Word of the Day – “pflegen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
This time with a look at the meaning of

pflegen

 

If I had to choose one core idea pflegen is taking care. But as usual, we have to be a little more specific. Cleaning the bathroom, updating your computer, making sure that there’s enough beer at a party… there are plenty of little things we need to take care of in daily life. his is NOT what pflegen is.

Pflegen is a very caring taking care; an ongoing, active caring that has a vibe of compassion or love. Tending to sick people is a very good example for it, but by far the most common context in daily life is hygiene and cosmetics. The verb just sounds so nice and caring, the industry loooooves to put it on their labels. I mean, who wouldn’t want to give their skin some sweet Aloe Vera care while doing the dishes.
Anyway, let’s look at a few examples.

  • Der Bauernjunge pflegt das verletzte Einhorn.
  • The farmer’s boy tends to/nurses the injured unicorn.
  • Einhornurin reinigt und pflegt ihre Haut.
  • Unicorn urine cleans and nurtures/”takes care of” your skin.
  • Frauen ist es sehr wichtig, dass Männer gepflegte Fingernägel haben.
  • It’s very important to women that men have well-kept fingernails.
  • Maria findet, dass Thomas ungepflegt aussieht.
  • Maria finds that Thomas looks unkempt.
  • Wenn man diese Schuhe gut pflegt, halten sie 10 Jahre.
  • If you take good care for these shoes, they’ll hold for 10 years.
  • Der Manager pflegt gute Kontakte zur Politik.
  • The CEO cultivates contacts to politics.

I think that this idea of ongoing, active care is clearly visible in all of those. And when we turn to the noun die Pflege, we will actually also see care as the number one translation.

  • Ich habe nie verstanden, was genau die “Pflegeleicht“- Option bei Waschmaschinen bedeutet.
  • I never understood what exactly the “wash n wear“-option at washing machines means.
    (seriously, what is it for????)

  • Die neue Gesichtspflege ist komplett frei von Chemie.
  • The new facial skincare is completely without artificial chemicals.
  • Menschen, die in der Altenpflege arbeiten, sind leider oft unterbezahlt.
  • The people working in elder care are unfortunately often underpaid.
  • Obwohl es ein zentrales Thema seiner Kampagne ist, will sich das Einhorn aktuell zur Pflegeversicherungsreform nicht äussern.
  • Although it is a central theme of the campaign, the unicorn doesn’t want to give a statement regarding the nursing care insurance reform at the moment.

Man, the political acumen of unicorns… always impressive. I wish I could say the same about my example acumen.
Anyways, as far as prefix versions go, pflegen is takes it easy. The only one worth mentioning is verpflegen, which is a slightly technical term for to supply with food. That makes sense… I mean, supplying with food is a very basic form of active care, right. The noun die Verpflegung is more common and it’s kind of hard to pin one translation to it since it pops up in colloquial contexts here and there. But you don’t really ever have to use it actively. It’s enough if you know that it’s about food.

  • Über das Essen im Hotel kann ich nichts sagen, denn ich habe mich selbst verpflegt.
  • I can’t say anything about the food at the hotel because I did self-catering.

  • Die Party startet um 8. Für Verpflegung ist gesorgt, aber ihr könnt gerne etwas zu trinken mitbringen.
  • The party starts at 8. Food is taken care of but you’re welcome to bring something to drink.
  • Die Prophezeiung sagt, dass der Bauernjunge und sein Einhorn den bösen Compundus besiegen und die Welt von Wortmonstern wie Verpflegungsmehraufwand befreien werden.
  • The prophecy says that the farmer’s boy and his unicorn will defeat the evil Compoundus and rid the world of word monsters like … uhm…god… I really hope they succeed.

So, this was the meaning of pflegen.
Or was it?!?! What if there is a second meaning that leads us to the history and eventually to another really important German word. That would be kinda cool, right? Well… here we go

Kinda cool

Oh boy, skim readers will be so confused by this headline XD.
So yeah, there actually a second usage of pflegen. Not a super common one, but you’ll see it sooner or later. And it might seem a bit odd at first.

  • Marias Opa pflegte, sein Feierabendbier in die Mittagspause vorzuverlegen.
  • Maria’s granddad used “to antedate” /drink his “post shift”-beer at lunch break.
  • Wer Rülpsen kann, kann auch abwaschen, wie Maria zu sagen pflegt.
  • He who can burp can also do the dishes, as Maria likes to say/usually says.

The underlying theme here is “custom” and there actually also is a noun with it.

