgebung neigt das Handy dazu, sehr langsam zu werden.
  • In a cold environment the phone has a tendency to get really slow.

And this metaphorical inclination is also part of the noun die Neigung and the phrase geneigt sein

  • Auf dem Furry-Festival können Furry-Fans ihre pelzige Neigung voll ausleben.
  • At the furry festival, the furry fans can fully live out their furry inclinations.
  • “Wollen…. wollen wir mal einen Kaffee trinken?”
    “Hmm… ich bin fast geneigt, ja zu sagen. Aber nein.”
  • “Do you… do you want to have a coffee with me some time?”
    “Hmm…. I’m almost inclined to say yes. But no!”

So yeah… if we had to pick one single translation for neigen, to incline is probably the best match, but personally I’d go with the image of the horse. It neighs majestically and then it slants its head down because horses are prone to eating grass between their epic neighs.
I know you think it’s a silly analogy, but it actually also helps with the prefix versions of neigen.

The prefix versions of “neigen”

You see, when a horse puts down its head to eat some grass, that kind of looks like it is taking a bow. And that’s precisely the meaning of sich verneigen

  • Das Einhorn verneigt sich vor der Eichhörnchenprinzessin
  • The unicorn bows before the squirrel princess.
  • Verneige dich vor deinem Meister!”
    “Warum redest du mit dem Bus?”
  • Bow before your master?”
    “Why are you talking to the bus?”

Sich verneigen does sound a little epic or solemn, though. The more common option for bowing is sich verbeugen.
The prefix versions of neigen that are more useful, are actually two nouns:  die Abneigung and die Zuneigung.
I think many of you already have a gut feeling of what they mean.
Abneigung literally is a tilting away from something. Like… if we hold a can of ginger beer under the nose of a horse, that ginger sparkle is probably gonna make the horse go like “Ewwww, neeeeiiiighhh “ and tilt its head away. And yes, I just used ginger sparkle in a sentence. Life goals are coming along great.
Anyway, the logic of Abneigung is the same as for ablehnen, which literally means “to lean away” – another word in the . Only that ablehnen is about the act of declining while die Abneigung is more about the sentiment and translates to aversion.
And Zuneigung… well, that’s when we’re nice to the horse and it comes and puts its head down a little for us to pet it. Or in one word… it shows affection.

  • Einhörner haben eine natürliche Abneigung gegen Gemüse.
  • Unicorns have a natural aversion to vegetables.
  • Mein Pferd braucht viel Zuneigung.
  • My horse needs a lot of affection.

Now, just to make sure… the word affectionate is NOT translated with Zuneigung. There are a bunch of options, but I think liebevoll is the best choice.
There is a pretty common phrasing based on Abneigung though: einer Sache (nicht) abgeneigt sein. It’s not exactly colloquial, but people do use this in daily life if they want to sound classy for fun.

  • “Wollen wir ein Bier trinken gehen?”
    “Hmm… ja, einem Bier wäre ich nicht abgeneigt.”
  • “Do you wanna go have a beer?”
    “Hmm… yeah, I wouldn’t mind  a beer.”
    (lit.: “I would not be averse to a beer.”)

Cool.
Now, that’s already it for the prefix versions… yeah, crazy, I know. But it’s not it for this post because there’s another relative to neigen: the verb nicken.
And if you thought we’re done with the horse imagery, you’re mistaken because I’m totally gonna keep… ahem.. riding that.
So… horses… are you ready to help us visualize what nicken is?

Thanks :)

nicken

Yup, nicken means to nod and I think the underlying connection is pretty clear… it’s a (repeated) tilting down of the head.

  • Maria rülpst. Thomas nickt und rülpst auch.
    Der Paartherapeut: Meine Arbeit ist getan.
  • Maria burps. Thomas nods and burps as well.
    The couple’s therapist: my work is done.
  • “Date mit dir? Ich glaube ich habe nein gesagt, als du das letzte Mal gefragt hast.”
    “Aber… du hast genickt.”
    “Ja, aber ich habe auf Indisch genickt. In Indien bedeutet ein Nicken nein.”
    “Oh…”
  • “Date with you? I think I said no last time you asked.”
    “But … you nodded.”
    “Yeah, but I nodded in Indian. In Indian, a nod means no.”
    “Oh…”

There’s also the prefix version abnicken, which is a business term for giving quick approval to something, without too much scrutiny.

  • Das Parlament hat das Gesetz in einer Sitzung abgenickt.
  • The parliament approved my side project (without much probing).

But the prefix version that’s REALLY useful, and also a lot of fun and incredibly relaxing is einnicken.
Because einnicken means to doze off for a bit.

  • Ich bin während der Präsentation kurz eingenickt.
  • I dozed off during the presentation for a second.

And that’s also where the really cute noun das Nickerchen is from, which is the German word for nap.

  • Nach dem Mittagessen mache ich immer ein Nickerchen.
  • After lunch, I always take a nap.

Now, I think the meaning of einnicken and Nickerchen is not hard to remember and to connect to nicken and neigen. Just think of this person slowly dozing off in class, their head falling forward. Makes perfect sense.
Science however, has a different opinion. Grrr… stupid science. Always getting in the way of our cool assumptions and beliefs.
Okay seriously though, the direct ancestor of einnicken is actually the German noun der Nacken and its English brother neck.
Those would also fit in perfectly well with the neigen-family, no doubt. I mean, the neck is where we tilt our head.
But their real origin is the monumentally ancient Indo-European root *ken-, which was about the idea of forming a lump, and which is also where the words Nuss (nut), nuclear and gnocchi come from.
I mean, a neck can look like a bit of a lump, I guess. But it’s not as convincing as a connection between Nacken and nicken. So yeah logic 1, science 0. Do better next time, stupid science.

Seriously though… just because something really looks like it has to be related doesn’t always mean that it is. That said though, for a learner, it doesn’t really matter. If thinking of a connection helps you remember a word better, then do that, even if it’s not accurate.

And with that, our post neigt sich dem Ende entgegen :).
This was our look at the meaning of neigen and its family and even though neigen itself is not the most common word ever, I hope you got some new insights from this.
As usual, if you want to check how much you remember just take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

** vocab **

 

neigen = to be prone to, to have a penchant (“neigen zu”); to tilt, to slant to the side (“sich neigen”, only for things doing it themselves, always with a self reference)
die Neigung = the inclination (in sense of people); the inclination (geometrical)
der Neigungswinkel = the inclination (geometrical, more common than just “Neigung”)
geneigt sein = be inclined to doing something
verneigen = to bow down (“sich verneigen”, solemn and slow sounding, “verbeugen” is more common in daily life)
die Verneigung = the bowing down
die Abneigung = the aversion
einer Sache(+Dat) nicht abgeneigt sein = not mind doing something
die Zuneigung = the affection
liebevoll = affectionate
nicken = to nod
das Nicken = the nod
das Genick = the neck
der Nacken = the back side of the neck
einnicken = to doze off
das Nickerchen = the nap

 

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Judit Brandmair
Judit Brandmair
1 year ago

Some people say that German are not incline to have a great sense of humor.
I guess you Emanuel are just an exception. I appreciate your cheerfullnes and the way you play with the both languages:))) Greetings from Bayern

npavkovic
npavkovic
1 year ago

Not sure if I missed this in the long and excellent post or comments, but English does have another parallel idiomatic usage along the lines of prone to/inclined toward. When presented with a choice of several options, you can certainly say “I’m leaning toward the first option.” And of course you can lean left or right with your politics — but that is perhaps expressed differently in German?