  • Der Bauernjunge gewöhnt sich langsam an die Gepflogenheiten in der Magierfestung.
  • The farmer’s boy slowly gets used to the ways and conventions at the magician’s keep.

Now, what does custom have to do with the idea of caring? Well, think about it just like you can actively care for your plants or your skin, you can also “care” for custom or a tradition – by keeping it alive. So this meaning isn’t actually that far from the pflegen we already know.
And it gets even more clear when we look at where the word comes from. The origin of pflegen is a Germanic verb that was about having/taking responsibility. And English, too has an offspring of that: to pledge. And now let’s look at the two side by side:

  • I pledge to always drink beer after sports. (promise)
  • Ich pflege nach dem Sport immer Bier zu trinken. (deed)

They’re NOT the same, but they’re not that different either; just two different aspects of the original idea of having/taking responsibility. The English pledge focused on taking it (by making a pledge), the German pflegen shifted toward acting out of responsibility and from there toward loving care.
Now, this connection to pledge and the idea of responsibility is not only interesting, it’s also the key to a German word that is directly related to pflegen and that basically is responsibility on steroids. I am talking about die Pflicht.

pflegen’s annoying brother

Pflicht is essentially of the result of making a pledge. A MUST-do! It’s your responsibility, your duty.

  • Der alte Magier sagt dem Bauernjungen, dass das Stallsaubermachen zu seinen Pflichten gehört.
  • The old mage tells the farmer’s boy that cleaning the stables is part of his duties/obligations.
  • Journalisten haben die Pflicht, sachlich und fair zu berichten.
  • Journalists have the obligation/duty to report objectively and fairly.
  • Marias Chef mag ihr Pflichtbewusstsein.
  • Maria’s boss likes her sense of duty.
  • Ich würde gerne noch mit dir quatschen aber die Pflicht ruft.
  • I’d love to keep chatting with you but duty calls.
  • “Wogegen ist denn die Fahrraddemo?”
    “Gegen die Helmpflicht.”
  • “What’s the bike protest about.”
    “They’re against compulsory helmets.

There are gazillions of compound nouns with it, like Anwesenheitspflicht (compulsory attendance), Ausweispflicht (identity card requirement), the much hated Helmpflicht (requirement to wear a helmet) or the trigger word 2020: obligation for vaccination, which looks like this:

mpfpflcht

Well, okay, the vowels are missing but if you think like “Must be at least half a dozen vowels.” then you’re wrong. Just two “i”s. The word is Impfpflicht. Impfpflicht…. this could be a Rammstein song. Seriously, I mean… mpfpfl… come on German, you really should have taken that shot against Consonantitis.
Anyways, besides all those compounds there are the verb for the noun Pflicht is verpflichten and it’s basically about giving someone a duty, or in one word to oblige.

  • Ich würde mich echt freuen, wenn du kommst, aber fühl dich zu nix verpflichtet.
  • I’d be really happy if you come but don’t feel obliged to anything.
  • Youtube ist verpflichtet, Videos zu löschen, wenn das Urheberrecht verletzt wird.
  • Youtube is obliged to delete videos if copyright is violated.
  • Eigentum verpflichtet.
  • Property entails obligations.

  • Der Starregisseur findet gesellschaftliche Verpflichtungen anstrengend.
  • The star director find social obligations exhausting.

There’s also the verb beipflichten which is actually closer to the English to pledge than the German Pflicht because it basically means to verbally agree. You “pledge along” if you will.

  • Der alte Magier sagt, dass der Bauernjunge noch nicht bereit ist. Der Schwertmeister pflichtet ihm bei.
  • The mage says that the farmer’s boy isn’t ready yet. The sword master agrees/concurs.

Dun dunnn… was the prophecy wrong? Is the farmer’s boy not the hero foretold?
We’ll have to wait for some other time because we’re done for today :).
This was our look at pflegen and it’s surprise relative die Pflicht. They both come from the idea of responsibility but while pflegen shifted toward acting and added some vibe of caring, Pflicht is basically responsibility made official.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

pflegen (acc) – tend to, nurse, take care
pflegen zu (verb) – usually, habitually do something
ungepflegt – unkempt (for people)

der Altenpfleger – geriatric nurse
der Tierpfleger – the zoo keeper
die Pflegeversicherung – the nursing care insurance

die Verpflegung – the supply with food

die Pflicht – the responsibility/duty
das Pflichtbewusstsein – the sense of duty
die Impfpflicht – a symptom for German’s Consonantitis
die Verpflichtung – the obligation
verpflichten – oblige (in sports also for take under contract)
beipflichten – verbally agree (rare)

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