As for buses with “tilt technology” — I’ve seen buses in the U.S. that have kneeling technology; it means that the front of the bus descends in order to make it easier to climb aboard. Is that what we’re speaking of? One can read more here: https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/accessibility/muni/muni-access-guide/access-muni-buses. The use of English on that page seems a little tortured — the invented word “kneeler” and the use of passive in “the bus has been kneeled.” Not to mention the fact that the bus doesn’t look like it’s kneeling and the latter word has virtually unshakeable religious overtones.

Thank you to all who chimed in about the varied British usage of “nicked.” I always had trouble sorting that out :-)

Flash
Flash
1 year ago

This is my first article I’ve read as a member! Thank you so much to all the people who have paid for people like me to be able to enjoy membership!

marko
marko
1 year ago

What happened to:

  1. Die Geduld geht zur Neige,
  2. Fossile Brennstoffe gehen zur Neige,
  3. die Kartoffeln gehen zur Neige

is this a valid expression, and if so, which would be considered the biggest emergency in Germany?

marko
marko
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

danke für die Antwort!
M

marko
marko
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

und danke für den hervorragenden Blog, wodurch ich so leicht und mit so viel Hetz Deutsch gelernt habe!

Perkins
Perkins
1 year ago

Thank you for a wonderful article! You were so right when you said the following:

” just because something really looks like it has to be related doesn’t always mean that it is.”

For example, while looking thru a German book that someone gave me, I was astounded to discover that “Attentat” does not mean attention! Ditto with “neigen” which looks like neigh as you said, but that’s not what it means.

I’m so happy that I’ve discovered your web site!

Perkins
Perkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Right! We take our native language for granted. :-). It just occurred to me that Attentat reminded me of “atten-hut!” which is used in the US military…sometimes they shorten it even more by shouting “ten-hut!” which is the “military” version of attention. Apparently, it’s easier to shout “ten-hut” than attention to a group of soldiers.

Anne Maxwell-Jackson
Anne Maxwell-Jackson
1 year ago

Thanks. A really generous lesson. Lots of useful vocab.

chareeferrari
chareeferrari
1 year ago

I’m so very happy that I can learn from you. You’re a great teacher! And I’d like to thank the community here, I know there are many of you who make sponsorships possible, your generosity is very much appreciated :)

chowb01
chowb01
1 year ago

Cool! Kannst du mal erklären in einem zukünftigen Post, wie Wink/Winkel/winken sich auf einander beziehen? How does a wave become an angle?!

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

Actually in India one shakes his/her head to say no (as we do) and tilts it left and right (“wobbles” it) for yes. Anyway, great post as always!

michele
michele
1 year ago

Danke für die veil lacht!!!

Tom
Tom
1 year ago

Fun!

Zuckerbaby
Zuckerbaby
1 year ago

Is “nicken” related to a word I seem to remember as: “knicksen,” meaning to give a little curtsey or bow?

haton
haton
1 year ago

nice post, Emanuel.
There is also this phrase I like: “zur Neige gehen”. Is it related?

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago

Anyway, the logic of Abneigung is the same as for ablehnen, which literally means “to lean away” – another word in the .

I think “family” went missing there at the end? Really interesting connection. It looks like “decline” and “ablehnen” are closely related – same root + prefix that means down, away. I never would have guessed from looking at them. Although the meaning only seems to overlap in the sense of “refuse.”

(I just noticed that bold and italic words show up as blank spaces when I’m writing a comment in dark mode on desktop. It’s fine on mobile though.)

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Oh, that reminds me, I came across the phrase “einen Hang zu etw. haben / den Hang haben, etw. zu tun.” I was searching for “inclined” and the dictionary brought it up along with “geneigt sein, etw. zu tun.”

It looked less common than “geneigt” when I plugged it into Google, but I already stumbled across it being used (klingt nach einem Chef mit Hang zum Micromanagement).

I’m not sure if there’s a difference, but it seems like maybe “Hang” is for something that’s more inherent or a habit (boss who micromanages all the time) as opposed to a specific situation (ich bin geneigt, ja zu sagen). Just a theory, anyway. I was procrastinating today so I had time to think.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Interesting, I’ll have to keep my ears peeled.

Elsa
Elsa
1 year ago

Hallo, Emanuel

Ich neige dazu, typos zu corrigieren:
“but I personally I’d go” (but personally I’d go)
“because horses prone to eating grass” (because horses are prone to eating grass)
“Unicorns have a natural aversion against vegetables” (Unicorns have a natural aversion to vegetables)
“I would not be averse of a beer” (averse to a beer)
You have einnicken and einicken, i.e. one and two “n’s”, in the text, I’m guessing the 2n-version is the right one????

An unrelated question: I found the articles on the ent- prefix incredibly useful. Do you by chance have a general article on the be- prefix?

That’s it for today. I hope you enjoyed it and see you next time ;)

Bis bald!

Elsa
Elsa
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Danke fürs Link und ja, ich meine “er-” :)

Jake
Jake
1 year ago

“has a penchant/inclination” sounds a bit formal to me. I would usually just say “tends”, as in “Thomas tends to interrupt his conversation partner”.

I think it’s cool how “to tend” and “pflegen” share the meanings of caring for something and being in the habit of doing something.

Jake
Jake
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Right, I’ve probably read it more than I’ve heard it.

MarcoB
MarcoB
1 year ago

Ein guter Artikel, aber ich glaube, dass du ein Fehler in dem Quiz gemacht hast: die Bedeutung von “nicken” sollte “to nod” sein oder?

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  MarcoB

Hatte ich auch gegacht

Ahmad Mazaheri
Ahmad Mazaheri
1 year ago

Hallo lieber Emmanuel,
Was für ein humorvoller Arttikel ! Dein metaphorisches Image ( Bild) zwischen ein Wieherden Pferd in der Weite , in einen Feld und Neigen, hat mich zum Lachen gebracht !
Ich bin froh dass das Jahr 2020 zum Ende geneigt . Ich hoffe ein besseres Jahr 2021 für die Menscheit, dass das Cronavirus endlich besiegt oder eindämmert .
Bis bald

Ulrich_Gao
Ulrich_Gao
1 year ago
Reply to  Ahmad Mazaheri

Ihnen stimme ich ganz zu. Durch dieses magische Bild werde ich nie “neigen und nicken” vergessen!

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
1 year ago
Reply to  Ulrich_Gao

Ich auch nicht. Das Wortspiel war auch nicht schlecht :)

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

Question 1
How did Emanuel get to be so much better in English than I am in German?

Question 2
Which of these is the best translation of “Get nicked?

  1. Eingeklemmt werden
  2. Eingeklaut werden
  3. Eingeknickt werden
  4. Eingeknackt werden
Adrian
Adrian
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Slang version: Said by a British policeman, ‘You’re nicked’ = I’m arresting you; ‘The nick’ is prison. To nick something is to steal it – ‘where did you get that car? I nicked it’.

Also slang – ‘that car is in good/bad nick’ = good/bad condition.

Non-slang: a nick is a small scratch or notch, accidental or deliberate….

pmccann
pmccann
1 year ago
Reply to  Adrian

“Get nicked” is also a (slightly) more polite version of “Get f***ed/Piss off”, at least in Australia and New Zealand. “I think John should go and buy the next round of beers”. John: “Get nicked, I bought the round before this one.” It also has a lot of competition in such constructions, of course: get stuffed, stuff you, get lost, take a hike, get rooted, get a dog up ya, *und so weiter und so weiter*.

paulocigar
paulocigar
1 year ago

Really interesting.Nodding off means falling asleep and agreeing something without much scrutiny is passed ‘on the nod’.Another great post!

Peter Lobl
Peter Lobl
1 year ago
Reply to  paulocigar

“on the nod” sounds cool, makes sense, and i’ve never heard it before. must be a british phrase?

DEmberton
DEmberton
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Lobl

Probably British yes. You can also nod something through.